Since its release, pink and neon have spread across the country. The Barbie movie has been an absolute cultural phenomenon. However, not all of this attention has been positive. Conservative commentators have derided the blockbuster as both liberal and feminist propaganda, that it promotes misandry to the masses. While the film doesn’t center on men, it does not deride them either. Rather, the Barbie movie has much more to say about the mutual dignity of the sexes and the state of masculinity today. Conservative viewers must be willing to look beyond the sequins and sparkles, no matter how blinding they may be, to grasp the nuance of director Greta Gerwig’s film.
The film follows Stereotypical Barbie’s journey to Barbieland, a plastic fourth-wave feminist utopia where women are in all positions of importance, to the Real World, our world. On her journey between worlds, Barbie is accompanied by bumbling Ken, who, in his own words “exists solely within the warmth of her [Barbie’s] gaze.” Stereotypical Barbie expects the Real World to be grateful to her because of Barbie’s empowerment of women but she is instead met with the cold shock of patriarchy, sexism, and the general beautiful mess of being a human being. Ken, however, is delighted to discover patriarchy, where “men on horses run the world,” and brings patriarchy back to Barbieland. Barbieland is defenseless to patriarchy, their world has never had to defend itself from such ideas, and the Kens quickly take over. Stereotypical Barbie goes on to reprogram the Barbies from the Kens’ brainwashing and turn the Kens against one another. Barbieland is saved, and the Kens are no longer subordinate to the Barbies, but they aren’t equals either. The day is saved; women still rule Barbieland.
On the surface, Barbie may be a man-hating movie that, as Ben Shapiro tweeted: “unironically uses the word ‘patriarchy’ more than 10 times”. But much like any good story or parable, a deeper message is waiting to be found.
The Barbie movie tackles the problems of toxic masculinity, especially its detrimental effects on men. The Grease-esque song and dance performed by the Kens as they turn their rivalry into a brotherhood and begin to question what they really want to be, is one example. In another scene, Stereotypical Barbie explains to Ken that he is not defined by his girlfriend, what he does, or by his possessions or power. The glitter and spandex are gone, this is instead a heartfelt acknowledgment that men deserve more than to live basing their identity off of others or things, to fit a role of domination or an unattainable ideal. Men suffer from loneliness and mental health struggles. Toxic masculinity exacerbates both. Traditionally, it has been women alone who have been able to address these issues with men left to be staunch, composed, and without any help. The Barbie movie instead offers hope for men that should be well accepted by conservatives.
In his Ten Conservative Principles, Russell Kirk explains that platonic harmony of both the soul and society are vital components of a conservative outlook. The journey of the Kens aligns with this principle, that their worth is contingent on who they are in and of themselves. Toxic masculinity is inherently opposed to this and negates men’s value as individuals. Toxic masculinity is a problem for both men as individuals as well as society as a whole. It creates a disturbance within the souls of men to not be able to perfectly contort themselves to the nebulous and detrimental ideals of toxic masculinity and hurts how men interact with others as an extension of this internal unrest. If toxic masculinity, which many men have come to feel they must acquiesce to, is no longer an option, what guidance then does Barbie give for the future of men?
If the Barbie movie helps show what masculinity shouldn’t look like, this is little help without guidance on where to go forward. However, while the film demonstrates the risks of toxic masculinity, it also shows how masculinity could be saved going forward, a truly Burkean move. An emphasis is placed in the film on recognizing societal shortcomings, that the Kens had been suffering long before their patriarchal uprising. The Barbies realize by the end of the story that this must be resolved, even if imperfectly at first. By combining the realization that each man is enough, with the support of their fellow men and women, a new and healthier form of masculinity may be found. The Kens are not asked to be the same as the Barbies, nor to live up to the ideals of the patriarchy. Rather, the dignity and worth of the individual is emphasized. While this isn’t a black-and-white solution, it does show hope for our world just as was found in Barbieland.
Toxic masculinity should be a concern for the conservative movement. It hurts the dignity of the individual as well as breeds societal unrest and discord. Conservatives should not berate the Barbie movie, at least not as a film promoting misandry, without realizing that it confronts us with a mirror of our current state. If, as Kirk says, the “thinking conservative understands that permanence and change must be recognized and reconciled in a vigorous society,” then the Barbie movie is a chance for conservatives to do just that, all in the pursuit of reasoned and tempered progress.
The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Lone Conservative staff.