The Barbie movie is stirring up buzz on all sides.

A friend recently invited a group of women to brunch and the Barbie movie. I was excited about the brunch, but decided to skip the movie.

Until I read the massive buzz and learned that my daughter (25), the last person I expected to see it, wanted to go.  

We chatted about the movie’s premise and I told her as a feminist and a Devil’s Advocate, I’d heard Barbie was over the top, excessive male bashing, emasculating, an extreme feminist roar. I asked her to let me know what she thought.

The following morning she texted:

“It was great, super whimsical, a satirical world contrasted with the complicated reality of womanhood. I think you might find the story over the top, but it conveys some very important messages every woman can relate to.”

When Taylor was little for the most part she ignored the few Barbies I gave her, the character versions like Cinderella and Belle. My feminist values justified that Disney Barbies were merely cute merchandise from iconic family films, and that my daughter was far too young to internalize the impossible beauty standards Barbie projected.

Which of course isn’t true. Beauty and gender role expectations douse kids from day one. But I’m a fun mom and personally I liked the character Barbies.

About fifteen years ago my husband got on me after I bought a black Barbie for a (white) friend’s (white) daughter’s birthday party. Without asking the parents.

“It’s not your place to bring up race. She’s not your kid.”

I insisted the parents wouldn’t mind. Although he was right; I was indeed, wildly presumptuous. But I was tired of seeing mostly white Barbies.

That’s long since changed.  

My daughter never paid much attention to Barbieland. But once she became a tween I told her Barbie was an unrealistic and bad female roll model. For me growing up, subtle feminist messaging started young.

My parents outlawed most TV, notably female-demeaning fluff, like beauty contests and soap operas. Anything they thought mushed the mind or dumbed down women. So of course because it was forbidden, I watched behind their back.

If my father caught me watching Miss America or Days of Our Lives he’d say, “What the hell is this crap?” Then he’d turn off the TV and tell us to go read a book.

But I was allowed Barbies. The few I had were the original 70’s blond, buxom, high-heeled, no-waisted. I loved her look, her clothes, her shoes, the cool RV camper and ever-so-girly hair salon kit. I lived in Barbie world for a time, but I don’t remember ever wanting to look like her, except for her thinness.

Barbie camper

Barbie of today is liberated, an individual, whomever and whatever she wants to be.  Career or homemaker or both.

Laura-Barbie is just such an enigma. Former stay-at-home mom, ambitious, crude-humored, carefully blunt, feminine and feminist.

She’s an imperfect body chasing a better one. She wears make-up, high heels and short skirts because she chooses to. She’s aging with unapologetic superficial vanity. Willing to shout her age but not enter it gracefully.

She once thought Botox was an atrocity, but now embraces it.

Apparently the movie is wildly popular with feminists, and wildly unpopular with conservatives. Critics call it a hay day of male bashing, extreme “wokeness,” an angry movie (softened by an iconic beloved doll).

“The Barbie movie has smashed box-office records, brought dress-up back and put feminism in the spotlight.

Specifically, it has many asking: Has a doll long criticized for perpetuating outdated gender norms and unrealistic body image become a feminist icon? Has she always been one?

For context: The movie takes place largely in Barbieland, a candy-colored, women-centered utopia where Barbies hold the positions of power (all of the jobs, really, except for “beach”) and Kens are essentially peripheral. That’s painted in stark contrast to the “real world,” of course.”  NPR. Rachel Treisman (Host). July 27, 2023. Is Barbie a feminist icon? It’s complicated.

I’ll decide what I think Sunday, and I’ll be fair. I make a point not to knee-jerk fist pump with my progressive compadres on any subject.

And I can laugh at myself. I can laugh at any woman or man who acts the fool or bimbo or whatever light caricature I’m presented.

But I’m dead serious about equal rights.

Despite its maligned reputation, feminism has never been about pushing men down. That’s a paranoid ultra conservative narrative that reduces the term down to “hates men, bad for family values.”

I like men. Some, not all. I like women, some not all. It’s the person, not the gender that makes me like or detest someone.

Feminism has never meant, at least in later waves, male-bashing or getting off on emasculating.  It does mean unraveling patriarchy and ending culturally manufactured and reinforced male toxic behavior. Which by the way hurts men too (Big Boys Don’t Cry)

Feminism on the whole is simple.

It means equality for both genders.  Not at the expense of one, but to the benefit of everyone.  

Does Barbie’s Ken, all men in the movie, get a raw deal?

Or is it merely a campy hilarious satire with feminist messaging?

Today, (Mattel’s) online store boasts Barbies modeled after inspirational female figures — from Jane Goodall to Naomi Osaka to Laverne Cox — and people with disabilities, from a doll with Down Syndrome to those that come with props like hearing aids and wheelchairs. – NPR. Rachel Treisman (Host). July 27, 2023. Is Barbie a feminist icon? It’s complicated.