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HARI NEF as Barbie, ALEXANDRA SHIPP as Barbie, SHARON ROONEY as Barbie, ANA CRUZ KAYNE as Barbie and EMMA MACKEY as Barbie in Warner Bros. Pictures’ “BARBIE,”
HARI NEF as Barbie, ALEXANDRA SHIPP as Barbie, SHARON ROONEY as Barbie, ANA CRUZ KAYNE as Barbie and EMMA MACKEY as Barbie in Warner Bros. Pictures’ “BARBIE,”
Warner Bros
Culture > Entertainment

The Barbies aren’t the Good Guys but Neither are the Kens

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at JMU chapter.

With great power comes great responsibility. Wrong IP, but the sentiment holds fast with Greta Gerwig’s Barbie. How else could you shoulder the responsibility of writing a film about a plastic doll so many generations grew up with? Released on July 21st, the movie centers around Barbie – of course – leaving her Barbieland home and coming into our world to resolve her existential crisis. Oh, and Ken is there, too.

Gerwig’s juggles the campy humor that comes with hot pink and neon clothes and the issues that Barbie herself represents: objectification, unrealistic beauty standards, and never changing. It’s a fun, summer movie that asks the question: what if women had all the power that men do in our world? Now, this is not the only question the movie asks, but it’s one that drives a hard point throughout the plot and is hammered home at the end when Stereotypical Barbie helps save Barbieland. 

That end scene between Barbie and Ken is pivotal, not just because Ken relinquishes his fur coat, but because of a line from Helen Miran as the narrator of the movie. 

“And one day, the Kens will have as much power and influence in Barbie Land as women have in the Real World.”

Barbie (2023)

Hearing this line should jolt viewers from the supposed pastel, happy ending we’ve just seen because there’s a direct comparison between Kens and women today. If the Kens represent how women were treated in the real world, then wouldn’t the Barbies represent the way men act in our world, too? It’s a harsh thought, because isn’t Barbie all about feminism?

It is! But Gerwig is able to subvert the usual trope of having black and white sides. The Barbies in Barbieland represent the fakeness of “allies” in our world, the people who would post black squares for BLM or say that they want to lift women up only to push the ladder as people are climbing. It’s not their fault; they’re dolls. They are the most idealized version of feminism while the Kens are the most idealized version of patriarchy.

Barbie is a masterful critique of the idealization of “well, if women were in power, this wouldn’t happen.” Gerwig is telling the audience that having a world ruled by any single gender will never truly be equal. Fear and extremes from either side force everyone back into the same position as they started with some performative actions sprinkled in to make people feel better. The Kens are given lower seats in the court and told maybe that will change. They applaud because they’re given something, but that something in a larger scope is nothing.

barbie movie behind the scenes 0003?width=1024&height=1024&fit=cover&auto=webp

What’s also interesting to note is how Barbie leaves Barbieland to become human, to go back to the real world. It’s assumed that once there, she will be treated like the Kens. She doesn’t have power anymore. So, why go? Humans change and grow and learn. We have regrets and sadness, but we also have hope. She leaves the place of fake plastic (or fake activism) and enters a world that has the possibility of equality. She wants to exist out of the box, to be the person who does the creation, to become the “and Ken” for equality. She turns her back on the two extremes to find the middle. 

You'll find Katharine either scrolling through the trivia section on IMDB, contemplating the meaning of life, or yelling at T.V. characters.