Barbie’s Paradox: Feminist Ideals Trapped in a Patriarchal World

Food for Thought

I finally watched Barbie because I felt I had to. It’s unfortunate that a corporation like Mattel can force everyone to consume something to be part of the conversation. The only aspect of it that seems worthy of discussion is feminism.

Western feminism has largely focused on ensuring that women have the opportunity to engage in activities traditionally reserved for men. “Barbieland” presents a reversal of roles, but the underlying issue remains: patriarchy is fundamentally about a preoccupation with power and dominance. From this perspective, a matriarchal society doesn’t escape patriarchal values. The narrative fails to celebrate the essence of femininity beyond the physical, perpetuating the idea that aspiring to traditionally male-dominated roles should be everyone’s ultimate goal. The film seems to say that being an “ordinary woman” is merely acceptable, rather than something to be valued in its own right.

Consider a story I heard on a podcast, where a mother described how she motivated her children to clean. She turned it into a competition for her son, timing him to see how quickly he could tidy up, which he found motivating. However, when she tried the same tactic with her daughter, the girl simply asked, “Why?” This wise response challenges the value we uncritically place on competition and power in our society. Yet, those who ascend to positions of power through competition are the ones we celebrate despite the fact that this perpetuates the very foundations of patriarchy.

Contrast this with the example of Zen monks, who eschew wealth, fame, and conventional power. Some even choose to live as street beggars. Yet, there is a beauty and power in their simplicity, passivity, and detachment that many find admirable.

While it’s important that individuals have the freedom to pursue any path they desire, it’s equally important to recognize that the Western fixation on hierarchical success limits our understanding of value and power. The societal contradictions and pressures this creates can leave many feeling trapped and oppressed. Barbie, rather than challenging these norms, unfortunately, seems to reinforce them.