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Why Would I Ever Want to See the Barbie Movie? Now I Know.

The Barbie movie is stirring up buzz on all sides.

A couple months ago a friend invited me to see the Barbie movie. I appreciated the invite but wasn’t remotely excited about going.

Why torture myself? Feminist me at a Barbie movie? Never.

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, a radical feminist roar.

So 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 merch from iconic family films, and that my daughter was 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. But he was right, I was wildly presumptuous. it’s just that I was tired of seeing mostly white Barbies.

That’s long since changed.

My daughter never paid much attention to Barbieland. But once she turned into a tween I told her Barbie was an unrealistic bad female role model.

Growing up, indirect feminist messaging was everywhere in my house. Mostly from my dad. Where he got this I have no idea. My grandparents weren’t exactly poster parents for feminist ideals. I just remember, as kids do, loving them. Although Grandpa was apparently a bit of a tyrant to Grandma.

My dad outlawed nearly all TV, notably smut and female-demeaning fluff, like beauty contests and soap operas. Anything he thought mushed the mind or dumbed down women. So of course because it was forbidden, I watched all of it behind his back. The Waltons, PBS and Little House on the Prarie passed.

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 because no one was paying attention to toys and feminist messaging back then. The few Barbies I owned were the original 70’s blond, buxom, high-heeled, no-waisted models.

I loved her look. The clothes, the shoes, the cool RV camper and the girly hair salon kit. I lived in Barbieland for a time, although I don’t remember ever wanting to look like her, except for that waistline.

Barbie camper

Today Barbie is a liberated bad-ass. But she’s also an individual. Ambitious CEO or homemaker, bougie or boho. A little or all of the above.

I was a stay-at-home mom but I was also career-driven and ambitious before, during and after I stayed home. I’m polite, crude at times, blunt, feminine and feminist. That used to be called an enigma. Now it’s called being who you are.

I wear make-up, high heels and short skirts but I love my hippie thinking. I’m aging with unapologetic vanity. Willing to shout my age but not enter it gracefully. I once thought Botox was an atrocity, now at 58 I embrace it. This doesn’t feel anti-feminist. It feels natural.

The Barbie 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 once I see the movie. I’ll be fair. I make a point not to knee-jerk fist-pump with my progressive friends and family on any subject.

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

I am however, dead serious about equal rights.

Despite its bad reputation, feminism has never been about pushing men down. That’s a paranoid ultra-conservative reductionist narrative that translates into “feminists hate men and are bad for family values.”

Huh?

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 men. 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 all.

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.

Laura G Owens

Writer. Blogger. Essayist. My focus is wellness, social commentary and personal essays that explore the messiness of being human. Our ambivalence. Our uncomfortable feelings that when revealed, shed shame and reveal our authentic selves.

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Site last updated February 22, 2024 @ 6:33 pm; This content last updated January 2, 2024 @ 4:26 pm

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