The ‘Barbie’ Movie: “More Swipes at ‘The Patriarchy’ Than a Year’s Worth of Ms. Magazine”

Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling in Barbie. (Warner Bros. Pictures)

With opening weekend now in the rearview mirror (of her pink convertible), Barbie has raked in more than $200 million at the box office—smashing prior records for women-directed and summer blockbusters, and doubling the receipts for Oppenheimer, its counterpart release. 

Clearly, we are living in a Barbie world. There has been no brand collaboration with Mattel too cute or quirky to fail, from housewares to hamburgers. Barbie has dominated political debate, too, given writer/director/executive producer Greta Gerwig’s overt girl-power approach: “Hell yeah, this is a feminist movie,” she proclaimed at the premiere.

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) fully embraced the fuchsia, creating a Barbie doll version of herself—Lil’ Gretch—who has posed across social media with captions like, “Come on Barbie, let’s go govern.”

Meanwhile, conservative commentator Ben Shapiro posted a lengthy video complaining he counted the use of the word ‘patriarchy’ more than 10 times in the movie (one of many transgressions detailed in “pages and pages of notes” he says he took). Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) called it Chinese propaganda. Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) called for a Barbie boycott.

Reviews have run the gamut, too, from wildly euphoric to mildly conflicted to sheer outrage about what it means when broad principles of feminism waft into the mainstream (to the tune of the Indigo Girls and Lizzo). But it is the Wall Street Journal’s take, in particular, that caught our eye—and reviewer Kyle Smith’s quip that Barbie “contains more swipes at ‘the patriarchy’ than a year’s worth of Ms. magazine.” 

To this, we at Ms. say: Hear, hear! We know firsthand the force behind this magazine and its vast community of readers.  

Ms. first launched in 1972—a brazen act of independence by Gloria Steinem and other writers and activists who created it to fill a gap between a determined and vibrant movement and the continued curtailment of women’s rights in nearly every aspect of life.

The very first issue flew off newsstands nationwide, selling out instantly, thus demonstrating the potential—and power—of making modern feminism more accessible to the general public.

Over the years, Ms. has become part of the cultural zeitgeist—even making a recent cameo appearance on the HBO series And Just Like That—and been responsible for sparking laws and judicial changes, influencing public policy, generating new vocabulary, and drawing attention to issues too long ignored.

Smith is also correct that the magazine has covered nearly every topic that appears in Barbie, starting with a 1972 feature, “Stories for Free Children,” that took on the sexist and racist stereotyping that has long permeated the children’s toy business.

Among the issues tackled by writers at Ms. decade by decade, and covered in our forthcoming book, 50 YEARS OF Ms.: THE BEST OF THE PATHFINDING MAGAZINE THAT IGNITED A REVOLUTION:

  • domestic violence, sexual harassment in the workplace, and women in sports (1970s);
  • anti-abortion terrorism, no-fault divorce, and date rape (1980s);
  • global women’s rights, misogyny and feminism in rap, and toxic masculinity (1990s);
  • intersectional feminism, foreign policy, and the militarization of American culture after 9/11 (2000s);
  • the legal fight for same-sex marriage and the Black Lives Matter movement (2010s);
  • more recently, the crises in care spurred by the pandemic, the judicial dismantling of Roe v. Wade along with threats to other fundamental privacy rights, and rising authoritarianism in the U.S. worldwide.

And, yes, at the root of all of it, patriarchy.

50 Years of Ms. will be released on Sept. 19, 2023; you can pre-order your copy now.

We write today not to offer our critique or redemption of Barbie—the doll or the movie—but rather to commend those engaging in the conversation. And of course, to beat the drum for more feminist storytelling to address the real implications of all that’s being debated when we talk about Barbie.

She has always fueled spirited controversy about how women should look, live, dress, work and play—that’s nothing new. But the timing couldn’t be more urgent for serious engagement about the future of feminism. Our basic bodily autonomy and rights are under attack, and gender is the cudgel inevitably used when regressive forces seek to exert political and social control. 

As the movie tagline goes: If you love Barbie—and if you hate Barbie—this Barbie discussion is for you. As is Ms. magazine.

Up next:

U.S. democracy is at a dangerous inflection point—from the demise of abortion rights, to a lack of pay equity and parental leave, to skyrocketing maternal mortality, and attacks on trans health. Left unchecked, these crises will lead to wider gaps in political participation and representation. For 50 years, Ms. has been forging feminist journalism—reporting, rebelling and truth-telling from the front-lines, championing the Equal Rights Amendment, and centering the stories of those most impacted. With all that’s at stake for equality, we are redoubling our commitment for the next 50 years. In turn, we need your help, Support Ms. today with a donation—any amount that is meaningful to you. For as little as $5 each month, you’ll receive the print magazine along with our e-newsletters, action alerts, and invitations to Ms. Studios events and podcasts. We are grateful for your loyalty and ferocity.

About and

Katherine Spillar is the executive director of Feminist Majority Foundation and executive editor of Ms., where she oversees editorial content and the Ms. in the Classroom program.
Jennifer Weiss-Wolf is the executive director of Ms. partnerships and strategy. A lawyer, fierce advocate and frequent writer on issues of gender, feminism and politics in America, Weiss-Wolf has been dubbed the “architect of the U.S. campaign to squash the tampon tax” by Newsweek. She is the author of Periods Gone Public: Taking a Stand for Menstrual Equity, which was lauded by Gloria Steinem as “the beginning of liberation for us all,” and is a contributor to Period: Twelve Voices Tell the Bloody Truth. She is also the executive director of the Birnbaum Women’s Leadership Center at NYU Law. Find her on Twitter: @jweisswolf.