The 2023 film is a stark reminder that women do have the power to create the reality of their dreams despite the challenges they may face as a result of living in a patriarchal society. This is something that women empowerment coach Cindy Watson, has empowered her clients to believe for over 30 years.
Barbie has been controversial for decades – with countless studies suggesting that the toys perpetuate unrealistic beauty standards and gender stereotypes that are harmful to young girls and women. Yet upon the release of Greta Gerwig’s, 2023 film, “Barbie,” there appears to be a very different consensus.
Cindy Watson, an award-winning author, TedX international speaker, practicing attorney, founder of Women On Purpose, and creator of the empowerment programs Art of Feminine Negotiation and HERsuasion, shares that upon watching the Barbie movie, she left the theatre stunned – in a good way.
“I assumed the movie was going to be a fluff piece that reinforced gender stereotypes and for the first few minutes, I thought, oh, here we go. But then the pieces started clicking and I thought, this is brilliant,” she tells us. “The movie took an irreverent but relevant deep dive into the impact of gender bias and patriarchy.”
Watson explains that in Barbieland, the alternate universe in which the movie begins, women are empowered in every possible way. It is a full on matriarchy while men, or Kens, are not so lucky.
“In Barbieland, Barbies run everything from parliament to the Supreme Court and beyond while Ken borders on superfluous, just waiting for Barbie’s approval,” she says. “Their power is something the Barbies take for granted until Barbie is forced to visit the ‘real world’ and faces exposure to the perils of gender bias. It starts very subtly but we see Ken, just by virtue of being male, afforded respect that he has never seen in Barbieland.”
Watson explains that there is an automatic assumption about Ken’s capabilities, whereas Barbie is suddenly facing objectification, which translates to unfamiliar feelings of self-consciousness. The movie begins to reflect the reality that plenty of women experience daily in our current reality.
Ken, having been afforded automatic respect and entitlement, starts to change, and eventually goes back to Barbieland without Barbie. By the time Barbie returns, everything is changed. The men are now in control and the women are subservient and compliant.
“It was interesting to see how quickly the Barbies bought into the new patriarchy and in so doing gave up power, both perceived and real,” says Watson. “It spoke to the power of gender bias and how it won’t be redressed until both men and women recognize our role in the problem and stop the blame game. Teenage Sasha hits this issue on the head when she observes, ‘Everyone hates women. Women hate women. Men hate women. It’s the one thing we can agree on.’”
Just like that, women had their power taken away from them – something that continues to happen in our society today. It demonstrates how quickly we can become conditioned to a whole different reality, whether in terms of gender stereotypes or beyond.
“All of the various versions of Barbie in Barbieland had an unquestionable confidence stepping into everything they did. There was joy and a sense of abundance, and suddenly that confidence was shaken, and the audience could palpably feel the familiar sense of ‘not enoughness,” Watson says.
The movie nicely captures that perception and intention do not always reflect reality. Barbie and Mattel believed Barbie empowered young girls to grow up and dream big, not settling for anything less than their highest goals. Yet in reality, Barbie ended up disempowering young girls, making them feel like they could never never measure up to the perfection that Barbies portray. “Our flawed perspective-taking abilities as humans is an oft-overlooked point in the purported battle of the sexes and in life generally,” says Watson.
As women, we’re conditioned to cede control and sacrifice what we truly want for ourselves, but the film reminds us that it doesn’t have to be that way. Just like Barbie decides to embrace her true self by entering the real world at the end of the film, you too can step into the full force of your own feminine power and get more of what you want out of life both personally and professionally despite the struggles you’ve experienced up until this point.
There’s been some pushback around the film, with some labeling it ‘feminist nonsense’ or ‘man-hating’. “This misses the point, or perhaps underlines the main point,” says Watson. “If raising issues about differential treatment based on gender is automatically characterized as feminist rhetoric, that reinforces the extent of the problem and the need to redress it. At least the movie is getting people talking about the issues and that’s a good thing.”