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Barbie: A Symbol of Empowerment

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 Queen's U chapter.

It’s Barbie’s world; we’re just living in it.

ryan gosling and margot robbie in barbie movie
Warner Bros

Upon seeing the new ‘Barbie’ movie—which has been the hit of this summer—I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to write an article about it.

Barbie’s Impact on Society

Before getting into the movie, let’s revisit the history of the Barbie doll.

For decades, the Barbie doll has been influencing young girls globally. Starting off as a fashion icon, Barbie has evolved and embraced multiple different styles and has taken on a multitude of careers—from dancer to doctor. Through her evolution, Barbie has inspired so many generations of girls to dream big.

We can thank the revolutionary Ruth Handler for her creation of the Barbie doll. Handler’s vision for the Barbie doll in 1959 was unlike anything the US market had seen before, and it didn’t take long for these dolls to become the most well-known toys across the country.

The doll was created in honour of Handler’s daughter, Barbara, with a little twist. Ruth wanted to show her daughter, through the magic of toys, that she could be anything she wished to be.

Most dolls at the time were baby dolls while Barbie was a woman that girls could envision themselves becoming. What truly set her apart as a pioneer was her multiple careers that gave young girls endless avenues of play.

Kinda crazy that a doll could have an impact on such a large scale, right?

What Can We Learn From Barbie?

After hearing so many good things about the movie and reading so many reviews, I gave in to watching Barbie and I do not regret it one bit. Co-writers Greta Gerwig and Noah Baumbach did an impeccable job of showing many societal issues in a simple manner.

To begin, viewers are exposed to the ideas of both matriarchal and patriarchal societies in all their complexity.

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

Gerwig showcases that in a seemingly perfect world – “Barbieland” – society is run by women; they occupy all positions of power.

When Barbie and Ken learn more about the real world, they start to realize that things are not always so perfect. The two learn that the real world is a patriarchal society. Barbie learns that women are often sexualized through inappropriate comments and cat-calling, while Ken learns of the power that men hold over women.

The problem with Ken learning about patriarchy is that it makes him feel more entitled and empowered over Barbie. He uses this power against her to rob her and all the other dolls of their self-confidence. He even manages to indoctrinate them into submissive roles.

Both Barbie and Ken realize that they suffer from their positions of oppression, Barbie in a patriarchy and Ken in a matriarchy. Both recognize that changes need to be made, though their ideas don’t necessarily line up. In the end, Gerwig recognizes that neither a patriarchy nor a matriarchy is ideal.

Something I appreciated about the movie is that it was not in your face, women-specific issues were not the only issues at stake; Gerwig and Baumbach did a great job of recognizing the larger relationship between gender and oppression, regardless of what your gender identity is.

TIME Magazine does a phenomenal job of explaining, in the simplest of terms, the complexity of this part of the plot: “As in most female-centric films where the lead woman discovers that she does not need a man in her life to discover her true inner power”, the end of the movie comments on how men should “reassess their desires, outside of their need to both control and depend on women.

ryan gosling in barbie movie
Warner Bros

Barbie has become the highest-grossing movie of 2023, the highest-grossing film by a solo female director (now that’s pretty sick), the highest-grossing film ever released by Warner Bros, and the 14th highest-grossing film of all time… and deservedly so.

Barbie shows us that women derive power from unity and kindness, and that although difficult, it is possible to achieve this in the real world, so that both men and women can live in equality.

Barbie is both funny and touching and is definitely a tear-jerker. The movie manages to remind us of what’s important: humility because at the end of the day, humility is what leads to humanity.

Emma Keyes

Queen's U '24

Emma is studying English Language and Literature at Queen's University. She enjoys the arts, and is a sucker for all things romantic.