THE BARBIE MOVIE: A REVIEW
The Barbie movie gets a solid 8/10 from me. Seriously, I loved almost every part of this movie. I could go on for an article and a half about the amazing soundtrack, the punchy humor, the flawless production, the all-star cast, and of course, the social commentary, even if Mattel pulled some punches here and there (you can’t really blame them; it’s gotta be difficult to criticize capitalism and beauty standards when you make $1.5 billion a year selling dolls). All jokes aside, I’ve enjoyed the movie more and more every time I’ve seen it, even as a person who has never in their entire life owned a Barbie.
But if I had to choose my favorite part of the entire film, it would have to be the role of our favorite lovable beach workers: the Kens.
What’s not to love about Ken? He’s Barbie’s goofy “boyfriend” who is constantly getting into trouble, misunderstanding everything, and trying to impress his love interest, even at his own expense. Sure, he overthrows the government of Barbieland to install a Ken-themed patriarchy, but by the end, he goes back to being his old self, with a new understanding of who Ken really is. No harm done.
But let's take a step back. I think Ken’s story is more than just an accessory to Barbie's journey of enlightenment. Ken's behavior mirrors a pattern that we have seen in the real world all too often: the way that toxic masculine influence can set a normal, self-respecting person on a path of bigotry and misogyny, all while doing nothing to help them.
HOW TO BAKE A MISOGYNIST
To bake anything, we'll need some ingredients. Lucky for us, all we really need is a test subject. And plenty of faulty logic.
For our subject, we definitely need a sort of Ken: someone who may "respect" women, but hasn't had much success in past relationships with them. You may have recently heard major media outlets throwing around the term “male loneliness epidemic.” This phrase refers to a set of statistics suggesting that the relative rate of social isolation among American adults has sharply increased in recent years, especially due to the COVID-19 epidemic, which deprived many younger people of critical opportunities for socialization and social growth. Many scientists blame the rapid social changes that have occurred throughout the 21st century, including an increased dependence on social media, which decreases the amount of real life interactions. According to Dr. Dana Rosen, about 8 out of 10 people between the ages of 18 and 24 have reported feeling lonely. The reason this phenomenon is referred to as the "male loneliness epidemic" is that it has been shown to affect men much more strongly than women. Studies show that 15% of men report having no close friendships at all (five times more men than in 1990), while women sit at 10%. Why this is the case is an article for another day; all we need to know is that our test subject probably has an unfulfilling social life, like Ken in the Barbie movie. Our subject is also probably a bit younger and more impressionable, also like Ken, who has had almost no exposure to complex social tension between different genders.
Now that we've got our subject, we need some sort of medium through which we can deliver our misogynist rhetoric. We could use an already bigoted friend, family member, or role model, but with the advancements of the modern world, it's probably more likely that this journey is done via the internet.
The first step of this journey can take many different forms, but it generally starts with an algorithm-recommended article or video where a conservative figurehead or influencer is commenting on something like the male loneliness epidemic, or dating, or friendship, or personal fulfillment. It's not threatening on its own; they tend to observe very similar things to everyone else: men are more lonely than ever and don't tend to express it because of the social expectations that are set for them. And our test subject, being a Ken-like character, feels the same way. Now the influencer has our subject's trust, and our “Ken” is willing to listen to the advice that this influencer has to offer.
It’s at this point that the influencer uses their observation to arrive at a conclusion, which is almost always inherently wrong and often implicitly bigoted. For example: "Men are lonely because of the recent rise in feminism among women. Feminists are brainwashed into believing that they don't need men, and that's why women won't go on dates with you.” Or how about: “Men suffer from low self-esteem because men that show confidence and flirt with women are branded as rapists and their lives get ruined.” And just like that, we've got ourselves a scapegoat. Now you're probably thinking, “None of this is true! Feminism empowers women to make their own decisions, and the men who are called out as rapists usually are!” But the facts don’t need to be true for them to make sense. To our Ken, it all adds up. He's not having success with women not because of him, he thinks, but because of women.
But that’s not quite enough. “Women are the problem” is a comforting belief, but not a helpful one. Ken still wants a relationship. So now he turns to another kind of influencer: toxic male role models. Andrew Tate, Jordan Peterson, Matt Walsh, historical figures, politicians, even fictional characters like Patrick Bateman, Thomas Shelby, and Homelander. There's plenty to go around. These “role models" preach about the failures of modern society, about how good it used to be before "modernism" and "woke ideology" (code words for antiracism and feminism) took over. Most importantly, they promote toxic practices. They tell men to “focus on the grind and hustle” rather than make friends and form healthy relationships. The “self improvement” they promote is often nothing but working out, cutting off any remaining friends, and buying classes and books from their models. At their worst, they push men to actively disrespect women, justifying that either they deserve it, or worse, they like it. This behavior, in turn, makes real life people want to interact with them less, starting the vicious cycle of loneliness all over again. When they fail, they blame everyone but themselves. It's always a competition between them and women or them and other men; that's what they've been told is the truth. And since they have no one else to turn to, that’s what they believe. Their journey takes them deeper and deeper into the clutches of the online right wing, and it becomes harder and harder for them to escape.
And there it is. Our Ken has left Barbieland, discovered patriarchy, tried (and failed) to seize power through his masculinity, and founded his own Kendom. And he still lacks any sense of identity that isn't related to women. We've baked ourselves a fine misogynist.
The Barbie movie, for the most part, is a funny and somewhat satirical film about two dolls experiencing life as humans. But it teaches us that even though Ken loves Barbie more than he loves himself, he isn't immune to the propaganda that sexists push. And we aren't either.
The only way to break the cycle is the same way Barbie and Ken do it at the end of the movie: with education. Barbie uses the reality of life as a woman in a woman-hating world to snap the other Barbies out of their trance, and Ken shares his wisdom about identity and self-discovery with the other Kens to end the Ken civil war started by their competition over the Barbies. Understanding the psychology of modern misogyny and educating ourselves and others is the only way to protect against it.