Hi Barbie, hi patriarchy?
It will remain a mystery how the theatrical release of two major motion pictures created a moment in time that became so pivotal that it affected everyone’s lives to some extent. I’m talking about the so-called ‘Barbenheimer’ weekend, of course. Was it the all-encompassing effects of social media-propelled marketing that Barbie had? Did the algorithmic gods, who condemn us to perpetual connection that transcends geographical distance, bless us with a cultural phenomenon that unites the world, even if only for a brief period? It is rather beautiful that Barbenheimer, fundamentally based on a division – which film would you watch first – ended up bringing people together and arguably having the most fun we’ve had as humankind since before the pandemic.
To my friends, Instagram followers, and countrymen, it must have come as no surprise that I watched Barbie first. Not only because I was keen on the gender commentary the movie was inevitably going to make, but also because I have long been following Greta Gerwig’s work. From her directorial debut Lady Bird, followed by the brilliantly refreshing adaptation Little Women, to the film that she co-wrote and starred in, Frances Ha, her light and compassion has continually shone through the screen. Given her blazing filmography and of course Barbie’s omnipresent marketing (if any other movie had done the same level of marketing, it would have driven me nuts, but not Barbie, somehow) I was going to watch Barbie first. Of course.
It is a futile exercise reviewing Barbie now, because the film has been relentlessly discussed and dissected across publications, both mainstream and niche. It has been reviewed by your friend-of-friend-of-friend on Instagram, there is not a soul on this planet that doesn’t have an opinion on the film. In some ways, Greta Gerwig needs to be credited for accomplishing just this; creating a piece of work that begins and leads discussions, one that is so interesting and culturally relevant to the particular time in history we live in that everyone gets involved in conversations around it. Barbie opened a Pandora’s box and prompted us, as a society, to fully engage in topics we have been tiptoeing around. Sure, nothing that was said in Barbie was fully new or original, but every single idea and concept is still relevant.
Barbie has no doubt brought women all over the world together. It has reignited sisterhood, sparked friendships and meticulously described the experience of womanhood in a way perhaps no other movie has dared to. But what is its effect on men, and how have they viewed the Barbie phenomenon?
Naturally curious, I’ve used this as an ice breaker in several conversations. The responses, particularly those of men, have been interesting. The responses have almost always gone beyond a simple yes and no. On one end, there has been unabashed enthusiasm (those woke, liberal folk, where does it end with them?) where they have embraced the spirit of the film, not in the least by dressing in all pink (although it is highly contestable that dressing up in pink alone will single-handedly destroy patriarchal systems and practices).
On the other end of the spectrum, there has been a downright refusal to watch the movie, for multiple reasons (“Nolan is God”) but one reason worth highlighting is the fear of being judged by other men. Little do they realise that by feigning disinterest in watching Barbie, or by actually watching and enjoying it but not overtly acknowledging that they liked it, they go on to prove the point that Barbie is trying to make – that patriarchy oppresses men as well, creating paradigms of masculinity that men can’t live up to (and don’t need to either).
And this is why I contest that by creating Barbie, Greta Gerwig began a social experiment in which the entire world unwittingly participated. This social experiment, while run on an unprecedentedly massive scale, is still quite ethical, unlike the famously infamous Stanford Prison experiment. While the movie makes strong gender and social commentary, the act of deciding whether or not to watch the film in itself can be viewed through the lens of gender expectations and men’s fear of falling short of them.
Barbie began a much-needed conversation, but it falls upon us to not view feminism as a topic that’s in vogue, but to keep it at the top of our agendas. It is important to question the tiniest of decisions that we make within our families, which are microcosms of society. From major career decisions, financial decisions, lifestyle and clothing choices, decisions to pursue higher education, deciding who and when to marry, and the choice whether or not to have a child, we currently live in a world where in most societies, such important decisions are made on behalf of women by others. It is high time that we changed the status quo, instead of brushing it off or downright denying it’s unfair. And maybe by changing the way we live at both micro and macro levels, we will slowly inch towards a better, more inclusive world. Like the Barbie film says “That’s life. It’s all change.”