Who would have thought that a movie about Barbie would become a global phenomenon and cause quite so much controversy. The movie was one of the largest movie openings of the year and the biggest-ever debut for a female director. Paul Dergarabedian, senior analyst at Comscore attributes the success of the movie to “the perfect storm of a cultural, movie and social media phenomenon coming together.”1

A cultural, movie and social media phenomonen

Over the past few years, there has been increased dialogue around patriarchy and feminism. Increasingly, we are aware of the patriarchy and how it plays out in a number of different ways. These include the gender pay gap where women continue to earn less than their male counterparts for similar work, underrepresentation in leadership roles as well as unequal household and childcare responsibilities. This imbalance of power shows up in even more devastating ways such as gender-based violence and the repression of women’s reproductive rights.

These issues have gained media attention and some have even become movements in themselves. The #MeToo Movement for example, started in 2017, and gained traction as more and more women came forward to share their experiences of sexual harassment and assault. As a result, awareness and discussions about consent and abuse have become more commonplace as well as more nuanced.

The Barbie Movie comes at a time when our collective consciousness is primed for a conversation about bias, stereotypes, power dynamics and the role of men and women in society.


  • Patriarchy is a social system in which men hold primary power, authority and dominance in political, economic and social spheres. This power dynamic tends to reinforce and perpetuate traditional gender roles and norms.
  • Feminism is the advocacy of women’s rights. The basis of feminism is not for women to be the same as men, but rather, for women to be given equal rights and opportunities; social, economic and political equality.
  • Gender bias refers to the systematic and often unconscious preference, prejudice, or discrimination in favour of one gender over another.
  • Intersectionality refers to the interconnected nature of social categorisations such as race, class, or gender. These create overlapping and interdependent systems of discrimination or disadvantage.
  • Gender equality is a human right. It advocates that men and women are given equal opportunity to excel.
    Gender equity acknowledges that men and women have different needs and as a result, focuses on equal outcomes rather than equal process.

The Patriarchy serves no one

The quote from Eve Ensler shows that while we may think that the patriarchy disadvantages only women, it also has negative consequences for men. The expectations for men to conform to traditional masculine norms can lead to a whole host of problems ranging from relationship difficulties with friends and family to feelings of extreme pressure, isolation or aggression. In fact, studies indicate that our young men are struggling.

“In academic performance, boys are well behind girls in elementary school, high school, and college, where the sex ratio is approaching two female undergraduates for every one male… Rage among self-designated ‘incels’ and other elements of the online ‘manosphere’ appears to be steering some impressionable teens toward misogyny. Men are increasingly dropping out of work during their prime working years, overdosing, drinking themselves to death, and generally dying earlier, including by suicide.” 2

It is starting to become clear that the patriarchy serves no one and it is time to put aside old narratives and redefine what it means to be a person regardless of gender, in today’s world.

What is the controversy?

Surface-level feminism

Some people have remarked that the movie is a good introduction to feminism, but does not go far enough. The movie has been criticised as “surface-level feminism” that fails “to recognise that experiences differ significantly for different groups of women… The movie does not address the multiple forms of inequality that exist outside of gender, such as race, ethnicity, class, and sexual orientation.” 3


Further, some people have expressed the concern that the pendulum has swung too far in the other direction and that the movie is an attack on masculinity and is “anti-men”. The movie’s viral tagline is: “She’s everything. He’s just Ken.” The Kens in the movie exist as convenient dance partners and feel like accessories in Barbie’s dream life. One Twitter user got to the crux of it all: “She does not have to be everything, and he does not have to be nothing.” 3

Spoiler alert!

At the risk of divulging too much, the ending disappointed some viewers in that there was no definitive answer. Much like the real world, we are all still figuring things out…

In conclusion…

Eliana Dockterman of Time Magazine sums it up: “If you are wondering whether Barbie is a satire of a toy company’s capitalist ambitions, a searing indictment of the current fraught state of gender relations, a heartwarming if occasionally clichéd tribute to girl power, or a musical spectacle filled with earworms from Nicki Minaj and Dua Lipa, the answer is yes. All of the above. And then some.” 4


1. Maruf, R. (2023) ‘Barbie is Warner Bros.’ highest-grossing global release ever’, CNN Business, [Online], Available: bit.ly/BarbieWarnerBros [18 October 2023].
2. Kahloon, I. (2023) ‘What’s the matter with men?’, The New Yorker, [Online], Available: bit.ly/NewYorkerMen [18 October 2023].
3. Pearcy, A. (2023) ‘The hype around ‘Barbie’ is huge, but so is the debate’, Insider, [Online], Available: bit.ly/BarbieInsider [18 October 2023].
4. Dockterman, E. (2023) ‘How Barbie Came to Life’, Time, [Online] bit.ly/BarbieTimeMagazine [18 October 2023].

If you are using the Achieve Careers LO Programme, the following information and activities are recommended:

• GR 7 LO Manual – Section 2 (Peer pressure)
• GR 8 LO Manual – Section 1 (Self-esteem)
• GR 10 LO Manual – Section 4 (Gender equity)
• GR 11 LO Manual – Section 1 (Interpersonal skills and EQ)

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