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Is Barbie a feminist film?

Is Barbie a feminist film?

"Mattel is a capitalist and corrupt company that just wants to make money out of feminism."

"Yes, I totally agree. And the film is really good. Both things can be true."

 

I think the film itself answers the whole polemic about it. In feminism, actually in life, it's rarely this OR that; most times it's this AND that.

Barbie is constantly asked to be a feminist icon OR a woman-hating capitalist. A toy that helped girls see themselves beyond caregivers and mothers and gifted them the possibility of dreaming about a future that could look in many ways OR the shallow toy that made women hate their bodies, reminding them that beauty was their only currency and raising it to unachievable standards. 

The level of scrutiny this film has is worth a post itself, the demand for it to be perfectly diverse, educative, and inclusive for it to be allowed to be enjoyed and celebrated as a feminist film. The need to be perfect in order to be endorsed, when those that are not even trying get massively celebrated for an accidentally counter-stereotypical women’s character.

Nothing in this film is accidental. That was probably the most enjoyable part for me; I desperately wanted to text Greta Gerwig and tell her, “I see what you did, you are a fricking genius.” She built layers upon layers of messaging, knowing that not everyone would get all of them and being totally okay with it. I am sure there are things that completely passed by me.

She built a feminist machine that was appealing to a huge mainstream audience, including those deep within the feminist bubble and those who looked from aside not understanding much. She even packaged everything in a way that would be irresistible for those that despise the bubble. Knowing that some, most even, would hate it (and talk about it), and others would find themselves nodding during an unapologetically cheesy moment that reminds us that women actually love women, or that the world is set up for us to never be able to win.

It has a lot of fun and laughs, enough social critique, plenty of amazing outfits and aesthetics, and abundant reminders that feminism looks a million different ways throughout a day.

Feminism is OF COURSE strategising and organising to change the system, but also laughing at men's obsession with The Godfather. Feminism is screaming with joy because it's girl’s night (and girl’s night is the best night!). It's taking a compliment without the need to water it down, knowing one’s worth even when we look like depressed Barbie. Feminism is feeling sorry for Ken and reminding him that he can cry and encouraging him to find a way back to himself that is not toxic. Feminism is apologising to weird Barbie because even in a utopia like Barbie Land, we can all be a bit shit and there is always room to learn and grow. Feminism is wanting to smash the patriarchy AND accepting that having a choreographed party with your friends is literally the best day ever.

This film can be watched and understood in a million different ways, and that's where the genius exists. Some say that it offers a simplistic explanation of feminism, but let me disagree; there is nothing simplistic about it. The parts that I didn’t resonate with were the biggest reminders of it. “I know why this is here, and it's not for me, but it's needed in this kaleidoscope."

I see this film as a tasting menu offered to a broad audience. Those who only eat fast food and those who are obnoxious foodies. The challenge is to make everyone leave the dinner thinking that it was brilliant, even if a certain dish wasn't quite their cup of tea. Greta did exactly that; she made most of us leave the cinema with a huge smile, even if there were parts that weren't our favourites. That's where the genius of the film resides for me.

I loved how the film felt like a permission slip for everyone to accept that we are full of AND, a reminder that we don't need to live in the constant guilt of the OR. Because Barbie, like all of us, is on a journey to be better, to accept what they have achieved, and to be accountable for all the work that needs to be done to be perfect.

Of course, Barbie needs to be more diverse and stop being a plastic problem for society, inviting people to endless consumerism, and updating the body shape to a healthy one... but if Barbie can be both a stereotypically damaging toy that we know it is AND the feminist icon that reminds us that we can tap into everything that they told us is too feminine and reclaim it unapologetically as a way of power, then surely each of us can too.

So please if you see me down the street, smile and say “hi, Barbie” I'd love to say it back, knowing that even behind that one thing, there are layers and layers of powerful meaning. Genius.

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