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Beyond Plastic: Deconstructing Feminism and Patriarchy in Barbie’s Latest Adventure

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 Northeastern chapter.

If you haven’t seen more pink this summer than normal, you’ve probably been living under a rock. Released this summer, the “Barbie” movie has taken people by storm and lit up the world with pink bows and feminism. The idea to create a feminist world where patriarchy is not the bottom line was supposed to be a breath of fresh air. In some ways, you can argue it has been. The speech Gloria, a Mattel employee, gives in the movie speaks to my inner core of growing up as a woman. It can very much feel impossible.

As the monologue explains: “You have to be a boss, but you can’t be mean. You have to lead, but you can’t squash other people’s ideas… You have to answer for men’s bad behavior, which is insane, but if you point that out, you’re accused of complaining. You’re supposed to stay pretty for men, but not so pretty that you tempt them too much or that you threaten other women because you’re supposed to be a part of the sisterhood.” 

I swear there is not a woman out there that doesn’t feel that. There is always a double standard. Society tells women: you should be this but without doing that. Meanwhile, no one should be telling you what you should be doing in the first place.

Even in a movie with such a killer feminist speech, there are still double standards throughout the storyline. Did you notice that when the Barbies were in control of Barbie Land, the Kens still had full autonomy? Here me out. The Kens could wear what they want, do what they want and “beach” as much as they want. Barbie was not subjecting Ken to “beach.” That was his own decision. However, when the land became “Kendom” and reverted back to the patriarch, life was drastically changed. The Barbies were stripped of their role in society, dressed up in maid outfits and coerced to serve men.

There’s a very important contrast here that I think is misinterpreted in terms of what feminism really means. A world that is built with women on top is not the same as a world built on top of women. Feminism and patriarchy don’t just represent two different genders but two different ideal systems. In patriarchy, the goal is to raise the status of men and lower the status of women. Look it up; the definition will include both intentions. In feminism, however, the goal is to raise women based on the belief that men and women are equal. I believe that although the feminist movement has grown a lot over the last few years, this is one of the main reasons that men remain scared. Patriarchy is often seen as the male driven equivalent of feminism. This can instill in men that raising the status of women must inversely affect men. This idea is more like balancing a scale. In order for the scales to become equal, what was once high must be lowered.

That is not, however, how feminists see it. The claims are based on equality. There doesn’t have to be a negative effect on men for women to be equal. This can be viewed more like running a race where women have to start ten paces behind men. Feminism doesn’t say that men now have to start behind women; it’s simply saying: ‘let’s start at the same time.’ The only threat feminism inflicts towards men is the competition of a woman who started at the same level, or in this case, a Barbie that won’t pay attention to a Ken. 

This movie represents that even though feminism is becoming a more understood and adopted practice, there is still a long way to go before equality triumphs. Some day, the media will represent a society where women are at the top, not as a tribute to feminism, but rather a societal norm. 

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Lyric Westlund

Northeastern '25

Lyric is a third year Behavioral Neuroscience major at Northeastern University. She's passionate about women's rights, psychology of wellness, holistic health, economic empowerment, spreading positive media and much more! Her goal is to be able to use science to help people better understand themselves and live more positive lives. I have a special place in my heart for plants, books, and coffee shops!