Are we closer to Barbieland than we think?

Some modern men certainly think so, and it's worth examining why.

As a less than avid movie-goer, someone who as a child had only a marginal attachment to my Barbies, and a woman who always feels like a bit of an imposter when I try to wear pink, I didn’t really think I’d go see “Barbie.”

But the perpetual wedgie the film gave conservative male personalities piqued my interest—and so I went.

(Warning: Spoilers Ahead)

The movie opens in the matriarchal world of Barbieland. It’s a pepto-bismol-painted plastic playground where women hold all positions of power and the Ken dolls serve as little more than decorative props. They’re portrayed as weak, vapid, and desperate for the attention and affection of the Barbies, who pay them little more than a passing interest. As the narrator says at the beginning, “Barbie has a great day every day. Ken only has a great day if Barbie looks at him.”

Barbie is busy attending events to celebrate her friends’ achievements, hosting dance parties at her house, and indulging in girl’s nights. Ken, on the other hand, waits at the beach for her to show up, begs for an invite to her party, and gets rejected when he tries to spend the night at her DreamHouse.

Many men were deeply triggered by this made-up world.

However, the world is meant to make viewers uncomfortable in its contrast to the real world, where I suspect many of its producers and stars feel these roles are still reversed. I’ll count myself among them.

After all, it’s women who spend their days waiting for the man they’re interested in to reach out, who plan their nights around the whims of their partner, and who often feel like nothing more than an option in a man’s world of endless choices. It’s women who are judged by whether or not they obtain a man, get married, have kids—and at what age they choose to do so. Despite tremendous legal gains towards equality, most women I suspect still feel that socially their worlds are male-centered and that they themselves are defined by their relations (or lack thereof) with the men around them.

To see a world where those roles were flipped was fascinating. And as one might suspect, the Kens aren’t doing so hot in that dynamic. They lack agency, they’re emotional, they’re highly competitive with one another, and they spend their days in aimless pursuit of women’s attention while building nothing for themselves.

But that’s the point.

As Stephen Kent wrote for BASEDPolitics, “the movie plays squarely within a classic ‘battle of the sexes’ narrative which correctly suggests that society has historically been ordered around the preferences of men, that it could also be ordered to match the instincts of women, and that neither of these arrangements is ideal.”

Ultimately, the movie goes on to explore Barbie’s entrance into a patriarchal world (the “real” world), where Ken becomes attracted to a more masculine hierarchy that he attempts to implement back home. This similarly does not work well for the Barbies, leading to an existential crisis for “Stereotypical Barbie” (Margot Robbie) who for the first time must confront the problems real women face, summarized in a monologue iconically delivered by America Ferrera’s character.

I encourage you to read the full thing, but the monologue ends with a statement that perfectly connects the highly critical reception the actual Barbie doll has endured over the years (and across the political spectrum), to the sustained criticism and pressures real women continue to face in the world just for existing.

“I’m just so tired of watching myself and every single other woman tie herself into knots so that people will like us. And if all of that is also true for a doll just representing women, then I don’t even know.”

It’s hard being a woman. Even in a post-equality world. Women are told we can do and be anything. But we’re criticized for believing it—no matter which avenues we pursue. We’re told we shouldn’t act like men, but we aren’t taken seriously when we present as excessively feminine. We’re told we shouldn’t build our lives around a man, but then we’re blamed for their loneliness.

At the end of the day, I don’t think most women feel like they’re thriving. We’re damned if we do and damned if we don’t and constantly fighting to just be human.

After her existential crisis is cured by America’s pro-woman monologue, the Barbies plot to take back their kingdom, and they do. The film could have just been left there. Most third-wave feminists probably would have tied the movie up with a neat “women rule and men drool” pink bow. It could’ve easily been an ending where women reign supreme in their conquests and the Kens are sent back to the beach to suffer for the pain Barbies have had to endure at their hands.

Instead, Barbie realizes it doesn’t feel good when either gender tries to dominate the other one. She encourages Ken to find his own identity aside from her and aside from the possessions he’s acquired to peacock his manliness, and she sets off to find her own identity too. 

The film was a slam dunk. I found it deeply thought-provoking, brilliantly funny, and even somehow healing. I left feeling more in touch with my identity as a woman than I have in years. I even got my nails painted hot pink and for once felt pride and authenticity in the celebration of being overtly, in your face, feminine.

I liked the film so much, I went to see it again, but the second time I took my boyfriend—hungry for his take on it and eager for a discussion.

He also loved it. But his take on the matriarchal world of Barbieland at the beginning surprised me. 

