SPOILER ALERT: This column discusses some of the elements of the summer blockbuster, record-breaking “Barbie” movie. Proceed with caution.
Barbie was my all-time favorite doll and toy when I was growing up. A child of the 1960s and 70s, I had Twist ‘n Turn Barbie; Malibu Barbie; Talking Barbie; Talking Stacey, who was Barbie’s British friend; Francie, Barbie’s teenaged cousin from Great Britain; Casey, who was Francie’s “fun friend” who also hailed from the U.K.; two Talking P.J. dolls (each one a gift from my two grandmothers, because my initials are PJ); Twist ‘n Turn Skipper; and Growing Up Skipper.
And then, of course, I had the one, obligatory, Ken.
To say my Ken’s world was run by my Barbies was, of course, an understatement. Of COURSE the Barbies ran the show! It was “Barbie’s Camper” and “Barbie’s Airplane” and “Barbie’s Convertible” and “Barbie’s Studio Apartment.”
Ken’s name did not appear on any of the vehicles or living quarters.
How un-1972-ish, when women living in the “Real World” could not yet get a credit card and could be refused a mortgage. That all changed, of course, with the passing of the Equal Credit Opportunity Act in 1974.
I was born in 1963, so in my own lifetime, I have been witness to women obtaining rights that men have taken for granted since the beginning of time. That is the thesis to the summer blockbuster movie, “Barbie.”
With many references in the movie to “the patriarchy,” the movie’s heroine, Stereotypical Barbie, is shocked to visit the “Real World” and discover that the world revolves around men and all kinds of their bad behavior. Hence, life in a patriarchy, or, as women in the Real World of 2023 call it, “Everyday Life.”
Ken, who visited the Real World with Barbie, was, of course, beyond intrigued.
I went to see the Barbie movie during its opening weekend with my trusty ultra-feminist, down-with-the-patriarchy friend, Pamela Wall. I’d heard that the movie had feminist undertones. I had no idea the movie would, literally, bring me to tears.
I’d like to say they were happy tears, but they really were not. They were the tears of relief you shed when you are frustrated about something your entire life and someone comes along and says: “I see you. I hear you. You have a valid point of view. Your opinion is valuable. Your fears are justified. You are worthy.”
The Barbie movie said all of that and more to me. Director Greta Gerwig let the women of the world know: “You are not alone. I feel your pain. I have experienced your frustration. I am not ever going to mansplain anything to you.”
There are very few movies that have ever inspired me to attend, in the theater, at full ticket price, more than once. In fact, I can assure you that the last time I did this was in 1978 when “Grease” came out. “Barbie” commanded that attention and extra cash out of my wallet.
After seeing it with my BFF the first go-around, I really wanted to share this experience with my husband. He was a long-haired liberal hippie in the 1960s and 70s. He campaigned for George McGovern, fer cryin’ out loud. He’s a feminist. He’s a “woke” man. So off to the theater we went.
I cried, again, only a little harder the second time around.
As the house lights came up, before we’d even exited the theater, I turned to my husband: “So, what’d you think?”
No response. He kept walking.
“What’d you THINK?” I repeated, this time louder.
“I think I’m glad you really enjoyed this movie and I think I’m a really good sport for going with you.”
Why didn’t I think to have a divorce attorney on speed dial???
I could not believe it.
My husband, my real-life version of a Ken doll, except he’s not actually a eunuch with no balls — present moment excluded — was simply “patronizing” me by seeing the most iconic feminist movie of all time?
Where had I gone wrong? Who in the h-e-double hockey sticks had I married???
I swear to you, without kidding, I was mad at him for the rest of the evening. How could it be that he Just. Didn’t. Get. It.?
By the next morning, I had to resign myself to the fact that some men, like my husband, had lived 70-plus years on this earth, just walking around feeling as if the sun rises and sets on them and their every whim and need because, well, frankly, it does.
In the movie, Barbie Land is this idyllic place where women are in charge of, well, everything. Ken exists as a fun friend, when Barbie has time for him, when she’s not having lots of fun and hosting dance parties with all the other Barbies Every. Single. Night.
And it’s not just that Barbie is content to have all-female companionship, all the time. It’s the fact that when she visited the Real World, men objectified her and commented on her clothing and appearance, and she questioned her value and self-worth as a result of that scrutiny and objectification.
It made her feel uncomfortable. And unsafe.
In Barbie Land, the Barbies just accepted one another as-is.
So to my Patriarchal Husband and every other member of the patriarchy in the land, I say this:
I’m a Barbie gal, who can only continue to dream about living in a perfectly pink and beautiful, nonjudgmental and strongly feminist Barbie World. So tongue raspberries to the patriarchy.
Blue Water Woman magazine has got yer backs, Barbie gals. We’ve got your backs.