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The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

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Barbie movie offers surprisingly deep analysis of feminine, human experience

Movie that gained popularity for “pink froth” had a more profound turn
Ben Cadigan
Barbie movie poster

Fans flocked into the movie theater covered in pink Thursday night to get a glimpse of a real life version of the doll that has caused so much controversy over the years. 

Who knew the movie would not only acknowledge the hurt Barbie has caused women, but it would also validate the feminine experience and hardship inflicted by the patriarchy? 

“I thought it was fantastic,” Christine Whelan, a clinical professor of consumer science, said right after seeing the movie. 


At the beginning of the movie, all the Barbies are thriving in Barbieland, including Stereotypical Barbie, played by Margot Robbie. Ken, played by Ryan Gosling, is in love with Barbie, but she does not reciprocate. The girls, or “Barbies” are running Barbieland, while the Kens are just entertainment. 

Barbie starts running into problems– like flat feet, and thoughts of death. She decides to go to the real world, with Ken following her, to find her owner and fix the problems. In the real world, she encounters her owner Gloria, and her daughter, Sasha. 

She also has several interactions with the Mattel owners, the leader of which is Will Ferrell. Eventually, they all go back to Barbieland, where the Kens have taken over. Barbie is forced to face her insecurities and eventually save Barbieland.

Overall, the movie provides an excellent critique of the patriarchy and empowerment of women. 

Barbie and Feminism

While living in Barbieland, Stereotypical Barbie is initially ignorant of her negative effect on the world and feminism. She thinks she changed the world through inspiring women to do anything, and assumes that women run the real world, too. 

It isn’t until she is forced into the real world that she realizes what she has done. And it takes a middle school girl to tell her. 

Sasha, played by Ariana Greenblatt, threw away her Barbie dolls a long time ago. She seems to have a pessimistic and narcissistic attitude toward most people, and doesn’t hesitate to crush Barbie’s ambitions. 

Sasha blames Barbie for creating all negative stereotypes surrounding women in the real world.

“You have been making women feel bad about themselves since you were invented,” Sasha said.

Whelan said this critique is the obvious one. Barbie is not built to be anatomically correct, and can’t even stand on her own feet. So Whelan said Barbie has never really represented women nor helped the cause of feminism. 

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“The idea that you can just dress up a doll as president and that somehow leads to women’s empowerment is somewhat suspect,” Wheland said. And the idea [of] Barbie as a feminist icon  that was never really the case.” 

Whelan said her mother, Gloria, played by America Ferrera, has a more complex critique of Barbie that comes with a positive message for women.

An ‘ordinary’ Barbie, representing women

When Barbie loses hope that they will ever be able to restore Barbieland toward the end of the movie, Gloria presents a powerful monologue that makes everyone in the room silent. 

“It is literally impossible to be a woman,” Gloria said. “You are so beautiful, and so smart, and it kills me that you don’t think you’re good enough. Like we have to always be extraordinary, but somehow, we’re always doing it wrong?” 

Gloria goes on to talk about the need for a woman to be strong, but not demanding, thin, but not too thin, a boss, but not mean, pretty, but not too pretty and always answering for men’s mistakes.

“And it turns out, in fact, that not only are you doing everything wrong, but also, everything is your fault,” Gloria finished. 

Gloria wants to see an ordinary Barbie. A Barbie that reflects the everyday struggles of women. 

Whelan said this could be a message for all women. Maybe there is a middle ground, a place where everyone can come together and appreciate feminism and embrace normalcy. 

This is what Whelan said she appreciated about the movie — while it still held true to the pink cheesiness of Barbie, it had deep political critiques and very adult satire. 

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The human experience

Though the focus of the movie was definitely on the feminine experience, Ken, played by Ryan Gosling still got his time to shine, which in turn, centered the movie on the human experience in general. 

Gosling gets to show off his singing abilities in the song “I’m Just Ken,” featuring a fantastic dance number from all the Kens. He struggles with individuality and masculinity, but eventually comes to realize he is enough — even without Barbie. 

Still, when the Kens ask to be a part of the Supreme Court, the Barbies say no, but they can have a smaller leadership role. Whelan said this is interesting because this is historically a message that women have been told, so again, offers a satirical critique of the patriarchy. 

This message to men, and the overarching message to women, pleasantly surprised me. I did not expect the movie to have such positive messaging for women, especially considering the stigma surrounding how Barbie stereotypes women.

I was curious if the movie would acknowledge that stigma, and it did–in a very clever and satirical manner. This was especially accomplished in their casting of Will Ferrell as the Mattel CEO, who is known for playing less serious characters — the way he played that role showed the crazy nature of those who tried to stereotype women.

I was also surprised by how simple the main message of the movie was– that being an ordinary woman in our society is hard. To some this may seem cliche, but I found it powerful simply because it’s an unspoken idea that is relatable to a good portion of the people who saw it.

This, however, could be frustrating to those who expect a more niche or complex take on modern feminism, and this was sort of what I expected as well. While I enjoyed the simpler and more broad message, not everyone will.

With that in mind, I definitely recommend the movie. It is true to Barbie in her pink glory, and still satirical and honestly hilarious, with a positive message for everyone — being ordinary isn’t so bad.

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