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Battle in Barbie Land

I really wanted to like the Barbie movie. As a gen-x girly grrl, I had to campaign hard for my hippie mother to even let me play with Barbies. She thought they were a bad influence, for all the reasons you might expect... body image, sexualization, superficiality, appearance-obsession, consumerism, the fashion industry racket, etc. In other words, none of the issues the Barbie movie is concerned with.

For those of you who haven't seen it, in the 2023 movie, Barbie Land is a fluffy pink feminist utopia, where plastic women run the world. Every night is Girls Night and all the races are equal because they're all Barbie.

The only second-class citizen is Ken, and that’s where the trouble starts. Barbie and Ken travel to The Real World and Ken learns about... dun-dun-dun... The Patriarchy! He goes back to Barbie Land to infect all the other Kens with the mind virus of toxic masculinity. Meanwhile, Barbie is pursued by the all-male board of the Mattel Corporation who want to put her back in the not-so proverbial box so she can't infect the Real World with girl power, or something like that.

(In the real real world, the Mattel board is half women, but I guess it's easier to fight the great grey-suited Patriarchy of a bygone era than the more nebulous enemies of our current reality; dating apps that gamify relationships, declining sperm counts in every developed country due to environmental pollutants, and the looming hoards of AI companions and sex robots that could soon make human partners seem like more trouble than they're worth.)

But back in Barbie Land, the Kens are taking over, redecorating the Dream House with saloon doors, drinking beer and, gasp, playing guitar incessantly! The Barbies are struck dumb and subservient, having no "natural immunity” to male privilege. The only thing that can save them and restore the plastic pink status quo is an impassioned speech that has since gone viral in the real world...

You can watch it below or read the transcript here.

I get why some people love America Ferrera's monologue. She delivers it with passion and intensity. It's well written. It feels righteous. It panders to our self-pity in a way that feels like it should be true. But despite the pretty pink package, it's actually toxic bullshit.

“It's too hard! It's too contradictory, and nobody gives you a medal or says thank you…”

Wow, do we need a literal participation trophy now just for being a woman? There is so much wrong and harmful and infuriating about the Barbie movie, starting with this monologue.

Here's the thing... No one expects you to be perfect. Who do you think you're competing against, or performing for? Life isn't a game or a contest. You don't have to win or be liked. You don't have to lean in or climb the corporate ladder if you don't want to. You don't have to be a good girl or a smart girl or a cool girl (and, no, you don't have to stop saying "girl" just because you're a grown ass woman). 

I can't believe this even needs to be said in 2024, but you don't have to play dumb, play games or play hard to get. You don't have to hold out for a hero or be a damsel in distress. You don't have to please men, or answer for their bad behavior. You don't have to act like a man, or settle for one who doesn't deserve you. You don't have to buy into the reality show hype and end up with a narcissistic douchebag. You don't have to get married or have kids. You don't have to be a soccer mom, or a Tiger mom, or a MILF.

You don't have to stay young forever (which is literally impossible). Time only moves in one direction, which you'd know if you studied STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math), but you don't have to study STEM either. Not because "math is hard" like the infamous talking Barbie once said (but, duh, math IS actually hard! Most things that are valuable are hard), but the world needs all kinds of people and not everyone has to be good at math or sports or even relationships.

(Of course, if you ever want to be in a healthy relationship with another human being, you will have to be willing to compromise, share, be authentic and make an effort... exactly the same things you expect of him, her or them. But I digress.)

I recently read M.O.M.: Mother of Madness, a graphic novel co-written by the actress Emelia Clarke, best known for playing Daenerys “Mother of Dragons” Targaryen on Game of Thrones. It's supposed to be a female empowerment parable set 50 years in the future, but the gender stereotypes are like something out of Mad Men. The main character is always talking about how women are criticized for being too messy and emotional but her insecurity and self-obsession are exhausting and the world around her is as silly and anachronistic as the cartoonish all-male Mattel board in the Barbie movie. What's intended to be empowering and relatable feels juvenile and preachy, like a tween girl who's just discovered feminism lecturing you on her deep political perspective.

I can understand why Emelia Clarke might feel like it's "impossible" to be a woman. It must be incredibly hard to be an actress these days, with 24-7 social media and a rabid fantasy fan base like that of Game of Thrones, which infamously botched its landing in the final season with an ending that most fans hated. And no character fared worse than the mother of dragons herself. I'm sure Emelia Clarke got more than her fair share of social media vitriol because people can be idiots and social media amplifies negative sentiments exponentially. Most of us don't live with anywhere near that level of scrutiny, so why do these messages of persecution and impossible expectations resonate with young women?

"Men hate women and women hate women. It's the one thing we can all agree on."

Strangers who chirp you on Twitter are not your friends. Your friends on Facebook who post comments that make you feel bad about yourself don't have to be your friends (unfriend is a thing). What you see on social media doesn't tell the whole story. You don't have to feel bad about other people looking better than you, having more fun than you, or winning at life harder than you. You don't even have to be on those platforms if they aren't making your life better.

These apps, ostensibly meant to connect us, are really only designed to capture our attention and rake in billions of advertising dollars. If they make you feel worse about yourself, like 50 years of progress has been for nothing, fuck 'em. Fuck anything that makes you feel ugly, unlovable, envious, or insecure. That goes for men, women, girls, boys and everything in between.

If The Sisterhood doesn't support you as a woman, fuck The Sisterhood. In the 90s I worked briefly in an office full of sales women in their 20s and 30s. It was a weird dynamic to say the least. One day in the lunchroom I was telling a story about the night before when one woman interrupted me to ask, "do you drink every night?" It was so absurd, so rude, and inappropriate that for a second I froze, and then I laughed out loud, which made everyone else in the room start laughing, nervously at first, and then she laughed too, realizing how shitty she sounded. Sometimes even The Sisterhood needs to be called out for its bad behavior.

"It's literally impossible to be a woman..."

Most of us are not naturally thin or blonde, geniuses, star athletes or entrepreneurs, which is exactly why our culture values those things. Scarcity equals value. Not that they're impossible to attain, it just takes a lot of hard work if you’re not born that way. And who wants to live in a world where everyone is thin and blonde anyway? Spoiler alert, not even Barbie. In the end, she happily trades in her plastic perfection for real female genitalia and the ability to grow old.

The Kens' half-hearted uprising is crushed under an army of plastic spike heels, and they're put back in their place as second class citizens with gleeful derision that feels less like revenge and more like punching down.

Sure, it's hard to be a woman, but it's also hard to be a man, it's really hard to be the mother of dragons, or the mother of anyone (I’ve only ever been the mother of cats, and that’s hard enough), but it's far from "impossible" and toxic femininity is not the answer to toxic masculinity.

As of this writing, the Barbie movie is averaging 3.0 stars with an even split between ones and fives, and very little in between, the very definition of "polarizing." It's a false flag first strike masquerading as feminism, a pretty pink hand grenade casually tossed over the fence igniting a tinder box.

It's never been easier to get people enraged, to incite a battle of the sexes or a race war, to amplify what we hate about ourselves and each other (and the rigged system), to divide us into factions so we exhaust ourselves fighting each other. Don't take the bait. Just be you. Be original. Be a good person. That's all you or anyone else owes the rest of us. Therein lies an entire world of possibility.

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