“Death to the patriarchy!” I’m finally weighing in on the most important - and funny! - movie of the year, “Barbie”. I have my own take even after all the reviews, TikTok send-ups and social media (still abuzz with memes and music.) The reality is that the phrase is about male liberation just as much as “women's lib”. Ken discovers something Allan knew all along - you can be smart, sensitive, AND totally kick ass when needed. Allan longs for the real world to freely define himself.
It’s ironic that the story of an iconic doll - and a comedy, no less - can delve so deeply into societal issues. It’s a surprisingly more humanistic take than I anticipated. Gendered roles and power are just some of the more obvious issues it addresses. It invites us to reflect on the way we treat each other when we identify with the “stereotypical ideal” - are we kind? Are we compassionate?
How we present ourselves through appearance, speech and physical movement (or lack of it) is largely defined by our roles (or the roles we aspire to). Modern society is blurring some of the more apparent differences. Historically some cultures would make gender distinctions but there was no discrimination.
These modern times can be confusing as distinct identities break down. We are ultimately a combination of masculine and feminine energies. Regulating playing with dolls as a “girl activity” creates a misunderstanding about roles in child-rearing. Not separating layperson and monk leads us all to embrace our own spiritual nature and practices. A leader can also be a team player. We are an animal, although one with an unusually large cerebral cortex. Segmenting these characteristics - and the tasks assigned to them - are limiting. We need to reclaim our wholeness, and balance all these roles within ourselves.
Also up for discussion is the idea - and it’s an idea, not a reality! - of perfection. The real-world mom laments how impossible it is to live up to unrealistic and often conflicting expectations. Be assertive but not unlikeable. Stand up for yourself but be available and don’t complain. Men can feel torn by similar dichotomies - be macho now, take charge, don't cry - and then be sensitive and accommodating at other times.
There is emotional perfection, but also a demand for physical perfection so evident in the Barbie (and Ken) doll world... which is ultimately rejected by the movie's characters. Being fully human means acknowledging our animal nature, and owning the “icky parts” - like genitals. It tells which doll editions were NOT successful over the years, as lampooned in the movie. Pregnant Midge, complete with a belly that holds a detachable infant? Discontinued. Barbie’s adolescent sister Growing Up Skipper, with breasts that emerge with a twist of her arm? Discontinued. Earring Magic Ken? Discontinued (yet one of Mattel’s all-time best sellers). They never produced an elder Barbie (ageism is addressed in a park bench moment in the film). The negation of our animal nature has harmed us, by creating an artificial disconnect between us and the natural world.
The weird Barbie inhabits her own space - and the unspoken fact of girls defacing their Barbies or ”playing with them too hard.” Yes, that happens, and one can understand why, especially after seeing this movie!
Surprisingly, ”Barbie” is an important - and yet, hilarious - meditation on core human issues. It calls for more than one viewing to notice all that is packed into those two hours. Kudos to everyone involved in giving this improbable take on Barbie dolls a new life in the real world!
Peace, love and healing -
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