Before I had a chance to see Barbie, someone described it to me as having “no real plot line.” I beg to differ. The plot line of Barbie is what a woman’s life looks like in The Real World. Let me explain…
In the opening scene, the introduction of the first Barbie doll is positioned as a liberating moment for women, as little girls take to destroying their baby dolls in favor of a toy that allows them to do, be, and dream of more possibilities. Earth is then presented as having two separate, but linked, domains: Barbieland and The Real World.
Barbie (played by Margot Robbie) embarks on a journey to The Real World only to meet Gloria (America Ferrera) and find that her existence did not give real women the full freedom she thought it had. Ken (played by Ryan Gosling), on the other hand, discovers “the patriarchy” and is completely enamored with it.
Upon his return to Barbieland, he tries to replicate “the patriarchy” by creating Kendom and rewriting the constitution. Ultimately, his efforts are thwarted. However, Barbie does concede to Ken that perhaps not every night needs to be “girls night” (a subtle, yet clear, concession if you ask me). In the midst of the Barbieland/Kendom conflict, Gloria gives a rousing speech about the contradictions facing women, realizing that Barbie is not above the experience in this tussle with Ken and the other Barbies who are oblivious to what’s happening around them.
So why does this so-called plot mirror an actual female experience? Because there is no clear line between Point A and Point B. There is no clear understanding of what’s required of Barbie (i.e. a woman) in any setting. We are forced to make impossible choices with little (if any) peace of mind attached to any outcome.
Those who missed the point of Barbie are those who fell asleep before America Ferrera’s speech. “It is literally impossible to be a woman.” We live our lives as walking contradictions, and we’re supposed to be happy about it. What other choice do we have? America’s character later asks the Mattel executives if they would consider creating Ordinary Barbie, to which no real answer is given.
But I am Ordinary Barbie. As are countless other women. I can’t be the Mom I want to be, and the Wife I want to be, and the Woman I want to be. So I feel like I have to be Ordinary at all of it, or I won’t be able to do Any of it.
I’m not ashamed to admit that I played with Barbies until I was in high school — definitely longer than any of my friends. And even then, the Barbies didn’t get put away into boxes for storage until I left for college. At the age of 36, Barbie has reminded me of why I loved her so much. Barbie understands that I have been given impossible choices and that it’s okay to keep dreaming while I’m living in the patriarchy. Barbie keeps feminism alive and relevant, while also showing us that there’s not always a clear-cut solution to our problems. Our politics may not align, but I can’t deny the truth in Cheryl Sandberg’s book that sometimes our best option truly is to just “lean in.”
Those on the right who often ascribe feminism to mostly liberal, left-leaning ideology should reconsider. I am certainly no scholar on the subject, but I can tell you that I reject the notion that feminism is somehow mutually exclusive with my Christian faith and classical liberal politics. Feminism is not red or blue — it’s pink.
For example, I can advocate for things like more and better parental leave while recognizing that it’s a cultural privilege that has evolved on the part of employers rather than something to be coerced by legislation. I could go on, but my goal here is to simply demonstrate that Barbie is not about Barbie.
Barbie is about the contradictory life as a woman in whatever form that a woman chooses to live, whether that’s caring for a family full time (which I found to be the most difficult job I’ve ever had), or pursuing careers as a nuclear engineer, federal contracts negotiator, small business owner, pharmacist, mental health professional, journalist, teacher, nurse, attorney, minister, or any number of other professions — not to mention the women who are single or without children and face yet further difficulties because of those circumstances. These are all very real lives of women in my orbit, and each brings its own challenges in ways the rest of us could never truly fathom.
Ironically, upon returning home from the theater, my husband had the entire refrigerator pulled apart trying to fix a clogged drain line while letting Southpark run on the living room television at full volume. He had put our son to bed alone (no small task for any parent, mother or father, as most can attest), and saved us hundreds in repair bills, if not thousands on a new appliance. I wouldn’t want to live in Kendom, but this Ordinary Barbie doesn’t mind sharing her dream house.