Patriarchy in a Pink World: A Barbie Movie Breakdown

A vibrant pink Warner Bros logo flashes across the screen as the audience settles into the tightly-packed theater. Nearly everyone sports bright shades of fuchsia, eagerly awaiting for the first scene to appear on the screen. 

Since “Barbie’s” very first teaser in 2022, it has caught the attention of people around the globe. Director Greta Gerwig, who has also directed the critically-acclaimed films, “Little Women” and “Ladybird,” first depicts Barbie Land as a seemingly perfect matriarchal society: all females are in power, while men are simply there to do whatever the Barbies want. But suddenly, stereotypical-Barbie, played by Margot Robbie, begins to experience odd human-like dilemmas, which prompt her to take a trip to the ‘real world.’ As soon as Barbie sets foot in sunny Los Angeles, she finds that the real world isn’t at all what she expects — women seem to hate her, men harass her, and nobody takes her seriously. However, Ken, played by Ryan Gosling, who accompanies Barbie to the real world, is pleasantly surprised and overwhelmingly inspired by the patriarchal society. By highlighting the stark contrasts between a feminist Barbie Land and the patriarchal real world, Gerwig presents the flaws of society in a refreshing and amusing way. 

Terrifically cast, Robbie embodies the stereotypical blonde Barbie we all grew up with, and Goslings’s witty antics play perfectly into his golden-retriever like character. Even “Weird Barbie,” played by Kate McKinnon, evokes a surprisingly specific yet relatable childhood memory of the Barbies that may have been played with a bit too aggressively.

Gerwig excellently portrayed the numerous pros and cons of Barbie Land and how those translate into the real world. On one hand, Barbie Land is essentially a utopia for all women; Barbie herself being an empowering and independent role model for all the other Barbies. However, this ideal paradise doesn’t reflect the complex gender problems in the real world. Though Barbie is supposed to boost womens’ self-confidence, in the real world she perpetuates unrealistic beauty standards. Gerwig touches upon the contradictions of Barbie in an interview with “The View”, in which she explains that in some scenarios Barbie is incredibly progressive: being an astronaut in 1959 before women could even have credit cards, however her physical appearance still does not reflect real women. 

Another issue that arises in Barbie Land is the utter neglect of men and their feelings. Though it may seem like a perfect scenario, given the state of the real world, it actually goes against the very definition of feminism: the advocacy of women’s rights on the basis of the equality of the sexes. There is very limited development in all of the Kens, almost all of the Ken characters are heavily stereotypical — depicted as useless and forgotten, lacking individual personalities, and passions. On the other hand, women are all highlighted as powerful, smart, and dynamic. While some will argue that this represents the patriarchy in the real world, it still slightly contradicts the point of promoting equality. However, unlike the real world the powerful Barbies ensure the safety of the less powerful Kens.

Overall, Barbie receives 4 out of 5 stars for its sensational job at showcasing how complex the children’s characters can actually be. Nothing is perfect, but Gerwig delivered an important message in an entertaining and positive way, yet weaving in dynamic themes within the scenes.