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Barbie Movie: A struggle to go beyond the stereotype?

**spoilers ahead**

Whenever the Barbie movie comes to mind, my brain instinctively conjures up the provocative and controversial tune "Barbie Girl" by Aqua:

Hi, Barbie Hi, Ken! Do you wanna go for a ride? Sure, Ken! Jump in... I'm a Barbie girl in the Barbie world Life in plastic, it's fantastic!

You can brush my hair, undress me everywhere Imagination, life is your creation Come on, Barbie, let's go party!

The mystery behind why the producers opted not to include the song in the Barbie movie piqued my curiosity, leading me to delve into some research. It turns out that the reason can be traced back to a legal battle between Mattel, Inc. and MCA Records, Inc [see 1].

The lyrics were alleged to have infringed upon Mattel's copyrights and Barbie trademarks, resulting in damage to their brand's reputation and disruption to their marketing strategy.

So what makes the movie unique? I'd think that's fairly different. Those who anticipate it to be just fluff are in for a surprise, for one thing - the film delves into sexism and patriarchy, presenting an intriguing parallel between Barbie land and the real world. Barbie land seems like a utopia where women rule, but clearly this is an illusion.

The irony is apparent as all Barbies believe that creating and having different versions of themselves have solved all “real-world” problems for young girls and women, now giving them representation and a voice!

As Barbie says, "I am a doctor, a lawyer, and so much more than that."

Anyway, in this pink Barbieland, everything is picture-perfect until one day when the "stereotypical" Barbie faces an unexpected anomaly (no spoilers here). As her name implies, she perfectly fits into the societal "box" that dictates women must be thin, beautiful, impeccably dressed, and have flawless hair, among other ideals. However, she begins to question the reasons behind these anomalies surfacing in her seemingly flawless world.

Guided by "weird Barbie,” the stereotypical Barbie decides to venture into the "real world" to seek answers and resolve this for good.

Accompanied by Ken In the real world, Barbie experiences the stark contrast between how men and women are treated.

Barbie: "Wow, this is the real world! What's going on? Why are these men looking at me?"
Ken: "Yeah, they're also staring at me."

The experience is completely different for the two dolls, quite close to reality. The stereotypical Barbie feels being objectified and experiences fear and self-consciousness like she has never felt before, whereas Ken feels powerful and admired.

There are no subtle digs at patriarchy!

Ken who decides to come with Barbie to the Real-World because he feels like his existence has no purpose without her, realises that patriarchy empowers men in the real world!

Funnily enough, Ken goes looking for patriarchy and finds it prevalent in various aspects of the real world, from books to the gym, to workplaces where he observes the evident gender disparity, such as with men occupying a majority of leadership positions in workplaces. Despite the troubling revelations, Ken seems somewhat delighted, possibly due to the newfound sense of power and validation he experiences in this patriarchal environment.

From feeling powerless in Barbieland, where his entire existence was anchored with Barbie, in the real world, he feels powerful leading him to replicate this power dynamic in Barbieland where he unwittingly "programs" all Barbies to believe they exist solely for the sake of all the Kens.

When Barbie finally escapes the real world and returns to Barbieland with two humans, she's shocked to discover that all the Barbies have lost their sense of identity and become subservient to the Kens.

Stereotypical Barbie succumbes to feelings of inadequacy, in other words, “not feeling good enough and resigns to her fate! America Ferrera, human from the real-world and a mother figure in barbieland delivers a passionate monologue that rescues not only the lopsided scriptwriting but also our stereotypical Barbie!

In her powerful speech, Ferrera fearlessly addresses the burdensome and contradictory expectations placed on women. She eloquently emphasizes the relentless pressure to strike a delicate balance – to be thin but not excessively so, ambitious but not too assertive, and navigate the complexities of motherhood or the choice not to be a mother without facing judgment. The pain Ferrera portrays is palpable and deeply resonates.

Through her monologue, Ferrera breathes life into the character and brings depth to the movie, shedding light on the emotional struggles that women often endure in a society that imposes unrealistic standards!

But the euphoria ends there!

The movie barely delves into this complex issue and handles it in a rushed manner.

After awakening stereotypical Barbie, America Ferrera gives a pep talk to all the Barbies one by one, deprogramming them and making them realize they have been "brainwashed" by the Kens, losing their sense of identity and self. The deprogrammed Barbies then employ tactics typically associated with women to instigate conflict among the Kens, enabling the Barbies to regain control and rule Barbieland.

In the movie, to repair the rift between Barbieland and the real world, Barbieland should return to its original state, where women rule and men aka Kens, have no sense of agency or autonomy, existing solely to serve and hover around the Barbies for their pleasure.

However, this solution does not seem equitable or fair.

One aspect that struck me is the prevalent power imbalance in both the make-believe pink and plastic Barbieland and the real world, the latter closely mirrors our own reality. This awareness however not dealt with adequately is reflected in Barbie's realization in the second half of the movie wherein she acknowledges that it isn't fair to Ken or the Kens that every night has to be girls' night, recognizing the feeling of powerlessness that arises when one's entire existence is defined by others, lacking agency and autonomy. This profound insight barely lasts for a few moments as all Barbies rejoice in taking back what’s theirs - Barbieland. Creating not only the same imbalance they deeply despised in the real world but also in Barbieland!

Ultimately, the movie does raise significant issues but it barely scratches the surface of feminism and patriarchy, dealing with them in a rushed and underdeveloped manner. The “deprogramming” scene and subsequent resolution seem too simplistic for the complexity of the topic.

Furthermore, the absence of representation for the third-gender in both worlds is a notable oversight.

Perhaps the movie's intention was to showcase Barbie as more than just a stereotype, but it missed the mark by not addressing the perpetuation of stereotypes through the character/actor itself. Furthermore, the absence of acknowledgment for a third-gender in Barbieland appears peculiar and raises questions about the inclusivity of this seemingly perfect (imperfect) world. A more inclusive and balanced approach could have been the key to addressing the subject matter in Barbieland. By recognizing and embracing a broader range of gender identities, Barbieland could become a more welcoming and understanding place, fostering empathy and unity among its inhabitants.

In my view, it would have been more appropriate to create a world where Barbies and Kens coexist harmoniously, acknowledging and respecting each other's uniqueness and individuality. In this idyllic realm, the concept of a third-gender should also find acceptance and representation, embracing the diverse spectrum of identities that exist.

In conclusion, I found that the movie attempted to elevate Barbie to the status of a feminist icon and deliver a social commentary on patriarchy, but unfortunately, it falls short on both counts. Indeed, the movie not only lacks inclusivity but also fails to handle such important issues with the gravity they deserve and lacks the depth and coherence needed for a comprehensive and inclusive commentary.

For me, it would have been more enjoyable to see a film focusing on light-hearted fluff and entertainment instead of basing the entire storyline on the premise that Barbie can be more than a "stereotype” and handling complex societal issues half-heartedly.

In good faith,

P.S. - One article's headline noted that it is "A Resounding Closure To The Stereotypes It Has Created Over The Years". In my view, it is far for from it. What do you think?

[1] Mattel, Inc. v. MCA Records, Inc.

On September 11, 1997, Mattel filed a lawsuit in the Central District of California's federal court, asserting 11 allegations against MCA (Aqua's American record company), as well as other parties. Barbie was described in the song as a "Blonde Bimbo," which according to Mattel violated the Barbie trademark and turned her into a sex object. They claimed that the song's lyrics violated their copyrights and Barbie trademarks, damaged their brand's reputation, and interfered with their marketing strategy.

Source: Wiki


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