Opinion: Barbie has always been a feminist icon

Albeit a slightly flawed one…
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There’s no denying that the upcoming Barbie movie, directed by Greta Gerwig and starring Margot Robbie, has been thrust to the forefront of our everyday lives.

On social media, it feels like every second post has to do with Barbie; whether it’s an image of one of Margot’s incredible outfits from the whirlwind press tour or an ad for a store’s new hot pink-fuelled ‘Barbiecore’ collection… 

In real life, at least in Sydney, there are Barbie billboards visible practically everywhere and anywhere in the city, and most buses have been plastered with posters of either Margot as the titular character or Ryan Gosling as Ken.

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The Barbie movie will undoubtedly have a feminist lens.

Seriously, bravo to the marketing team behind the Barbie film because I’d wager that there’s very few people on this planet who haven’t at least heard of it.

But for those of us, myself included, who have been happily giving our attention to the Barbie promotion, we know that the film will definitely have a feminist lens.

For starters, the very first poster for Barbie boasted the tagline, “She’s everything. He’s just Ken,” which hilariously but subtly hinted that Barbie won’t be a stereotypical blonde bimbo with no autonomy in this film; instead that cliché has been flipped and will apply – in a satirical way – to the male character.

Furthermore, anyone familiar with Greta’s work will know she always places an unmistakable feminist slant to her films.

WATCH: Margot Robbie on her ‘Barbie’ press tour looks

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The best example of that is the 2019 film adaptation of Little Women; Greta (who directed it) deliberately made the character Amy much more well-rounded and complex rather than the shallow spoiled brat she was in the book and earlier film adaptations.

But what about the iconic doll behind the Barbie film? Can we really credit Greta and the Barbie film for giving the popular doll, first released in 1959, its first foray into feminism? I don’t think we can.

I’m personally of the opinion that Barbie has always been a feminist. Has she been perfect at it? Of course not, she’s certainly had some problematic moments along the way.

But to dismiss Barbie as nothing more than a misogynistic toy that perpetuates gender stereotypes is unfair. Here’s why…

Barbie, the doll, has always been a feminist in my opinion.

In the early 1960s, when the societal norm for women was to be a married housewife – and women legally couldn’t have credit cards in their own names – Barbie had no husband, no children, a dream house of her own and a job in design; you could argue she was a symbol for independence and empowerment.

In 1965, an Astronaut Barbie was released. At this time, the only female who had ever been to space in real-life was Soviet cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova. And considering that women were only allowed to become a part of the US astronaut corps in 1978, it’s impressive and downright inspiring that there was an Astronaut Barbie sold to little girls across America 13 years earlier. Not to mention that it took 18 years since Astronaut Barbie’s release for the first American woman to actually go to space: Sally K. Ride in 1983.

Plus, over the years Barbie has had multiple jobs traditionally held by men – pilot, doctor, CEO, police officer, President of the United States – teaching young women that they can go after any career they like.

I want it firmly on the record, as I briefly mentioned earlier, that I don’t think the Barbie doll has been a perfect feminist. She does have an unrealistic body image, for instance. And it took until 2016 (!!!) for Mattel to release Barbie dolls with different body types.

WATCH: Ryan Gosling’s Ken sings in the ‘Barbie’ movie

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Additionally, when it comes to intersectional feminism, Barbie represented only white women for 21 years. It wasn’t until 1980 that a black Barbie and Hispanic Barbie were released and 1981 that an Asian Barbie was released – which is slightly problematic in itself because it’s ignoring the rich culture and experiences of Chinese, Korean, Japanese and Indian women by lumping them all together as ‘Asian’…

With that being said though, I do believe Barbie is fundamentally a feminist. And the Barbie movie will likely further cement that status.

The Barbie movie will be released in Australian cinemas on July 20, 2023.

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