Black mermaid barbie with purple hair and Elsa barbie in clue dress sitting on green and orange cushions.

Are you Kenough for the Barbie movie?

Are any of us Kenough for the ideal that Barbie sets?

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By Clare Willetts – CEO & Founder not only pink and blue

I might be a bit late to the party but I have frequently been asked what I thought of the Barbie movie, hence writing this blog.

Let’s face it, it was the talk of summer, whether the papers were talking about the money it made, or the accolades for Greta Gerwig, or parents who were discussing whether they could take their young children (it was a 12A but had been trailered in many kids films), or people talking about how it switched men off and made them look stupid.
 
Along with that there was an awful lot of hype. It was the best film ever, the ultimate feminist movie, and it created a world shortage of pink paint.
 
Mainly I had heard how good it was, how much I would love it, and that it really hammered  home the experiences of women. 
 
So I went to see it with all of this ringing in my ears.
Laughter from the start
I liked the opening of the film and that it shone a light on Mattel. That by simply making a scientist Barbie or an astronaut Barbie it didn’t fix the world nor the ideal that they perpetuated with Barbie. Mattel clearly thought at one point that a bit of PR would fix the perfectionism of the female body that they so clearly promoted. This continued through-out the duration of the film, and is really solidified when we see the all male board deciding what Barbie should be like. The film highlighted the hypocrisy that we are all aware of using humour which evoked a ‘knowing laughter’ in the audience . 

 

The self deprecation and awareness of this is akin to the Skoda ads of old, and the Marmite ads where they lean into a negative about the product.

The real world vs Barbie world.
There is no doubt that Barbie’s experience of the real world is one that most women resonate with. The idea of eyes watching you, feeling uncomfortable, not respected, it’s something we have all experienced. I’ve also seen many comments from men saying this is an exaggeration, and not what it’s like at all. And to a point they are right. This doesn’t happen all the time but in the context of condensing this into 20 mins in a film, then it does feel representative. Do all of us experience this every second of every day? No most of us don’t. Do most of us experience this daily on our commute, at work, in town, whilst driving? Yes. We do.
 
In my own recent experience I had two examples in the space of two days. In the first a man shouted at me through his van window that I was a “stupid old woman”, because he had driven down a road where I had right of way and he drove at me even though I was already driving down the road. The next day a man leaned out of a van window and shouted “I’d like a bit of you love”, when I was walking into town. It’s things like this that we deal with daily (and even I wondered for a moment, after the first instance, if I should have a slightly better skin care routine!).
 
The real world is complicated for everyone but it is hard for women to navigate, and I think Barbie demonstrates this well.
 
When Ken looks around in the ‘real world’ he sees images of powerful men, men who run the world, men who run corporations, men who are ‘strong’. He sees that women aren’t the ones who make the decisions, and have the power. That’s what we all see too in our real world, from statues (in the UK only 1 in 5 statues are of women*), to books (male characters outnumbered female characters in more than half of children’s books**), to adverts (3% ads showed women as leaders***), we see it everywhere. And yes things are changing but we just need to look at our school history lessons to see the lack of representation of women and their contributions to society. We are taught from a very young age that men created and run the world.
Is Ken's world Kenough?
When Ken takes over Barbie world he creates a world that sends up the so called masculine ideal. The world he creates, though, isn’t the world he has actually seen, this world goes much further. The Kens take over the Barbie houses, throw their stuff out, create an ultra ‘masculine’ world, but also come across as completely stupid. 

Everything goes to pieces. Nothing works properly, the place is a mess, they are constantly one-upping each other, and nothing gets done. I can see why men have said they switched off at this point, and of course it’s funny as well because for women we only have to look at some adverts, or films and we recognise that we are often portrayed as useless.  But Ken is consistently shown as a bit stupid, not quite bright enough to even realise that he needs to find his own way without Barbie. It’s Barbie who has to tell him this.
Would a matriarchy be the answer
And here lies the question. Would a matriarchy be the answer? The Barbie movie certainly seems to suggest it would.
 
The Barbies trick the Kens and take back Barbie world. Make it the same pink, efficient, perfect world it was before. But they also tell the Kens that they need to find themselves, without being dependent on Barbies. But we hear the Mayor of Barbie world tell Ken when he asks if he can have a seat on the committee, not to ‘get ahead of himself’, perhaps a job in the council for the moment. This for me is a missed opportunity. Feminism is about making sure we have equal representation so that society works for all of us, rather than for some of us. By ending the film like this it doesn’t change anything. It doesn’t show that working together would make for a better society, and I can’t help thinking that this is the situation women are currently in. We are given the occasional role here and there but we rarely have a seat at the table (let’s remember the stat about the number of FTSE 100 CEOs named John vs women).

Surely a world where the Barbies and Kens work together would have been a better one? Barbie could still have been Mayor.

perfection & cellulite

One of my biggest concerns, especially for parents taking their young children and younger teenagers, is that the level of perfection in the film is constant, and this perfection is not attainable, and nor should it have to be. 

When Barbie realises she has a tiny bit of cellulite she is horrified. Beyond horrified. And this is never referred to again. As all women know cellulite is part of life, it is not (or at least should not be) horrific. It doesn’t and shouldn’t impact our ability to enjoy life, have a great career, do well at school, or limit our ambitions. The impression anyone watching is left with is that we do not want cellulite and any cost, which I find incredibly sad.

And perfect is  recurring theme too – Barbie world is pink and perfect, and it is put back to this at the end. Perfection should not be our ultimate ambition – even the daughter who is not interested in pink is suddenly in a pink dress. 
 
It would have been helpful for them to round off this idea of perfection, so that it is reinforced for the audience that cellulite is really is no big deal, that all women have it and  the perfection of an utterly smooth, hairless, thin, and toned body is not something for us to worry about. Nor is perfection of our houses, our hair or generally in life.  Let’s encourage our girls not to worry so much about being perfect but to have fun and take risks too.
closing thoughts
So overall what did I think? There was a lot that worked and as a woman was really recognisable. I enjoyed the film and there were many laugh-out-loud moments.
 
Would I take young children to watch it? Probably not. For the youngest the take out would probably be – being a Barbie is great. For older ones the take out would likely be, is the real world that rubbish for women? Oh and don’t ever get cellulite.
 
For me there were a few opportunities to really drive home a message of change that were missed, but I am glad that it highlighted so blatantly the everyday issues that women face in the ‘real world’ because we rarely see these reflected in films, and if it made men uncomfortable, then it should.
 

We all need to work together to create a more equal world so that all our children grow up knowing they are K-enough.

And I will watch it again, if only to see what I get from it on the second viewing.

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*Public Monuments and Sculpture  Association

** The Guardian and Observer study into children’s books

*** Unilever, Unstereotype

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