Imagine a very familiar scene, where you are with your friends, from both sexes, at a coffee house. Maybe one of your girlfriends start to talk about the latest skin concealer or eyeliner that she has bought at a discount. The conversations reach an excited pitch and discussions circle around Huda Beauty, Flormar, M.A.C and why your eyebrows are never aligned or on fleek. Even the most cosmetically clueless of your female friends joined in and the conversation reached a pleasurable point in the debate, where beauty blenders were discussed, the subtle art of cat-like eyeliner application was showcased and the difference between Ruby Woo and Russian Roulette was assessed. Amidst all this, a sudden smirk from some of your male friends catches the eye. You turn quizzically and he replies, “Who cares about these stupid things?”
The conversation becomes more muted. The fun is over, the mood is gone. The incel has won.
How could women talk about makeup or dresses or ‘Never Have I Ever’ when men are present and the conversation needs to be dominated by their needs?
Cut to another scene. A sea of pink and purple stream from movie theatres. The Colgate smiles of Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling bid us farewell as we go back to our grey, 9-to-5 lives, leaving the colorful, fashionable world of ‘Barbie’, with its perfectly coordinated, synchronized dancing (and beach), behind. With some pleasure, we later find out that this movie was a force that took on the world by a pink storm. It was the highest grossing movie globally and the first female directed movie to do so. The movie featured an ensemble cast of beautiful, talented people like Margot Robbie, Ryan Gosling, Simu Liu, America Ferrera, and more; it was fun, cute, entertaining, glossy, and had a few meaningful scenes and messages which resonated with yours truly. Was it life changing? Not for me. Did it have a few mixed messages? Yes. Was it a fun, relaxing movie where you got to wear cute pink tops to watch pretty people do cute things, pose in front of cut-out posters, and reminisce about your childhood days, when you used to play with Barbie dolls (Note: This Barbie turned all her Barbies into Weird Barbies, with torn clothes and streaked hair. If the vacant, blank eyes of these dolls could talk, they would have probably begged for mercy.) and made her do action stunts and martial arts? Hell, yeah!
So then why did a movie, literally about dolls, become the target of a raging, testosterone-fueled, masculine angst? Why have so many men declared they will never watch this movie, as long as they have breath in their bodies, urging their comrades in fragile masculinity should do the same? Why have so many of these fine, sturdy, misguided people of the opposite gender (and some of our noble-hearted albeit clueless sisters) declare that, for Barbie to release on the same date as the movie ‘Oppenheimer’, was an outrage strong enough to induce a frothing at the mouths and the beating of the drums of war?
Now, before my head gets bitten off and dipped in salsa sauce, I want to clarify that the Barbie movie was by no means flawless. It had a thousand and one confusing messages and slightly alarming plots on reverse sexism (which some men were quick to point out in their PowerPoint presentations). However, I am not here to critique the movie because I do not care enough about it. Neither am I here to thrust you into a theatre and go all Clockwork Orange on you and force you to watch the movie; tastes vary, some genres are not for everyone and that is completely fine. I am here to point out the jealous hypocrisy of our society, when a lot of people in my vicinity exclaimed excitedly, that the movie will be a flop because many of them won’t go to the theatre to watch the movie because it’s about “Barbie dolls so who cares? It shouldn’t even be in theatres.”. After all, the world runs on the fingertips of the Chad Men and, with a snap of their Thanos magic, the lifespan of Barbie will be snipped and cut short, they thought gleefully (and wrongly).
Warner Brothers really marketed and promoted the movie well, according to these bros, because that can be the only reason why a movie directed by a WOMAN (gasp!), with a FEMALE protagonist (another gasp!), made for a target audience which is not men (swoon!), can reach such phenomenal heights
Many men and their female counterparts jumped the bash-on-Barbie bandwagon. One American critic described the movie as, “…the deformed, mutated rage child of Captain Marvel, Ghostbusters 2016 and She-Hulk.” (Critical Drinker, 2023). The same critic said that he was expecting the movie to be “…just another colorful, light hearted, easygoing family comedy with some cheeky self-aware humor, ironic meta gags and probably capped off with a blandly inoffensive female empowerment message about girls learning the value of their own potential.” Notice the slightly dismissive touch in the critic’s former expectations and how he did not expect the movie to have serious (or ‘spiteful’ in his words) undertones?
It was almost heartbreaking to see the naïve outrage of these men, when the movie went on to become a global blockbuster. Why oh why, is something which is not catered to them, number 1 in theatres? The audacity! Warner Brothers really marketed and promoted the movie well, according to these bros, because that can be the only reason why a movie directed by a WOMAN (gasp!), with a FEMALE protagonist (another gasp!), made for a target audience which is not men (swoon!), can reach such phenomenal heights (Note: Guardians of the Galaxy, Mission Impossible: Dead Reckoning, Spider-Man: No Way Home, or any movie which is directed by a male director and has a primarily male protagonist, are all clearly arthouse cinemas made by independent studios and never did any form of promotional or marketing work. They are all standing on the foundations of their ART! *Angry gesturing*).
For most men, femininity is associated with weakness, fragility, a tendency to lean towards ideas, activities and thoughts that are useless, unimportant and frivolous to them...
At the heart of it, the socially unevolved men love to hate on anything remotely connected to femininity. For most men, femininity is associated with weakness, fragility, a tendency to lean towards ideas, activities and thoughts that are useless, unimportant and frivolous to them; ideas that these men grew up observing and learning from their foreparents and societies. Such men grow up and steadily imbibe the belief that they are the decision-makers of the world, they are the caretakers of the ‘weaker’ sex and thus should be given all the benefits, understandings, privileges and lee ways of the world. Their needs are tantamount to supreme finality; their beliefs are primary and they are the overlords of all. It doesn’t matter if you are a Bangladeshi farmer living in a small village in Feni, or a Wall Street stockbroker living in New York City- if you are born with certain biological features, you are THE MAN.
This is the tragedy of the modern society, where the whims and interests of women must be cast aside as ‘frivolous’ and ‘useless’ in comparison to the much more important ‘manly’ activities. How could women talk about makeup or dresses or ‘Never Have I Ever’ when men are present and the conversation needs to be dominated by their needs? How dare Barbie, something overtly, for lack of a better word, ‘girly’, come out the same day as Oppenheimer (which is about bombs and science and is directed by a male director so naturally it’s a boy’s club and thus is far more important)? When did these categorizations start, this segregation that makeup is for girls and science is for boys? Another topic on sex and the gendering of personal interests for another day.
Generations of ingrained patriarchy is hard to pull out and discard, like a wizened tree that bears no fruit but has dug the roots too deep in the garden and is taking over the minerals and nutrition of other plants.
In the end, the deeper question should not be why Barbie was not a good movie; that is superficial and varies from person to person. The deeper question we as a society should ask themselves is, “Why do I hate this pink and women-centric movie so much that I want it banned from theatres even before it got released?” A little self-reflection is never a bad thing.
Generations of ingrained patriarchy is hard to pull out and discard, like a wizened tree that bears no fruit but has dug the roots too deep in the garden and is taking over the minerals and nutrition of other plants. It manifests in different ways and creates a self-sabotaging society, hell-bent on its own destruction. There is no race to the finishing line between man and woman, no final victory of the sexes. Not everything has to be for everyone, not every movie or show can tick all the boxes. It is a beautiful thing, when we realize, that our deepest wish is to just be free and to let us do our own thing, in security and safety. Why is that such a puerile wish?
Sarwat Sarah is a regular contributor to Swayong.org