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We, along with the rest of the world, went to see the Barbie movie this weekend. Greta Gerwig’s lovingly satirical take on the iconic doll, traditional gender roles and everything the Barbie brand represents.
You’d have to be living under a rock not to notice the extensive marketing campaign and hype surrounding the film. Peaking with Margot Robbie channelling a different one of the doll’s iconic looks on the pink carpet at each premier.
Image credit: Warner Bros
The film opens in Barbieland, where every Barbie is living her best Barbie life, in her perfect Barbie Dreamhouse. Meanwhile, the Kens compete for their attention. As Helen Mirren’s wry narrator informs us
“Barbie has a great day every day, but Ken only has a great day if Barbie looks at him.”
Barbie flips traditional gender roles on their head. In Gerwig’s stunning Barbieland, the Barbies are in charge. They hold every position of power (hello Madame President Barbie) and win every award (“I worked hard, so I deserve it”). All while being stunningly beautiful, wearing perfectly coordinated outfits and without a single hair falling out of place. Meanwhile the Kens hold vague titles devoid of any real meaning, as Ryan Gosling’s Ken tells us:
“Actually my job is just beach”.
This has led some commentators to denounce the film as ‘an assault on men’. But, Ryan Gosling’s sheer joy in playing Ken radiates from the screen. The film is just as much about Ken discovering what it means to be a man as it is about Barbie’s journey to form her own identity beyond ‘Stereotypical Barbie’.
Of course, Barbie’s perfect life doesn’t stay perfect for long, and Barbie finds herself pondering death and worrying about cellulite. After a consultation with Kate McKinnon’s ‘Weird Barbie’ and a hilarious allusion to the matrix red pill/blue pill dilemma, only with shoes, Barbie and Ken set off to discover the source of her problems in the real world.
The real world
Barbie believes that women and girls will thank her because:
“We fixed everything in the real world, so all women are happy and powerful”
Only to discover that things are not quite so simple. Self-righteous teenager, Sasha lambasts Barbie, telling her that
‘You’ve been making women feel bad about themselves since you were invented.’
Barbie discovers that Sasha’s mother Gloria, played by America Ferrera, is the one who has been influencing her thoughts. Gloria and Sasha’s relationship forms the heart of the film. Fererra’s hopes for her daughter and powerful speech about the difficulties of being a woman in the modern world, will strike a chord with female members of the audience.
The villain of the piece
Meanwhile Ken discovers the patriarchy. People in the real world call him sir and he starts to believe that he should be able to do any job he likes, simply because he’s a man. Newly entitled, he returns to Barbieland to share the wonders of these patriarchal gender roles with the rest of the Kens. They then build Kendom in its place, brainwashing the Barbies into serving them beer and giving foot rubs.
The film reaches its climax as the Barbies work together with Gloria and Sasha to de-programme their brainwashed sisters and pit the Kens against one another once more. Culminating in an incredible fight scene/dance battle, the Kens’ patriarchal fantasy is dismantled and Ken admits
“Once I realized the patriarchy wasn’t about horses, I kind of lost interest.”
At the film’s conclusion Ken relinquishes the patriarchy and hopes to discover who he is without Barbie, reinforced by the hilarious ‘I am Kenough’ hoodie. While Barbie resolves
Gloria requests an Ordinary Barbie who is just trying to get through the day, without the pressure to be perfect or extraordinary.
So what does all this have to do with recruitment? Well, Barbie’s exploration of gender roles in modern society reminds us that we still have a long way to go to achieve gender parity in the workplace. The USA is yet to have a ‘Madame President’ in real life, but Barbie has been one since 1999. In the film, Barbie visits Mattel’s headquarters and asks to speak to the woman in charge only to discover that the board is entirely made up of men. Of course, the film isn’t far from the truth as, according to the company’s website, all but one of Mattel’s executive officers are men.
Over the course of the film Margot Robbie’s Barbie learns that her belief that
‘Because Barbie can be anything, women can be anything’
isn’t exactly true for most of us. From the gender pay gap, to the motherhood penalty and lack of representation at the top, women still face significant barriers to progress in their careers. The UK has a gender pay gap of 14.3%. Although enhanced parental leave policies are on the rise, only 1.4% of job adverts mentioned them in 2022. There are only eight women leading FTSE 100 companies. For the few women who do reach leadership positions, they work for 2 years and 10 months longer than men. Small gains are being made at the top, but the number of women in mid-career roles has dipped. Without an adequate pipeline of female talent, businesses will struggle to maintain this trend.
Diversity doesn’t have to be a fantasy
All of this reminds us that Gerwig’s Barbieland, where women achieve greatness in every aspect of life and where every skin tone and body type are represented and celebrated, is a fantasy. (This is a film about a doll after all.) Equally, the film’s patriarchy is an over-the-top performance of masculinity, rooted in machismo and faux fur coats. By presenting these opposing extremes in a fun and flamboyant way, audiences are encouraged to reflect on their own perceptions of the ridiculous barriers imposed by gender roles in society.
At Morson we’re placing inclusion at the heart of the conversation. True ED&I has real impact, not just on the lives of people from all walks of life, but in creating stronger cultures and broader empathy in workplaces across the country.
We understand the complexities and opportunities of widening participation and take our commitment to this very seriously. Our ED&I consultancy services are designed to help clients attract diverse talent into their organisation, improve/create inclusive cultures and help identify barriers to inclusion in the recruitment process.