About the Barbie film: Femininity is not always what you do, but how and why you do it



Christine Stam-van Gent, RD

A female carpenter at work. Photo EPA, Abedin Taherkenareh

I never cared much about Barbie dolls. I preferred to build huts. But now, "Barbie" is suddenly a hugely popular film. Barbie lures (Christian) youngsters en masse to cinemas, makes grown-ups pose in pink outfits, and causes a spike in divorces. Thus, I studied her anyway.

There are alarmed cries in conservative circles that the film is anti-male and anti-motherhood. Barbies are powerful career women, and Kens (the male Barbie dolls) are just pathetic appendages. After Ken discovers patriarchy in the real world, he manages to establish Kendom in Barbie Land, too. Barbies are suddenly only good for walking around with trays. However, they don't let that happen.

The Dutch pastor Maarten Klaassen wrote that Barbie is "a very well thought-out film with an equally well thought-out message: men are a danger to women; therefore women should hit back". I honestly didn't think that was the message at all. Or at most half of the story. The male part.

Let me stress that I am not team Barbie. I still don't like her slick world at all. I prefer imperfect people with cellulite, crooked teeth and flat feet. And no pink, please. The Barbies are indeed reclaiming power. But... is that the end of the story? Is she happy then? No. Just as Ken can't bear to be tough all the time, Barbie is tired of her perfect life, which always has to be fun. It starts with Barbie getting thoughts of death. And it ends with Barbie swapping her high heels for flat Birkenstocks to go to... the gynaecologist. She just wants to be a mother.

Gender roles

Ken and Barbie both play overly explicit roles, which break them up and drive them apart. Wouldn't this also apply to an overly traditional Christian m/f gender roles? That there are different roles, I agree. But if you define them too forcefully, you can easily end up with tyrannical men and dependent women. Or a big row in a marriage.

I know a lot of women who pull the cart of their families. Not because they like power but for everyone's good. And there are men with four Daddy days a week. Not because they are pathetic men but because it serves their personal situation the best. Femininity or masculinity is not always what you do but how and why you do what you do.

Thus, this may look like recoil. But I would just like to give a feminine tug on the conservative arm. Please broaden your horizons. Barbie certainly requires a critical eye. Keeping watch is good. Is masculine. But judging carelessly is not. That kennot be possible.

This article was translated by CNE.news and published by the Dutch daily Reformatorisch Dagblad on September 30, 2023



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