Barbie isn’t anti-men, it’s anti-patriarchy

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Jose Gonzalez Campelo/The Cougar

The results are in: This summer’s color is pink, pink, and more pink. With a massive opening weekend and a surprise collaboration with the inventor of the atomic bomb, “Barbie” might just be this year’s biggest hit.

But not everyone seems to think life in plastic is so fantastic. “Barbie” has already been the subject of significant backlash, from waves of negative reviews to scathing commentaries from various high profile figures.

While critiques of the film vary, a significant number of commentators have claimed that the film is “anti-man.” Some claim the film depicts male characters as “bumbling idiots” that exist as accessories to the women, while others took issue with the message behind the film. 

In some areas, the critics are not wrong. “Barbie,” is an unapologetically feminist film. It handles sensitive issues like sexism and the expectations placed on women all while presenting the concept of patriarchy as unquestionable fact.

Acknowledging the idea that women might still be oppressed seems to be challenging for some, but the unfortunate reality is that even in 2023, women still make less money than men. Even within the same occupations and even with more education, the patriarchy persists.

But even if “Barbie’s” critiques of the real world were valid, some have argued that the film diminishes the problems of its male characters. Ryan Gosling’s “Ken” is regularly ignored by Margot Robbie’s “Barbie,” and his sense of rejection is played for laughs.

Moreover, the fictional world of Barbieland is unquestionably ruled by women. The men (Kens) serve as literal “accessories,” with little more purpose than to elevate the women (Barbies). Barbieland’s president is a woman, as is every other position of power.

If the film ended with this status quo unquestioned, the critics might have a valid point. But actually watching more than the first half of the film (spoilers ahead) would reveal that the filmmakers didn’t intend to depict this as an “ideal world.”

In fact, Ken’s frustration at his lack of agency leads him to embrace the patriarchy and turn Barbieland into “The Kendom.” If the film was seeking to villainize men, this would be the point where Barbie takes her home back and casts Ken out for his evil ways.

But instead, Barbie learns from her experience in the patriarchal “real world”. She apologizes for making Ken feel powerless, and encourages him to learn who he is apart from her. Ken even admits that he didn’t feel right in a leadership role since it didn’t fit him.

This is the core of the film’s message to men: “You matter, but not because of who you’re with or how much power you have. You matter because you’re you.” By the end of the film, the Kens embrace the slogan “I’m Kenough,”and Barbieland is made more equal in structure.

The truth is that, in some ways, patriarchy can hurt men too. Being forced to suppress your feelings and embrace hobbies you don’t like to be a “man” can lead to feeling trapped, as depicted by Michael Cera’s “Allen,” who feels pressured to embrace the Kens’ hyper masculinity.

 While “Barbie” is chiefly a film about womanhood, it’s also a deeply moving film about what it means to be human, and is full of charming characters both male and female.

Greta Gerwig has created something that, judging just by box office numbers, clearly resonates with a lot of people. So maybe consider swallowing your expectations and watch the film with an open mind. Who knows? You might just find that pink is your color after all.

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