Come on Barbie, let’s go party

Justine Toh watches the Barbie film, and reflects on its exploration of our society's collective angst over gender.

*(Warning: Spoilers to come)*

Sorry to poop on the Barbie party, but I didn’t enjoy the film. But as an exploration of our collective angst over gender? I loved it.

The question of who gets to count as a man and a woman is huge right now. Deep beneath that debate is an older issue: how men and women live well together – not necessarily in a romantic sense.

In Barbieland, it’s all about Barbie. She’s everything. He’s just Ken. He’s her potential plus one, never the other way round, and often Barbie doesn’t really want him there.

Which means Ken, weirdly enough, gets “what it feels like in this world for a girl” (thanks Madonna).

But when Ken discovers that men run the real world, he acts out. Ken goes kind of incel, channelling his frustrated romantic rage into a revenge takeover of Barbieland. Meanwhile women in pain, according to Barbie, seek refuge in the fantasy comforts of Pride & Prejudice.

I can’t decide if the film is explicitly suggesting that the sexes respond differently to suffering, especially in a world shaped around male interests. While she shrinks into herself, he tries to inflict his misery on everyone else, perhaps in payback for perceived slights. What do you reckon?

In the end, Barbie and Ken feel like Adam and Eve, rebooted. They recognise each other as people (ok, dolls) in their own right, and feel the pain of having that dignity denied.

Their encounter isn’t quite a “bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh” outburst of love poetry, as in the original story. But they come to “the extremely difficult realisation that something other than oneself is real” – which is how Iris Murdoch, rather memorably, defined love. If Barbie and Ken can love like that, maybe men and women can too.