“They really did a good job of representing what it feels like to be a man, especially in the dating world these days,” he said to me. 

I wasn’t expecting that at all.

“The beginning is turning modern dating on its head,” I told him. “That’s what it feels like to be a woman dating a man, the movie was showing men what it would feel like if that was reversed.” But as I sat with what he said, I started seeing things through another lens.

It is women who are constantly told they don’t need a man, to put their interests first, and who are celebrated when they follow that advice. It makes sense that the message men are getting lately is that they’re not needed or wanted. And what’s most devastating about that is I think we’re all playing an Olympic sport of who can care and need each other less, while inside, we’re actually all suffering.

As much as women are struggling to find their footing in a post-equality world right now, so are men. From the loneliness epidemic to a skyrocketing porn addiction problem, to growing rates of male sexlessness, to video gaming instead of wealth building, it would be hard to argue men are thriving right now either.

As someone who is actually concerned with the equality and well-being of both sexes, aka a genuine feminist, I find myself thinking about this enigma a lot. How do men and women relate to each other in healthy and compatible ways under a new dichotomy where women are equal to men and have to want them versus depend on them?

We have an equal playing field now, and by many metrics, women are crushing the game. Women are surpassing men in rates of obtaining degrees, home ownership, and even catching or exceeding their incomes in many situations. Reportedly, “in almost half of opposite-sex marriages in the US, women are now earning the same as their husbands — or out-earning them, by an average of $53,000.” 

But all of that success has made romantic partnerships difficult for both genders. Like Ken, many men are struggling to find their identity in a world where they’re not just born on top. 

Marriages where the woman makes more are 50% more likely to end in divorce and the man is more likely to cheat—one of many indicators that men’s egos cannot sustain being outperformed by a female partner. And even in homes where women are doing equal work outside the home, study after study shows they are still expected to take on the bulk of the household and child-rearing work—leading many to file for divorce or forgo marriage and kids altogether.

While Twitter is by no means representative of the entire male population, a very-online subset of the male population is having a particularly hard time coping with equality. It isn’t hard to find men arguing women shouldn’t be in the workforce, that the 19th Amendment should be repealed, or that men should turn to mail-order brides to find partners they can more easily dominate. (Which they’re desperately trying to rebrand as being “passport bros” to escape the deserved disdain).

Everywhere you look online, you will find men proclaiming that they don’t care about a woman’s achievements and condemning women for pursuing what men care about. It seems like an obvious attempt to undermine the fact that women are largely outperforming them in these categories and a way to make women feel bad about their accomplishments. 

But it’s not working. 

No woman of merit wants to be with a man who doesn’t care about her education, her mind, her career, and her goals, or who merely sees her as a pretty breeding machine to feed his ego. Hard pass.

These men quite openly do not want to have to compete with women. They don’t want to live in a world where women’s opinions weigh as much as their own, where females can push back and question them, where they aren’t treated like masters of the universe simply for existing but must actually become something of value to be taken seriously by the women they desire sexually.

Instead of accepting that the rules of the game have changed and evolving to embody the characteristics needed to woo a woman when they no longer need you financially, a lot of men want to undo feminism, and like Ken, find a way to re-implement the patriarchy.

Evolution dictates that those who cannot adapt to change will go extinct. And judging by some of the regressive, sexist tweets I’ve seen of late, perhaps some male bloodlines deserve to die off. But what happens in the meantime is consequential to those of us living right now.

When men aren’t thriving, neither are women. Women may opt out of marriage and motherhood when the supply of men at their disposal is not adequate to their needs, but it’s hard to argue that’s immaterial. 

Women who want to have kids (and want those kids to have happy, healthy childhoods) need a two-parent household. And, for many, marriage also offers greater financial success, stability, and support throughout life. Humans are meant for connection and community, and romantic relationships can be a rich and meaningful way to fulfill both needs.

But in order for that to be true, both genders need to thrive. Both genders need to figure out their identities in a post-equality world, as well as the ways men and women can meet one another’s needs and expectations in an environment where women have choices and agency. And importantly, we need to all give each other a lot more grace as we figure it out.

Barbie confronted these conundrums and questions head-on. And she didn’t send Ken back to the beach to suffer when she could have. 

Women have achieved equality, but if we want to achieve a better world for everyone, we too have to be concerned with men finding their footing in a post-equality world.

Like this article? Check out the latest BASEDPolitics podcast on Apple PodcastsSpotify, or below:

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Hannah Cox
Hannah Cox
Hannah Cox is a libertarian-conservative writer and co-founder of BASEDPolitics. She's also the host of the BASEDPolitics podcast and an experienced political activist.