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I had read the reviews. So when I settled into my seat for the new Barbie movie, I was already looking forward to hearing terms like ‘patriarchy’ being bandied about in mainstream entertainment.
We have been talking about ‘patriarchy’ and ‘heteronormative masculinity’ for years, and we get tired of explaining what these terms mean. Now we can just say “Go watch Barbie!”.
So here is my review. I love Greta Gerwig’s film. It is entertaining but also surprisingly nuanced. It embraces a concept championed by feminist writers like bell hooks (one of our favourites at Barefoot Man) that patriarchy is as much a cage for men as it is for women.
The setting of the movie is Barbieland, a fantasy realm where Barbies are adored and revered. In stark contrast, Ken dolls exist mostly to idolize their Barbies. Ryan Gosling’s poignant portrayal of Ken captures his struggle with feeling overshadowed by Barbie, who is brought to life brilliantly by Margot Robbie.
Ken’s journey to our reality exposes him to a topsy turvy world of reversed gender roles – AKA the patriarchy that we live in with varying degrees of consciousness today.
Inspired, Ken tries to emulate the male-centric dynamics of our world in Barbieland. But when the “Kendom” he creates and governs does not prove sustainable, he confesses that he had already become disillusioned by the patriarchy.
This narrative mirrors the challenges men face today. While a minority of affluent men dictate societal norms, countless others grapple with loneliness and rivalry. A 2021 survey revealed a disturbing percentage of men without close friends or meaningful social interactions. This isolation isn’t exclusive to cisgender men; trans men also experience these feelings post-transition.
The repercussions of such loneliness are alarming, with profound health risks akin to those of smoking. Male isolation can fuel self-loathing, sometimes manifesting as violent actions, including, tragically, mass shootings.
Social pressure to compete and conquer often pushes men towards toxic behaviours, evident in increasing domestic violence rates. This aggression can be traced to a system that judges men on their economic worth.
Although this system places burdens everyone, women have historically built platforms for their liberation, whereas many men are only now recognizing their own chains. Sadly, not all men are headed towards enlightenment. The “manosphere”, an online network promoting misogyny, offers a distorted view, blaming women for men’s woes rather than confronting the systemic issues.
Men’s liberation is essential, not just for their well-being but for society at large. That’s why our Barefoot Man education programme matters. We need to forge pathways for men’s transformation by encouraging greater introspection, a re-evaluation of life goals and values, and greater community involvement.
Everyone deserves a fair chance at happiness and fulfilment. Once men have explored and redefined the all-male space, they will be better equipped to help make the real world look more like everybody’s dream house.
This is something we explore briefly on our website at The Barefoot Way, and it needs all of us to work together.
This review by Angus Malcolm was originally published in the August issue of ROAR Portfolio. Go here to subscribe to our monthly digital downloads and browse our extensive range of digital content.
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