Like anyone who ever played with Barbies growing up, I knew I was going to love Barbie long before I even saw the trailer. Greta Gerwig’s incredible direction? Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling rollerblading the streets of Los Angeles in neon leotards? Multiple remixes of the iconic Aqua “Barbie” song? That’s the dream. However, I never could have imagined that the result of all of these exciting elements would be a film that appeals so deeply to the humanity of every single person in the theater.
Whether you went to see Barbie for the feminism, the nostalgia, the visuals, or a combination of all of these things, it’s likely that you left the theater with a little more faith in the world. Here are six lessons from Barbie that we’ll remember for life (bright pink spoilers ahead!).
1. Girls can do anything—and it’s OK if you find that absolutely exhausting.
At the beginning of Barbie, the many talented Barbies of Barbieland are under the impression that they have solved all problems for women in the Real World by demonstrating that girls can do anything. Physicist Barbie, journalist Barbie, and doctor Barbie are (and were) all very inspiring, but the first lesson that Gerwig makes clear is that doing and being anything can be super draining. The first signs of Barbie’s existential crisis involve waking up groggy after a poor night’s sleep, being shocked by too-cold shower water, and accidentally burning her morning waffle—all things that can easily happen to anyone who is burnt out by hustle culture, no matter how inspiring that hustle may be.
Gerwig gives audiences the opportunity to recognize two seemingly opposing feelings at the same time: It is so empowering to achieve great things as a woman, and it is also unbelievably tiring. Recognizing that exhaustion is the first step that Barbie has to take in order to find her own humanity, and the message is one that we can carry into any day when we feel both proud of ourselves and also quite depleted.
2. Different generations of feminists can find common ground.
Real women of several generations are depicted in Barbie, and each has their own opinion as to how womanhood ought to look. Sasha is the teenage girl whom Barbie first believes to be her Real World counterpart, and she initially hates everything that Barbie stands for. She resents the doll for catering to patriarchal beauty standards and representing consumerism. Gloria, Sasha’s mother, truly cherishes her memories of playing with Barbies with her daughter but questions the boundaries of what defines “Barbie” through her drawings. Ruth Handler, the creator of Barbie, hoped for this professionalized doll to inspire women for generations, in spite of the shortcomings of her original design.
Each of these women has a different perspective on Barbie, and, in turn, on feminism and womanhood themselves. Barbie interacts with them all throughout the movie, and with each interaction, we see the doll through different eyes. However, it is only in the final scene in Barbieland when Sasha, Gloria, and Ruth are all supporting Barbie together when she finally realizes her humanity. It is a powerful metaphor for different generations of feminists, often pitted against each other by the patriarchy, who are capable of finding a common cause. As Ruth says in the film, “We mothers stand still so our daughters can look back to see how far they’ve come.”
We all have a job to do when it comes to reminding other women just how powerful they are.
3. Extremes of masculinity and femininity are damaging to everyone.
While we may all aspire to have a Barbie dream house, personally, I would never actually want to live in either Kendom or Barbieland. Let’s get the obvious out of the way: I am not interested in a world like Kendom that is run entirely by men (cough cough), in which my only role is to wear a maid’s outfit and hand my Ken a “brewski.” On the other hand, in Barbieland, the Kens have no purpose, no interests besides the beach, no homes, and the Barbies take on every single task of running society. That doesn’t sound great to me either.
By showing extremes of conventional masculinity and femininity through Barbieland and Kendom, Gerwig exposes the fact that neither is healthy. True humanity exists in between this binary, for everyone. That said, the Real World is a little more like Kendom than Barbieland, so it’s worth investing time, energy, and money in the success of women.
4. It is not women’s burden to fix men who do not yet know themselves.
Say it with me: I am NOT in love with Ken! In all seriousness, when Barbie repeatedly told Ken that he was an important part of her life but that he needed to find himself without her help, I cried. Instead of maintaining the illusion of a romantic relationship between Barbie and Ken, Gerwig chose to have her protagonist set an important boundary: She was not going to help Ken fix his fractured masculinity. It’s a challenging message to remember in the real world, especially when you have wonderful Kens in your life who have always supported you, but it is not your responsibility as a woman to solve the crisis of masculinity through your personal relationships. That’s for the Kens to figure out themselves.
5. Womanhood is a constant balance of contradictions, and recognizing that is empowering.
You’re lying if you didn’t shed a tear during Gloria’s pep talk to Barbie in the midst of her existential crisis. Gloria spends several minutes exposing the double standards that exist for women, and, in turn, for representations of women like Barbie. Between the expectations to be thin but not too thin, enthusiastic about motherhood but not too enthusiastic, “healthy” but only if it presents itself externally, strong but uncomplaining, ambitious but humble, and so much more, identifying as a woman is seriously hard. It is only after Gloria makes this speech that the Barbies snap out of their Kendom trance to save Barbieland.
Crushing the patriarchy (or at least getting rid of Kendom) means constantly exposing the harmful double standards that actively damage the lives of women every single day. It is only through Gloria’s speech that the Barbies are each able to recognize their own worth, but giving this speech and exposing these double standards shouldn’t be the job of just one person in the real world. We all have a job to do when it comes to reminding other women just how powerful they are.
It is not your responsibility as a woman to solve the crisis of masculinity through your personal relationships.
6. We need more female directors in Hollywood.
Of course, this is a lesson we’ve known for years, long before Barbie was even a twinkle in Greta Gerwig’s eyes. But in the midst of the WGA and SAG-AFTRA strike, it is as good a time as any to recognize that there is a heinous disparity in Hollywood between successful female directors and successful male directors. Female directors, writers, and producers all deserve more money and opportunities to put visions like Barbie into reality. The top five grossing films by women, which Barbie now sits on top of, were also all directed by white women. The ability to make films as powerful as this one should be in the hands of women of all races and ethnicities. With Barbie, Gerwig is showing the world, in all its simultaneous beauty and double standards and binaries and messiness, through the eyes of girls and women. Movies like that shouldn’t be once-in-a-lifetime. They should be as prolific as Barbies themselves.