‘Barbie’ Movie’s Anti-Male, Anti-Motherhood Theme a Bad Influence for Young Girls
I resisted the “Barbie” movie as long as possible, but eventually succumbed. When a film bearing one’s childhood nickname (mine with a “y,” note) grosses over $2 billion, and one hears so many gushing plaudits even from intelligent peers, curiosity mounts. Could this film actually be… good? Was Ben Shapiro’s scathingly denunciatory 43-minute review of “Barbie” (“a death-star-sized piece of dreck”) overkill?
Ben is always funny when he’s annoyed, and never more so than when his conservative antennae catch the self-righteous vibes of the progressive creative class, identified here as writers Greta Gerwig and Noah Baumbach (Gerwig also directed). So his detailed evisceration of the various plotlines’ misandry and extreme incoherence is an entertainment in itself.
According to Ben, the film skewed heavily ideological. It’s marketed to little girls, but is actually “angry feminist claptrap that alienates men from women, undermines basic human values, and promotes falsehood.” Inconsistency is rampant. Stereotypical Barbie, the protagonist, dressed in 1950s-era clothes, is necessarily an airhead, for example, but, Ben points out, speaks casually of the “cognitive dissonance” necessary to function as a woman in a patriarchal world. Ben convinced me that I had to see “Barbie” for myself.
Ben was right. Barbieland, where all the various iterations of Barbie—including (of course) Trans Barbie—and her “boyfriend” Ken live, is a matriarchy, where the Barbies rule. The president in her faux White House is a black Barbie, as are all her staff. Legal Barbies constitute the entire Supreme Court. Stereotypical Barbie enjoys her perfect house in happy singlehood, where every sunny day is like the one before, with nothing to ruffle her good cheer.
As they were conceived, the Kens are there as accessories to the Barbies. They are all stupid as well. They jokingly use innuendo to imply sex acts—even though nominally lacking in sexuality. Neither the Barbies nor the Kens can perform any physical functions—they are animated dolls, after all—but they “play” at eating and drinking and flirting. Or rather, the Kens flirt with the Barbies. The Barbies treat the Kens as benign aristocrats would treat the palace footmen. It’s made clear that in this matriarchal utopia, men are nothing without women, but women can be perfectly content without men.
Anyone alert to “messaging” can see, as what passes for a plot unspools, that the film is driven by feminist shibboleths that sounded fresh a half a century ago, but that make no sense today. For one pertinent example, as Ben points out, in the film the entire board of the Mattel Toy Company—playing the “villain” role—is male. The CEO is not only male, he’s a bombastic idiot to boot. In reality, “Barbie’s” creator, Ruth Handler, was the CEO of Mattel for 30 years, and there are presently five women and six men on the board. But the writers’ anti-male thesis required the board to be male, so the heroes could all be female.
Life would be a lot easier for brainiacs like Ben Shapiro, and mere opinion columnists like me, if we could just go with the flow of a fun summer movie, like 99.9 percent of “Barbie’s” audience. After all, kids don’t care if plots are incoherent or if there’s some ideology behind the script. That stuff sails over their head. Maybe. But I couldn’t do that, because I found the opening scene, a parody of the majestic opener of the 1968 film, “2001: A Space Odyssey,” too intrusively jarring to accept as “fun.” Actually it horrified me, and there was no “going with the flow” possible after that.
In “Space Odyssey,” we see apes on the cusp of becoming human, because they have discovered they can use bones as weapons to enhance their aggression to each other. Bones can smash things—or heads. Suddenly a Monolith appears in their midst to liberate them from their primitive state. They are awestruck. A new day, a revolutionary new identity as a new species, is beginning for them.
In “Barbie,” we see little girls playing in a similar stony desertscape with their old-fashioned baby dolls, the girls pretending to be “mommies.” They are neutral in affect, as though programmed—the intended effect. Suddenly a Monolith—no, a huge figure of a beautiful, long-legged blonde woman in a striped bathing suit (Barbie’s original costume)—is standing before them. A girl approaches, timidly touches her and backs away, just as an ape did with the Monolith.
Barbie smiles down beatifically. Realization hits. The girls turn back to their baby dolls—this is the horrifying part—and start smashing their china heads into smithereens against rocks. Bits and pieces and a decapitated doll head fly through the air. Now the girls are active and smiling. A new day has dawned, and with it, a new female identity—a new species—whose biology is detached from motherhood and wholly devoted to feminized solipsism.
Funny? No. Henceforth, girls who role-modelled motherhood—a level, universal playing field since time immemorial, where “babies” could be made literally from rags, and where any girl of any appearance or socio/economic status could feel welcome—would be losers. Henceforth, rather expensively, their role-playing would be about their future beauty and its adornment (woe to the plain and poor girls), and soon enough to their activities and accomplishments. But Barbie’s achievements were always secondary to the fashion statement made in their execution.
There were Bride Barbies, but their appeal had nothing to do with any actual relationship or—puh-leez—the sanctity of marriage. Just another riff on the princess theme. Mattel did invent a spin-off character, a Barbie analogue called Happy Family Midge, with a removable baby bump, but Midge was discontinued, the narrator confides, because she was considered “too weird.”
The film ends with Barbie leaving Barbieland to become a real woman with, presumably, all the female estate’s attendant complexities. The final scene has her showing up for her first gynecological appointment. What will she do with her new biological functions? Is she seeing the gynecologist to inform herself on what to expect during pregnancy? Or is she there to discuss effective birth control options?
Wisely, the filmmakers chose not to go there. Birth control, all nostalgic Barbie fans would understand. Barbie celebrating her reproductive capacity might cause anxiety. A real-life “Maternal Barbie,” eager to nurture another human being whose existence presages the eclipse of Barbie’s own peak and petrified physical allure?
For many child-free women in the audience, that might just be “too weird.”