Unpacking the Barbie Movie: A Missed Opportunity to Examine White Supremacy and Defend Your Health

 Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling in the Barbie Movie.

It's hard to escape headlines that tout the recently released Barbie movie as a triumph.

We want to take a moment, as a company that is wholeheartedly feminist and womanist, to step up and acknowledge the huge swaths of women that this movie ignores. We do this not to squash the spirit of progress but to ensure that experiences of women of color, members of the LGBTQIA+ community, and those who don't "fit the mold" aren't slowly edged out of the feminist movement in favor of a more palatable version of feminism.

Media like the Barbie movie have helped the feminist movement on paper. However, those of us experiencing life as women are abundantly aware that any gains have been minimal, uneven and often leave many of us completely out of the picture. What's worse is, instead of progress, we all still live with the dangerous consequences of legal, social, economic, and political backlash from movements that truly protect women and their bodies.

The film’s failure to examine white supremacy and deconstruct the patriarchy is why Barbie is clearly not the feminist triumph so many are making it out to be.

Feminism and Intersectionality: Womanism

At its core, feminism is not a one-size-fits-all concept. It's a complex and multi-faceted movement that dismantles various systems of oppression, including patriarchy, sexism, and racism. However, the term has been co-opted by a group who primarily define it around the feature of "being a female" and center that feature around white experiences. 

You cannot achieve liberation for one group without achieving it for all. One of the most crucial aspects of modern feminism is intersectionality, a term coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw, a pioneering scholar on civil rights.

Intersectionality acknowledges that various factors, such as race, gender, sexual orientation, and class, shape individuals' experiences of oppression.

For some “womanism,” defined by Alice Walker, is a better way to enact feminism so that it addresses the interconnected nature of different forms of discrimination.

Any piece of media, no matter how ground-breaking it may feel, needs to be examined through an intersectional or womanist lens.

The Barbie Movie and Its Shortcomings

While the Barbie movie might portray a strong and empowered female lead, feminism is not about individual empowerment but completely reimagines the systems in which we live. Feminism is NOT Barbieland with women in charge and Ken meagerly encouraged to "keep trying". 

It is not the patriarchy with genders reversed. 

True feminist narratives address societal issues that create the oppression of marginalized groups and envision a society centered on values of care-taking, good health, and the common good.

Missed Opportunity: Addressing White Supremacy and the Importance of Representation

White supremacy is a deeply rooted ideology that manifests in systemic racism, cultural appropriation, and microaggressions. White supremacy is not simply a white person assuming they are better than others. It is a way of running our communities, businesses, legal systems, and resource allocation to prioritize the impact of decisions on white communities, and to glorify the white gaze, opinion, and experience. It places men above women, and white above other shades of color. We are all complicit in upholding this system because it is the engine of our society. We must participate in it daily to function and it is how we run meetings, households, and social interactions.  Feminism should be  about uplifting all women, especially those who face additional layers of oppression due to their race or ethnicity, making anti-racism and feminism deeply interwoven and inseparable. It is a constant work of unlearning. 

Representation is paramount in media. It shapes the way we perceive the world around us. While the Barbie movie could have taken a bold step towards inclusivity and representation, it falls into the trap of tokenism. Characters that do not display the default Barbie features - the features valued in white supremacy culture - are relegated to secondary roles, reinforcing harmful stereotypes and failing to provide a holistic view of the world.

A pro-woman movie should strive to break down stereotypes and celebrate the experiences of all individuals, regardless of their background. The Barbie movie woefully overlooks the opportunity to challenge harmful narratives and present a more accurate depiction of the diverse reality we live in now and should live in, in a better future.

The Barbie Movie and Your Health

At hey freya, we set out to empower women by equipping them to advocate for themselves in health care and wellness. We want you to know that women’s health care and wellness has always been about care for all bodies, care for the marginalized folks first, and care that gives you your body back. The more society clings to a sanitized version of feminism, the harder it becomes to truly learn and speak up about your unique body. We will not stand for that. We are here to stand up for you. Speaking out against the tide may be considered risky, especially for a young brand, however, we would not be honoring the trust that you, the Freyas, place in us, if we opted for brand safety and didn’t call out a threat to the safety of our collective health and wellbeing. 

Feminism should be a movement that demands intersectionality, inclusivity, and an unwavering commitment to challenging all forms of oppression. These are essential to our individual and collective wellbeing. The Barbie movie may claim to embrace feminist ideals, but it falls massively short. 

As movie watchers and media consumers, it's essential for us all to critically view narratives and hold the media accountable for its shortcomings even if their most recent attempts at creating entertainment are "less bad" than previous ones.

Aspects of the movie may be entertaining for some, even revolutionary for those that have never imagined an alternate future from what we currently live in. But entertainment alone should not overshadow our responsibility to engage with feminism and white supremacy at the same time, nor dare to voice a potentially less published opinion for fear of risking our brand’s reputation. In fact, if you hadn’t heard of us before this article, we’re doing our part.

We are here to protect and promote your health and take this responsibility very seriously. We are glad you are here, and we are here to serve you, if it serves you.

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