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From Box to Screen: How Greta Gerwig’s Barbie Redefined Modern Feminism

Updated: Aug 24, 2023

Barbie has taken over a huge chunk of prominent pop culture, painting the whole town (and the inside of some people’s closets) pink ever since the first announcement of its first major motion picture.

Barbie has always been a movie star, with 42 movies being released over the past 22 years prior to the release of its first major motion picture. But this Barbie movie is more than just a summer blockbuster success or Mattel’s impressive marketing to revive their product sales. Greta Gerwig’s work of art has unapologetically brought the spotlight to feminism, which is no surprise as Gerwig is an independent director who has directed notable, female-empowered films such as Ladybird (2017) and Little Women (2019). Gerwig herself has also starred in similar genres such as the coming-of-age film, 20th Century Women (2016). Warning: Barbie movie spoilers from this point!

Indeed, Barbie has been at the center of many debates over the past decades – is she a girl-boss icon or just a blonde bimbo? The beginning of the film opened with little girls trading their baby dolls for a Barbie, where the plastic doll has inspired little girls around the world that they can be anything that they want to be (Barbie You Can Be Anything!). This played a significant and contributing role in the transformation from womanism to feminism in history. Women began to discover rights and opportunities, and demand equality of sexes. Issues such as gender discrimination, inequality, and gender-based violence were raised, setting in motion sociological and political movements on women rights across history.

On the other hand, Barbie has also been called out and criticized for her unrealistic beauty image, brainwashing girls to be “perfect like Barbie”. Stereotypical Barbie takes a trip to the human world to save Barbieland (cue the flat feet discovery), only to be welcomed with an antagonistic Sasha, whose opinion was that Barbie is just a “professional bimbo” that makes women feel bad about themselves for not having a perfect body or glamorous lifestyle.

Barbie The Movie has smashed a record-breaking $1.28 billion in the box office, and with the doll’s long history with feminism, it is no surprise that the major motion picture is labelled as a feminist movie. Men all over the internet have been giving outrageous reviews like “The feminist agenda will kill us all” and “An alienating dangerous and perverse film” and, amusingly, “Barbage”.

It may be the number of times the word “patriarchy” was mentioned in the film, or the man-child Kens in Barbieland, but men in this human world are in perpetual anger over this pink blockbuster. Gents, if you can get mad at how this one film portrays men, then imagine how women feel watching all those films in the past that portrayed women as sexual objects or damsels in distress, or having no purpose in life other than finding love (this is only to name a few).

Yes, Barbie may be a feminist movie, but the target audience is definitely not men. The message behind the movie is not to attack men, but rather to invite the audience to understand the struggles and challenges of being a woman in this world by putting them in women’s shoes (or in this case, stilettos). Why do you think Gloria gave that truthful and powerful speech towards the climax of the movie?

“It is literally impossible to be a woman…..But always stand out and always be grateful. But never forget that the system is rigged. So find a way to acknowledge that but also always be grateful.”

Barbie The Movie may have conveyed its message on feminism and women empowerment, but Gerwig decided to give a small twist to this female-forward film. Ken’s appearance in the movie that started with him singing “What will it take for her to see the man behind the tan and fight for me?”, and discovering patriarchy, ended with Barbie encouraging him to find his own self-worth and identity. Upon restoring Barbieland from patriarchy, all Barbies and Kens live in equality, as opposed to how Barbieland was portrayed at the beginning of the film.

The overlooked message this film is bringing? As women’s struggles are acknowledged, male struggles are also not ignored. If it's not already apparent enough, Ken’s “I Am Kenough” hoodie at the end of the film says it all. Written by: Reena Nadhirah Journalist, Charisma Movement 22/23

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