Barbie is stunning in stilettos but could she ever be a mother?

One of the brightest moments of my young life was when I got TWO Barbies (one blonde, one brunette) for Christmas. So on wings of nostalgia but feeling undercurrents of dread, I set off to see the latest Barbie movie with my 18-year-old Barbie-loving daughter. We weren’t sure what to expect as a tsunami of pink hit the screen, but what ensued was slightly clever and significantly unsettling.

The movie delivered some solid nostalgia for any female child raised in the past 50 years. Lots of nods to vintage Barbie dolls and accessories was enough to make any Barbie enthusiast proud. (Barbie even had a heart-shaped waffle with plastic whipped cream for breakfast.) There were nuggets of actual truth spoken by characters at a couple of key moments; I heard the audience erupt in a sincere chuckle twice, and the cast was formidable.

But these bright spots were obscured not only by insistent political posturing and senseless dance numbers by the Ken dolls, but by the overarching message of the movie: babies, men, and families don’t matter.

To unpack the crux of the film, we don’t have to go past the first three minutes.

In the prologue sequence, we see little girls sitting in a barren landscape feeding, rocking, and morosely playing with baby dolls. Suddenly, Barbie descends like a bathing-suit-clad monolith. The little girls gaze at Barbie in wonder. Their wonder turns to rage as they take up their porcelain baby dolls by the feet and start smashing their heads to smithereens. They bash their baby’s heads against each other, bash them on rocks, and laugh in glee as fragments of their exploding skulls fly everywhere. We watch the whole thing in slow motion.

My daughter looked over at me with wide eyes and a touch of horror.

And so it was done. The little girls gave up their fetish for babies, dismembered their babies with their own hands, and went off to pursue a Barbie-like existence of childlessness, happiness, and selfishness. (I’m sure Planned Parenthood liked that part.) 


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The rest of the movie unfolds like this: Barbie lives blissfully in Barbieland where Barbies run everything, but because of a rift in the cosmos Barbie ends up in the real world where everything is run by men. She’s horrified, but Ken (who was a purposeless accessory in Barbieland) loves this new world and embraces “the patriarchy” with a vengeance. The juxtaposition of the woman-run world and the man-run world is supposed to fill us with indignation about the state of women in the world today.

But here’s the thing. If babies have been struck from the script of humanity—as was deftly done in the skull-crushing prologue—it doesn’t really matter who runs anything. If Barbies lack genitals (as they do in Barbieland) and there are no babies on the way, life loses massive meaning. Mothering disappears, fathering disappears, and the need for cooperative roles focused on the well-being of children disappears. In that case, yes, patriarchy-hating Barbie has a great point and Barbies might as well take over the world in an avalanche of pink.

But see, that’s not how the world really is. The movie tried yet again to do what radical feminism has tried to do for the past 70 years -- sidestep the fact that babies exist, that babies come from mothers, and that the kind of mothering a child receives largely determines the child’s success in every measurable way for the rest of her life.

What rarely seems to occur to women who make these kinds of movies is that “the patriarchy” may exist for the purpose of serving, helping, and supporting women and the children they bear.

The movie attempts to show that women in the real world are purposeless accessories if they’re not sitting in a boardroom. But they’re not. When a woman has a baby, and most women do, she is needed as the mother of that child. In fact, you might say that she is essential. Of course, she is highly capable of contributing and having purpose in other ways including the business sector or any other sector, but her child might need her more than Goldman Sachs needs her for part of her life. If a woman is not sitting in a boardroom, it doesn’t mean she’s sitting around in a purposeless, powerless stupor crimping her hair or shopping for stilettos. The fact is, she has supreme purpose and matchless power.

If it truly didn’t matter who cared for a child, we could just ship children off to boot camps (or bash their heads in), Barbie could dominate the boardroom, and the Kens of the world could endlessly play the guitar and ride horses, as they do in the movie. But because the cooperative anatomy of men and women in the real world creates babies, babies must be dealt with.

And being able to deal with them well is what makes a person a grown up.

At the end of the movie, Barbie gets a vagina. My guess is that when she figures out what it’s for and a baby comes out of it, she’ll really be wishing Ken was around. But Barbie and Ken spend much of the movie fighting over which one of them gets to live in the dreamhouse. It’s Ken who finally says, “I always thought this would be our house.”

But that isn’t the answer for modern Barbie. There can’t be cooperation and complementarity and equal partnership worked out in a house together. No, there must be endless competing for the throne.

Barbie and Ken need to figure out that the throne is a loveseat, and there’s room for two.


Kimberly Ells is the author of The Invincible Family. Follow her at Invincible Family Substack.

Showing 7 reactions

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  • mrscracker
    Just an FYI: Boris Johnson wrote a piece for the Daily Mail about the film & he had some interesting insights.
  • Valerie Hudson
    commented 2023-07-29 01:53:01 +1000
    Barbie made the immense choice to join the real world so she could know the trials and joys of being a real woman. That is why the very last scene has her going to a gynecologist—she now has female organs, because she is now real. She has chosen the capacity to have children over her Barbieland life where she would never be able to have children. This is a huge step forward for her. I predict love, marriage, and children in Barbie’s future!
  • Julian Cheslow
    commented 2023-07-28 07:26:05 +1000
    I’ve read differing stories about how Barbie was first named. But even if that risque version is true the movie went with a more family centered one. And again combined with the whole plotline about a Mother and Daughter reconnecting I don’t see how the movie is condemning motherhood.

    Like the Mother is the one who is able to deprogram the Barbies. Calling the movie anti Motherhood just feels like purposely interpreting the movie in the most bad faith way possible.
  • mrscracker
    Barbie is claimed by Ruth Handler to have been copied from a risqué German doll based on a provocative comic strip character. Mattel cleaned up Barbie’s background, but the original inspiration for Barbie was not family friendly.

    According to his daughter Ann, Jack Ryan who worked with Mattel for years designed Barbie, not Ruth Handler & he held the design patents based on pin up girls he saw in Esquire magazines.
    So, either way it’s not a wholesome beginning for Barbie. I think we should have stuck with doll babies.
  • Julian Cheslow
    commented 2023-07-28 03:58:59 +1000
    There was a whole plotline of a mother and daughter reconnecting, along with the daughter of. And it specifically mentions that the creator of Barbie named the doll after her daughter. I don’t understand how people are interpreting this as anti-mother.

    Also the Kens are encouraged to find value in themselves and not rely on the Barbies to give them that
  • Paul Bunyan
    commented 2023-07-27 14:26:28 +1000
    There are better ways to contribute to society without having children. Ever heard of the economic concept of opportunity cost?

    Every hour spent looking after children is one hour that can’t be spent catching terrorists or working on the cure for cancer.
  • mrscracker
    Goodness, that’s even more disturbing than I would have imagined. I had no plans to see the film, but this article just adds to the reasons to avoid it.