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Being A Woman After the Barbie Movie

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 Wilfrid Laurier chapter.

Hi, Barbie! In the months leading up to Barbie (2023), I was beyond excited but absolutely clueless when it came to expectations. I’ve always known the concept of Barbie to be about friendship and being yourself but there has also always been this expectation that at the end of the movies, Barbie’s character ends up with a man and the two live happily ever after. Now, don’t get me wrong, I thoroughly enjoy the early 2000s Barbie movies. When she ends up with her prince, I eat that up every time. It’s cute and I’m a sucker for cheesy happily ever afters.

Barbie (2023) did an amazing job hiding the meaning of the movie until you were watching it. No matter how many times I watched the ads and trailers, I couldn’t for the life of me figure out what it would be about. Of course, it didn’t help to hear “it’s not what you’re expecting” from every single person who had seen the movie before I had. When I finally got the chance to watch the movie, I realized everyone was right, but not in the way I thought they would be. It wasn’t a cute movie about the power of love and friendship that I had come to know from the Barbie movies I watched as a kid; it also wasn’t the dark, inappropriate or scary movie I feel a lot of people made it sound like it would be. Instead, it shared a really in-depth look into what life is like for women in the 21st century. It was sad and hard to watch because it felt so real.

Barbie (2023) opens with an explanation of how the Barbie doll has changed feminism and womanhood. The narrator explains that things in the real world are better for women because of Barbie, at least according to the Barbies who live in “Barbieland.” Barbieland is run by the Barbies, for the Barbies. It’s pretty, pink and sparkly and shows a lot of different Barbie playsets that audience members might recognize from being a child and playing with Barbie. We come to understand fairly early on that the Kens who live in Barbieland don’t have any power and only exist as an add-on to Barbie. As the movie continues, Stereotypical Barbie (the main Barbie in the movie) learns that the person playing with her in the real world is unhappy and she must go to find this person and fix that connection. Her Ken insists on going with her, and during her venture, she realizes that the real world is nothing like what she expected it to be. Women are sexualized, men are in power and Barbie dolls haven’t had the impact she believed they did.

When she does find the woman she was looking for, they journey back to Barbieland together, only to find out Ken has gotten there first. Ken has discovered patriarchy and has instilled that on the other Kens in Barbieland (now renamed “Kendom Land of the Free and the Men”). The movie ends with the Barbies regaining their power and Stereotypical Barbie realizing she wants to be alive and live in the Real World.

The main idea of the movie is empowerment, and while I believe the movie itself did a pretty good job of discussing the topics of feminism and fragile masculinity, there are two big problems that I have now that the movie’s been out for a few months and I’ve had the chance to watch and reflect.

White Feminism

The movie’s discussion of feminism was very broad and while I, as a cis-gendered and white young woman, believe my hardships were discussed, I don’t feel as though that sentiment would be the same for others. There was a moment in the movie when America Ferrera’s character discussed the struggles of being a woman. She monologued about how women can never be enough because there are too many impossible expectations for them to meet. I agree with her character’s monologue, and I loved it so much I got goosebumps, but it was very targeted towards cis-gendered, white and middle-class feminism. There were no points made in the entire movie about how women’s struggles may be different depending on one’s race, class or sexual orientation. I feel like it’s really easy for people to forget that feminism should be intersectional. Barbie (2023), specifically, seems to have forgotten that, which I found rather unfortunate. I’m not arguing that this makes it a bad movie about feminism, just that it could’ve done better in discussing ways feminism impacts people differently. I feel like understanding this and noticing this during the movie helped me begin to notice white feminism in my day-to-day life. That being said, I think it’s also important to realize how many movies have done this and the lack of intersectional feminism in the entertainment industry.

Female Audience Response

I wasn’t surprised to see most of TikTok discussing Barbie (2023) and the different scenes they loved. What surprised me was that it seemed like most of the conversation was centred around men and the Kens of the movie. Women seemed to have a hard time letting this movie just be about them. While I have seen TikToks and discussions about how women feel more empowered after the movie, most discourse has been about how men feel and how the Kens in Barbieland feel. This completely takes away who the movie was made for. The movie wasn’t made to discuss men and men’s issues because men don’t face discrimination for their gender. I’ve seen too many women wondering, “What about Ken?” or “Where does Ken sleep; don’t forget about him.” As much as I want to believe that I have this cute movie about feminism and being a woman, I can’t help but feel like women have started to strip the movie of that meaning. While I don’t blame women for doing that (it’s very hard to change the way society has conditioned us to act), let’s allow women to keep this to ourselves. The movie isn’t about Ken being sad that Barbie doesn’t like him; it’s about Barbie coming to terms with her identity. And that’s okay! It’s okay that this movie discusses toxic masculinity and the fragility of men in society. It’s not our job as women to make men feel better about a movie that discusses their toxicity.

Women are ridiculed for everything they do and while movies like Barbie (2023) help us understand just how bad it is, it’s so important to understand that women’s issues aren’t solved because of these movies. Barbie (2023) did an amazing job of showcasing the ongoing lack of equality between men and women. We aren’t equal. It’s going to take a lot more than one movie to reach that equality, and we won’t reach it if we don’t talk about feminism as an intersectional subject or if we keep worrying about how men will feel about equality. Being a woman is hard enough, let’s try to use movies like Barbie (2023) to make it a little easier!

Abigael Chalmers

Wilfrid Laurier '25

Hi! My name is Abby Chalmers (she/her) and I'm a writer for Her Campus WLU. I'm a third-year student at Wilfrid Laurier, majoring in Communication Studies. I enjoy writing about life and love sharing my interests and opinions with others! When I'm not writing, you can most likely find me creating yet another Pinterest board!