Criticized in bad-faith as man-hating, Barbie is a masterful investigation into the facets of femininity that patriarchal influences have sought to erase.
Like most young feminists that seek an accurate representation of the female condition, I worship the ground Greta Gerwig walks on. So it seemed fitting to don my best pink apparel and flock to the earliest screening of Barbie I could get my hands on. The summer blockbuster is an ode to the spectrum of girlhood, an exploration of unrealistic expectations of womanhood and a celebration of hot pink.
My journey into Barbieland began when I was just a little girl, but has been marked with a complicated understanding of my own identities. The lifetime lingering question I had of Barbie was: Where do I fit in? Gerwig’s reinterpretation of the classic seeks to answer that question by introducing a flurry of Barbies that do everything and are everything. We see Barbie hardhats, a Black Barbie president and disabled Barbies using mobility aids. I—like everyone else at my screening—squealed with joy at the pink Barbie Dreamhouse of my childhood imagination.
Barbie has long been a contentious figure for feminism. Over at Ms., we’ve encouraged parents to put down their Barbies in lieu of other gifting ideas for their children, and criticized Mattel’s promotion of the bimbo Barbie that is unable to get things done independently. And Gerwig’s film acknowledges that, which is huge for a studio movie that is, essentially, a large commercial for the toy. The ability to investigate this dichotomy of Barbie as, as one character in the movie puts it, a “fascist” and “everything wrong with this culture” made me feel seen.
The complicated push-and-pull of hyperfemininity is something I know all too well, and it calls for a deep investigation into internalized misogyny and patriarchal conditioning, which Gerwig boldly attempts to do.
‘Barbie’ is a masterful investigation into the facets of femininity that patriarchal influences have sought to erase. It is a reclamation of girlhoods that were destroyed by societal expectations.
Sometimes Gerwig’s larger investigation into what Barbie represents feels more like an Intro to Feminism 101 lecture, lacking the nuance of intersectionality. “She’s gotten a lot more inclusive in terms of what she looks like,” said Eliza VanCort, bestselling author of A Woman’s Guide to Claiming Space, but “her world is still somewhat rigid.”
I’m reminded that the Dreamhouse was never created with me (as a queer, brown, fat person) in mind. As Kristy Puchko at Mashable put it, “While some might be outraged at even this level of discourse on gender politics in a kid-friendly movie, others will likely criticize that Gerwig doesn’t go far enough here.” And it’s true: She doesn’t.
But despite my few critiques of the content of the film, Barbie goes beyond the screen to create a world where femininity is being celebrated in the mainstream. In a culture that sees femininity as lesser-than, there is nothing quite like the joy of greeting women in their pink outfits with “Hi, Barbie!”
Where Mattel created unrealistic expectations of womanhood through their sleek blonde toy, women have continued to embrace Barbie as something that goes beyond the texts designed for her. And that is what makes her iconic.
Criticized in bad-faith as man-hating, Barbie is a masterful investigation into the facets of femininity that patriarchal influences have sought to erase. It is a reclamation of girlhoods that were destroyed by societal expectations. Even if I don’t see myself in Barbie, I am grateful that Barbie is beginning to see me, through the coexistence of raging feminism and bright pink femininity.
I wouldn’t go so far as to call Gerwig’s Barbie a feminist masterpiece, but I’m going to give it the credit for creating a summer watch that will anger the bigots, and maybe that is masterful in its own regard.
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