Key Takeaways from Barbie

The Barbie movie has been the film of the summer of 2023. Your feeds have been full of hot pink and Ken jokes. It’s even on pace to be one of the highest-grossing movies ever. Here are a few of my takeaways from Barbie. If you haven’t seen it yet and plan to, be careful – spoilers ahead.


For me, the film was more about patriarchy than anything else. Ken and Barbie leave the matriarchal world of Barbie Land (with some minimal acknowledgment of the hierarchical nature of whiteness and able-bodied over others) for the real world, where both discover patriarchy for the first time.

Barbie feels objectified, demeaned, and unsafe. Ken feels seen and powerful. He enjoys his privileges. However, as the film progresses, Ken learns that while being subordinated in Barbie’s world is unfulfilling, so is being privileged in a patriarchal world. Bringing patriarchy to Barbie Land ruins everything, including for Ken and the other Kens.

The mass appeal of this film and its focus on not just the concept of patriarchy but the use of the term repeatedly could educate an entire generation(s) of folks about patriarchy, the systemic nature of sexism, and the harms of patriarchy on people of all genders unlike anything else. For those invested in patriarchy, this could be a difficult bell to unring.

Yearning for Connection yet Pushed into Competition

In Barbie Land, Ken yearns for connection. He wants to be seen, included, and live in the house with Barbie. He yearns for friendship, connection, and comradery with the other Kens. Yet, Ken’s authentic emotional yearning for connection is turned into competition. Instead of living with Barbie, Ken takes her home and turns it into a juvenile mancave, which is also unfulfilling for Ken. His desire to connect with the other Kens is turned into a war and a dance-off.

Ken’s yearning for connection was emotionally palpable for me. His push toward competition was just as emotionally devastating. This is what patriarchy teaches men. Sitting in the theater, I could connect with so many men in my life desperate for connection yet turning to competition instead – including in some of my closest relationships with other men.

The Most Touching Moment

Having read a few things before seeing the film, I expected America Ferrera’s monologue to be the moment I would want to stand up and cheer. She talks poignantly about the double bind of being a woman in a patriarchal culture. However, the moment that left me in tears was when I realized the emotional memories of playing with Barbies are the child’s playing with Barbie but the mother playing with the child playing with Barbie.

These Buddhist themes of impermanence and constant change throughout life are the film’s hidden central theme and emotional core.

Binary vs Both/And

Barbie Land is a matriarchy where Ken is an object, marginalized, and unvalued. The real world is a patriarchy where things are flipped. These are not our only choices. What about the both/and thinking to create new possibilities that offer Ken and Barbie fulfillment and connection? What about intersectional approaches that reject the notion of a single stereotypical Ken or Barbie and recognize the value and contributions of all people?

There was a real opportunity not to either/or the matriarchy of Barbie’s world or the patriarchy of the real world but to imagine new possibilities for us all. Perhaps Barbie 2.0 will surpass this binary and explore more liberatory approaches for all.

For more critical analysis of the film, you can check out the conversation hosted by Dr. Heather Shea with Drs. Rachel Wagner, Alex Lange, and me on Student Affairs Now. Some insights and questions Rachel and Alex offered have me thinking even more deeply about how queerness and transness can open up possibilities for liberation for us all and whether Barbie is an allegory for the limits of white progressivism.

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