Kenough with Barbie: Where the movie missed a deeper understanding of women’s (and men’s!) roles

I couldn’t resist any longer. I saw the Barbie movie last night. I’ll do my best to avoid any major spoilers but read ahead with caution.

After the movie I couldn’t shake this feeling that something wasn’t quite right.


Then it hit me – It was the Ken’s.


At the start of the movie, we’re brought into Barbieland, where the gender dynamics are reversed in a way that has yielded the Barbies (women) all the power, while the Kens (men) are relegated to second-class citizens. In some ways, it was the perfect gender-inverted reflection of the society we live in today.

There were so many empowering moments for theatregoers of all genders to recognize just how different that world would be. From female faces adorning Mount Rushmore, to women inhabiting every occupation from sanitation workers to President. While the filmmakers nailed the masculine confidence of Barbies winning awards for their notable accomplishments, the Ken’s, supposedly representing the feminine roles were all wrong.


They were just….hanging around.

Waiting to catch the eye of a Barbie.


There were no Ken’s with babies on their hips, juggling the cooking and cleaning and working out, and helping with homework, and holding a 9-5, all while forming deep emotional connections with other Kens and supporting one another in community through the challenging times. This strength of feminine conviction, vulnerability and empathy was completely lost from this world. The Ken’s were just ….flaccid, and flat (no pun intended – okay, well maybe a little).


The richness of the emotional connection and friendships that real women have was never explored in the Barbieland Ken characters. For all of the other empowering feminine messaging, this felt like a major oversight. But even more than a slight to #girlpower, it missed an opportunity to expose how different the world would be for men under Barbieland’s rule as well.  What would happen if men had the superpower, the freedom, to be emotional creatures as well? To not have their value be entirely dependent on their paycheck? To be empowered and valued for their contributions outside of work?


While the Barbies might have looked like they had all the power with their faces on currency, and Noble Peace Prize awards in hand, the real world needs to see that often true power isn’t all financially, commercially, or recognition driven. Had the Ken’s had the real feminine powers that are so often dismissed today (the power of deep connection, friendships, emotional processing) they might not have been so ready to give that up for the “glory” of the patriarchy.

While the Barbie movie undoubtedly delivered a powerful message of self-belief, resilience, and cooperation among women, it also revealed the need for a more comprehensive understanding of how we define and grant power and societal value to any gender. If the Barbie house, car and titles are all that’s at stake here, we’re still missing the point. Yes, as the Barbie movie made clear, financial and political power is real, and should not be ignored. But neither should the superpowers clearly overlooked in the (feminized) Ken’s.

As a woman, there is no amount of recognition, political power, or financial incentive that would convince me to give up my abilities to openly process emotion, engage in deep and connected friendships, and express myself empathetically to others – something we expect men in the real world to be devoid of each and every day. The fact that this power wasn’t even possible for the make-believe feminized Kens to experience only belabors the point. We’ve never acknowledged these superpowers as power at all. Maybe it’s time we stop only celebrating one kind of power, and recognize the full spectrum of value that all genders bring.

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