Kenough With Patriarchy

–Here there be spoilers.–

I saw Greta Gerwig’s “Barbie” earlier this week. When the movie was first announced I had no interest in seeing it based solely on the info “a live-action Barbie movie”. Then I heard that Margot Robbie had the lead role. Then I read that Greta Gerwig was directing it, and I was sold.

First off, the movie is fun. It’s bright, it has a great set design, and it’s full of details that you could, and will, miss the first time. It’s also really funny. Margot Robbie’s Barbie is spot on and she has some really good lines (including the last line in the movie). Barbieland is a feminist paradise, and I have to admit to having a pang or two of jealousy seeing how it functioned.

The right wing media chamber was predictably up in arms about “Barbie”, calling it woke, grown men setting Barbies on fire, etc. Totally normal stuff, right? I thought that reaction was rooted in seeing a society where all positions of power were held by women, while men sat on the sidelines. Or the beach.

But after I watched the movie I could see what actually set so many right wingers off:  Ken.

When we first meet Ken he’s a friendly himbo, pratfalling his way into a toyish injury, and painstakingly explaining to us that his job is “beach”. Ryan Gosling is so great in this role, making Ken both plastic and real. You even feel sorry for him when Barbie tells him he’s not invited to her nightly slumber party with the Barbies (even though you shouldn’t because he’s wrong to feel entitled to her time and attention). Poor Ken.

Ken and Barbie end up in real life Los Angeles, and Ken immediately finds his drug of choice:  patriarchy. He drinks in all of the worst elements of toxic masculinity:  business culture, trucks, frat culture, and, uh, horses. He builds his stash by checking out a bunch of books from a high school’s library (which in today’s context seems like an inadvertent act of revolution from the other side), and then returns to Barbieland to hook all the other Kens on the same drug.

The result is a noisy, if peaceful, Broland, where all of the Kens take over the Barbie’s houses and gaslight the Barbies into giving up their power (and their homes). This is the world that our current extremist right wing factions want to create:  a society where men are venerated, no matter how ridiculous they look (and they look really ridiculous here), and women are their smiling helpmates.

It’s probably the “no matter how ridiculous they look” part that has stuck in the craw of the right wingers. Ridicule is a powerful tool, and Ken and his band of himbos do look pretty ridiculous. And in this context, so does patriarchy, where the women who have earned their positions of power are replaced by Kens who most certainly have not. Or, in the eternal words of T. S. Eliot:

I have seen the moment of my greatness flicker,

And I have seen the eternal Footman hold my coat, and snicker,

And in short, I was afraid.

The Barbies take back Barbieland and continue to relegate the Kens to the sidelines. This didn’t sit well with some men:

There is a bit of soul-searching between Ken and Barbie. She apologizes for how she’s treated him and tells him that he needs to figure himself out and not rely on her for his feelings of validation, which is great (and leads to the I Am Kenough shirt, which is hilarious) but they don’t give any Kens a spot on the Supreme Court and as far as we can tell, they still don’t have houses—let alone mojo dojo casa houses.

This is a bit strange. It was a good opportunity for a broader reconciliation, and a moment where the Barbies could have realized that treating Kens as second-class citizens has consequences that are bad for everyone (much like treating women as second-class citizens in the real world makes things worse for everyone).

I mean, in the real world we actually do have several women on the Supreme Court, many women in high positions of government, as executives at major corporations and so forth. It may not be an entirely equal world, but it’s a lot more equitable than Barbieland! Besides, the Kens and their gentle patriarchy are basically harmless. Their worst sins—weirdly, given they have been second-class citizens forever in their world—are things like mansplaining or being vain and self-centered, which isn’t any different from the Barbies.

Well, maybe I’m just a little overly sensitive to things like insurrection after 1/6, but I do think that the Kens have already provided ample evidence that they can’t be trusted with power, no? The expectation that the Barbies should still reward the Kens with power is pretty telling.

The real tell in that review though is the comment about how our current world, with “several women on the Supreme Court” is better than Barbieland because it’s “more equitable”. That would be the Supreme Court (Now With Women) that voted to take away body autonomy from women and to discriminate against LGBTQ people and people of color, right? O-kay.

If you’re basing your determination of equity on what institutions look like versus what institutions do, you’re not measuring equity—you’re measuring privilege. And the right wing guys can’t handle that.

It is what it is.

Let’s close this out with Barbie’s favorite road trip song.

2 thoughts on “Kenough With Patriarchy

  1. I love this line: “It may not be an entirely equal world, but it’s a lot more equitable than Barbieland!”

    WTF! Barbieland would be more equitable for the next [checks notes, uses Stephen Colbert’s calculator] 10,000 YEARS — b/c that’s at least how long we’ve lived in a patriarchy. Jesus H. Christ! Our country is anything but equal, and this commenter has forgotten the rest of the damn world! I really wanna say “eff off with that excrement” but, y’know, all-caps and crudely.

    1. the first half of his review was pretty positive and then it suddenly veered into Men’s Right’s nonsense, lol. but hey, they took everything from the Barbies, but it’s not like they did anything bad. lolol right wing writing about this movie is sometimes as funny as the movie itself.

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