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The student news site of Moravian University

The Comenian

The student news site of Moravian University

The Comenian

The “Anti-Man” Agenda in Barbie

Too Tickled Pink to Think
Photo courtesy of Deadline

From its positively pink promotion to worldly acclaim, Greta Gerwig’s “Barbie” managed to transcend audience expectations by being anything but just cinematic girly glamor. The film spawned a revival of embracing girlhood and has been lauded in feminist circles for emboldening how women define themselves. Gerwig’s directorial landscape continues to reach new heights as she imbues expansive nuance in a property such as Barbie. 

However, not even its zenith of popularity with a tremendous box office opening weekend nor the popular “Barbenheimer” phenomena could shield this film from seemingly misandrist indoctrination allegations and being hounded as “anti-man”. Is Barbie “anti-man?” Was Greta Gerwig brewing a concoction for man-hating mayhem? 

British columnist Sarah Vine described the film as “deeply anti-man…an extension of all that TikTok feminism that paints any form of masculinity — other than the most anodyne — as toxic and predatory,” and how it seems to frame women’s rights as “a cultural revenge vehicle designed to write men out of the story altogether.” Meanwhile, famed American columnist Ben Shapiro credits the film’s appeal to leftist banality and cites that it is “explicitly designed to divide men from women.” These arguments seem to adopt the rhetoric that the film is nefariously antagonizing men. Let’s examine this. The main men in the film are the Kens. The Kens are accessories to the Barbies, that is true. In Barbieland, they don’t seem to have any substantial positions and are merely just aesthetic arm candy competing with one another. Their place in Barbieland mirrors women’s place in the real world and even so, they aren’t treated that poorly. The Barbies do not completely disregard the Kens’ existence. There isn’t a mass oppression of Kens. Their lack of identity is not a result of Barbie “fascism.” The men aren’t written out of the story especially if we consider how the Kens have their own existential awakening and Ryan Gosling’s Ken being reassured and having his identity affirmed as his and his alone; Barbie and Ken do not need to depend on each other which isn’t a division of men from women but rather an affirmation to live for yourself. For Ken, it’s learning that although he loves Barbie, his existence is enough – or Kenough as the movie goofily adopts. The other men in the film, the corporate executives, are not portrayed as villainous as Greta Gerwig could’ve made them be. Even when they try forcing Barbie into a box and prevent her escape, by the end of the film, their demeanor changes and they are willing to listen to one of their female employees – played by America Ferrara – on where they can direct their Barbie brand. I certainly wouldn’t call that anti-man if the film is willing to give its main male characters a glimmer of redemption. 

The “anti-man pandering” doesn’t fall true when it comes to how the main men of the film, even when their vices are on full display, are not villainized. Any viewer with a shred of media literacy could realize that the film isn’t centered on bashing men but on detailing aching girlhood. What happens to Barbie when she enters the real world happens to women in general. Having a fully developed body on display, feeling as if that body isn’t yours under the gaze of men, the paradoxes of expectations of women, this is the film’s dogma. Women continue to feel this existential burden not only from men but from other women deeply wounded by internalized misogyny. 

Just because the film borrows rudimentary facets of feminist theory does not mean that it seeks to be purely misandrist. The patriarchy is not only a system that belittles women but enforces rigidity on what men ought to be. The Kens think they should have to show their superiority and painfully adopt the stereotypes of a self-made man. They only follow a shallow – and frankly, hollow – regiment for masculinity. This film doesn’t complicate its message with intricate, Judith Butler-esque feminist attitudes nor does it only stick to basic feminism and simple “girlboss” mentality. 

The fervent controversy seems completely unwarranted. It seems like the anti-feminist masses wanted to find something to hate from such an inoffensive movie, believing that there is sense to their otherwise nonsensical drivel . There isn’t any radical feminist propaganda nor is there a nefarious subjugation to fuel movie goers into a man-hating frenzy. No one is waving a pink Venus symbol. Women aren’t suddenly banishing men left and right. Frankly, there isn’t any mass shift in gender dynamics or a complete division of male and female identities. Besides, a division of men and women has always existed. That isn’t to say that women and men are destined to never understand one another but the differences in how men and women navigate the world is worth acknowledging. If we lived in a world where we could acknowledge the differences, then maybe we could lessen the division. Men know that women frame their lives cautiously but fail to actually consider how they do so. How do women value their safety? How do they deal with their changing bodies? How can they deal with the disparity of the wage gap? How can I, as a man, acknowledge the fact that women have a right to be fearful when a man approaches them when they are alone or follow them too closely? How can I acknowledge that women prefer to be taken care of by female medics, gynecologists, or undertakers because they (rightfully) do not trust men enough to not violate their bodies? A film that simply wants to show the how’s of navigating the female experience through a beloved toy franchise will not be the decadence of the relationship between men and women. Instead, it wants to offer this: an empathetic epiphany and an appeal to sensibility through which we live our lives as cogs of the patriarchy. If it truly wanted to be a pantomime of misandry, it would not have taken the time to give an alternative to men away from patriarchy that does not benefit them. Instead, it emboldens a need for understanding, sensibility and affirming your personhood against a suffocating system. 

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  • K

    Kelly S Denton-BorhaugSep 1, 2023 at 12:53 pm

    Way to go with this fine review, Fatimah! We are exploring many of these questions in my course (Religion, Feminist and Gender Studies, IDIS/Rel 240) this semester, and in addition, the intersection of religion with the issues you address here. I’ll share this with the class! Dr. DB