The anticipation surrounding Greta Gerwig’s newest film, Barbie (2023), has been resounding, taking over every social media platform, news casts, and global conversation. The Barbie culture surrounding the making of the film has also encouraged women and young girls to dress up for the film viewing in all shades of pink, so as to promote a viewing community.
Interestingly, and perhaps much to the surprise of viewers, Barbie’s target audience is not necessarily directed towards young girls and adolescents, but more so to young adults and middle-aged women. Barbie opens explaining the functions of the world of Barbieland in which Margo Robbie’s character, Stereotypical Barbie, starts noticing some dangerous behaviors and thoughts within herself. She sets off on the journey to the real world to try to solve the problem. She enters this adventure assuming that the real world will be identical to how women function in Barbieland’s society. She expects the women she meets to thank her for making their lives better, for helping them have the confidence to become anything they wish: doctors, lawyers, and even the president. Barbie expects the Supreme Court to be made up entirely of women and she expects construction workers to also be dominantly female. Instead, Barbie faces a rude awakening alongside her sidekick, Ken, and realizes that the real world is a place dominated by men, where women do not have a respectable amount of power. In fact, women are treated as objects and subjects in a man’s world. Barbie is quickly arrested for slapping a man who smacked her butt among other accidental shenanigans. She also faces sexist comments made by men on the street and even in the police station, which causes heightened feelings and awareness of anxiety and fear—two things she is highly unfamiliar with.
In this way, the dramatic presentation of Barbie in the real world is meant to draw attention to the discrepancies between an ideal world—where women are accurately seen as whole equals to men—and the real world, where that ideal reality is a hope set far in the future. Barbie’s criticism of this inequality is pushed to the forefront with highly comical dialogue that women from many different backgrounds and upbringings can relate to, highlighting the very real and hilarious livelihoods of being single, a mother, and even a grandmother. Barbie’s confusion to this alternate type of world is also notable and prompts viewer’s to consider the fact that a reality in which women do encompass the entirety of the supreme court, are CEOs of companies, and hold high positions of power is not a radical concept, but rather a version of reality that should be thoughtfully considered and openly accepted. Interestingly, Gerwig’s film does not promote a world where women reign supreme—as that would be identical to that of a man-run world, just with the opposite sex, and would warrant very similar issues. For example, as the film progresses, viewers see that the Kens share the same identity; they have no individualism that encourages uniqueness and thus their identity is directly tied to Barbie and how they can serve her. In this way, they are all collectively a like-minded homogenous being. Therefore, Gerwig applies pressure to prejudices and stereotypes placed on both women and men and argues on behalf of an equal world, where both men and women can equally occupy positions of power without fears and insecurity.
Even more so, Barbie highlights the ways young girls grow up having internalized the message of the ideally perfect Barbie doll, particularly in the character of Sasha, the girl who Barbie assumes is experiencing depressive emotions and thoughts—when in reality it is Sasha’s mother who has these feelings. The first moment Barbie meets Sasha, Barbie is all smiles and radiant joy, while Sasha wreaks of a mean and critical teenage attitude. When Barbie questions why Sasha is so critical and why she does not express joy at Barbie’s appearance, Sasha deals Barbie a spear of a monologue, criticizing that Barbie is a fascist who set feminism back multiple decades and who only encourages women to negatively compare their bodies to the doll rather than celebrate womanhood. Sasha delivers this speech with a stone cold face and even colder voice, that rises slowly as she gets more passionate and more angry. In this way Gerwig, essentially with a bright neon sign, highlights how the intentions of the Barbie doll may have been mostly innocent, but the reality is that Barbie has only turned women against each other. Barbie then directly confronts this in the end by boldly speaking on behalf of the beauty of humanity, as shown when Barbie chooses to give up her perfect plastic life in Barbieland in exchange for the beautiful chaos of being a true human.
While Barbie uses humor and the spectacular world of Barbieland to highlight the nostalgic nature of Mattel’s iconic doll, Gerwig expertly crafts a message through the vessel of entertainment to delve deeper into women’s social issues and shine a light on the fact that women and men alike are purely human with every emotion that comes as part of being a member of humanity. These emotions do not diminish credibility or sanity, but unite all of humanity in a common cause: that being a human is hard, but all of the wonderful experiences of life make everything worthwhile.