She’s everything, he’s just Ken
By Nina Hufman
Barbie is everything –everyone and their mother was excited for the movie’s July 21st release, myself included. I was not disappointed. I laughed, I cried and I got “Push” by Matchbox Twenty stuck in my head for weeks.
In Barbieland, women can not only be anything; they are everything. The Kens however are simply there; they exist because Barbie exists, only living to get her attention. Ken (Ryan Gosling) himself says that his job is “just beach.” The Barbies believe their existence has solved issues for women, that their ability to be anything and everything in Barbieland extends to women in the real world.
Stereotypical Barbie (Margot Robbie), discovers the truth. She is exposed to the reality that women face each day, discovering that even the company that created her is not run by women. Meanwhile, Ken discovers the reality of being a man in the real world. He feels respected and empowered and someone even asks him what time it is.
Ken brings his new knowledge of the patriarchy to Barbieland. The Kens take over, turn all of the Barbie Dream Houses into Mojo Dojo Casa Houses, and brainwash all of the Barbies to serve them. To complete the patriarchy picture, the Kens are negatively impacted too. They sacrifice aspects of themselves in an effort to seem masculine and embody the “ideal man.” When Barbie returns, she breaks, feeling defeated after her experience in the real world and having her home taken away. Even worse, she has to suffer through a man playing the guitar and singing on a date.
Barbie feels that she isn’t pretty enough, smart enough or accomplished enough. Barbie is supposed to be perfect; always beautiful, always happy and always accomplished. This same standard is applied to women in the real world. We are expected to be beautiful but approachable, talented but humble, well dressed but modest. We’re told we’re too fat, too skinny, too emotional, too cold, too slutty, too uptight, too intimidating, too easy, too loud, too quiet – there is no way to win.
Despite this, my favorite moment in the movie is not one showing female rage, but female joy. Barbie is sitting on a bus bench, taking in the real world. She notices an old woman sitting on the other end of the bench. Barbie tells the woman that she’s beautiful. The woman responds, “I know it,” and Barbie laughs. This moment feels so special and beautiful to me. It made me ugly cry in the theater. I also liked that it called back to the Barbies all unapologetically owning their accomplishments and praising their own hard work.
In addition to the hard hitting themes, Barbie had an iconic wardrobe and soundtrack. “I’m Just Ken,” was obviously a standout, just one of Ken’s incredibly memorable moments. The dynamics of Barbieland were genius; of course the Barbies would float out of their houses, no one walks their Barbies down the stairs. I loved Weird Barbie. Alan was so endearing. It was cathartic to see America Ferrara, an actress who is often typecast, vent her frustrations at a society designed to work against her.
I loved Barbie. The movie showed that Barbie is not just a toy, she is a feminist icon and a source of inspiration. I felt seen, like my experiences and the experiences of other women were being validated. The joys and sadnesses of being a woman were perfectly shown in Barbie. I am Kenough and so are you.