“The long-awaited blockbuster ‘Barbie’ (2023) has taken theatres by storm, drawing crowds dressed in pink and brimming with nostalgia, eager to indulge in the film’s humour. While it offers an enjoyable experience with its fun, and campy elements, Barbie (2023) is undeniably a movie that aims to delve into the intricacies of our modern society and, inevitably, patriarchy. By creating a conversation around patriarchy and the effects it has on individuals, Barbie (2023) subsequently begins a smaller, less explored conversation surrounding the concept of antagonism. Barbie (2023) has brought to light how eager we often are to establish a black and white narrative and label people “villains” and “heroes” despite obvious attempts of storytellers, like Greta Gerwig, to emphasise the lack of a villain/heroes.


An antagonist is a character meant to challenge our main character, the person who the story is following. The term “antagonist” allows for an incredible amount of flexibility in terms of motive and character, in which the antagonist can even be the main character themself. The term “villain,” on the other hand, does not provide the same flexibility, to be a villain is to be evil and harbour malicious intent. While a villain is and can be an antagonist, an antagonist is not always a villain. To conflate these two terms is to heavily misconstrue a character, their motives, as well as any eventual developments they may experience. We notice this mislabeling occurring multiple times during consumption and interpretation of media. From reality TV to celebrities, the urge to find a “villain,” someone to feel incredible anger and hatred towards in every situation feels nearly incessant. The newest victim to this phenomenon and one of the more detrimental cases being that of Ken.


By establishing the lives of its characters before and after the introduction of patriarchy in Barbie Land, the film simultaneously establishes the reason for Ken’s excitement concerning the idea of patriarchy as well as the devastating effects of this system that aims to oppress and marginalize. In the beginning, we see Ken express very clear disappointment at the lack of care towards the Kens that seems almost systematic within Barbie Land. We don’t know where the Ken’s sleep/live, and in Barbie Land, they are more or less accessories for the Barbies. While this experience is of course not comparable to the harassment and violence that Women in the real world constantly undergo, it does come with a pain of its own. His displeasure with the treatment is amplified when Ken is thrown into this “shiny” new world with Barbie, one where they undergo completely different experiences. Where Barbie is demeaned and sexualized, Ken is “uplifted” and “respected.” This results in the two characters having completely different outlooks on the “Real World” and the underlying system of Patriarchy. Where Barbie sees suffering, Ken sees opportunity, and this difference in worldviews rings incredibly true to the experience of most Men and Women in the real world. However, despite Ken seeing the instillment of Patriarchy in Barbie Land as a positive, the film does not sugarcoat the suffering caused by it. Rather, Barbie (2023) portrays the characters as individuals who have fallen prey to its insidious influence, causing them to make choices they might not have otherwise made. Ken consistently degrades Barbie, takes over her house and makes it into his own “mojo dojo casa house.” However, the Ken’s maltreatment doesn’t stop at the Barbies and ultimately, in their inherent need for power and to be noticed, the Kens turn against one another. This is in spite of the fact that they are alike, they’ve experienced the same struggle of not feeling seen and should therefore find community amongst one another rather, the Kens make enemies of one another. This acts as a parallel to how, oftentimes in a patriarchal society, Men often step on not only women, but each other, in their quest for individuality and power. This nuanced approach humanises the characters and reminds us that antagonism can stem from pain and societal conditioning, rather than inherent evil.


The portrayal of the struggles of both Barbie and Ken in Barbie Land highlights how patriarchal systems can lead to divisiveness and strife, affecting everyone involved, regardless of their gender. Women are perceived as accessories, people that are ultimately meant to serve and soothe the men around them. Whereas men, are powerful beings who are meant to crush those beneath them, including the very people they should be finding community with, other Men. In this sense, the movie becomes a commentary on the larger issues of gender inequality, encouraging audiences to confront and dismantle oppressive structures that perpetuate suffering. To label Ken as a “villain” instead of an antagonist, despite how small the difference can seem, is to ignore how detrimental the establishment of patriarchy is to all groups, even those who may perpetuate it.

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About the Author

Hi! I'm a blog writer for WEW at the uofa! I'm in my first year majoring in biology and love consuming any forms of media I can: music, reading and movies, I love them all! I hope you enjoy my blogs and come back to WEW to read more!