Girls’s our bodies current a particular downside for dying denial—and these considerations encourage patriarchal cultures to hunt management of these our bodies from girls themselves.
Awards season is right here, and whereas it first it appeared like Barbie would rake in fairly just a few, after securing extra Golden Globe nominations than another movie this 12 months, it now seems as if Gerwig’s movie could get handed over for closing awards and end-of-year “better of” lists, regardless of its overwhelming field workplace recognition. Maybe critics couldn’t enable for a seemingly shallow storyline to hold such a deeply existential, feminist message. Some will name it sacrilege for us to check Barbie, a movie that seems to have fun artificiality and superficiality, with the deeply noir a number of award-winning movie many say is the best of all time, Citizen Kane. Nonetheless, we propose that each movies are owed approval for the dangers their administrators took in broaching probably the most anxiety-provoking of all human considerations: dying.
Each Orson Welles and Greta Gerwig ship their existential message via toys—however the place Rosebud the sled restores the dying Kane’s misplaced promise of masculine youth, Barbie the doll depicts the central thesis of our work as feminist social psychologists: that worry of dying that undergirds the management of ladies and their our bodies, and ladies’s personal efforts to adapt to societal expectations for his or her bodily management. Thought-about this fashion, Barbie is related not solely to the approaching selections of the Academy of Movement Photos, but additionally to the Supreme Court docket, as they’re as soon as once more set to adjudicate girls’s proper to handle their very own reproductive our bodies.
In a world with out genitals or dying, girls are valued and revered, they’re the president, the Supreme Court docket and Nobel Prize winners.
In our subject of social psychology, terror administration principle presents an existential framework for viewing the world, with empirical analysis to again up its claims. The gist is that, not like dolls, people are conscious of the inescapable truth that they’re going to die. This existential menace is quelled by creating and immersing ourselves in a contrived, synthetic world that provides an phantasm of immortality. As Barbie’s creator Ruth Handler explains to her within the movie, “Concepts dwell without end. People, not a lot.”
Girls’s our bodies current a particular downside for dying denial, with their month-to-month bleeding, lactation and pregnancies. And what girls’s our bodies giveth, they will take away. In our analysis, we discover that dying considerations are what encourage the patriarchal oppressive contrivances of objectification and self-objectification. Objectifying “strips” girls’s our bodies of their extra pure, mammalian, and therefore threatening mortal qualities, emphasizing an idealized, contrived attractiveness.
Not solely are girls handled this fashion, however additionally they come to deal with themselves this fashion, investing time and assets in achieving flawless, symbolically immortal magnificence.
Within the movie’s opening sequence, we be taught that ladies in prehistory performed with child dolls, however when Barbie hit the scene, they eagerly (violently) traded pretending to look after toddler dolls for fashioning themselves after grownup, anatomically incorrect ones. Welcome to Barbieland, the place it’s “enjoyable and work and friendship 24/7,” a cinematic check of our principle: In a world with out genitals or dying, girls are valued and revered, they’re the president, the Supreme Court docket and Nobel Prize winners.
Concern of dying that undergirds the management of ladies and their our bodies, and ladies’s personal efforts to adapt to societal expectations for his or her bodily management.
Life in plastic is incredible—till all the pieces involves a screeching halt. Mid-dance quantity, after speaking about how every day, and every day to come back (in a nod to existentialist Nietzsche’s everlasting recurrence), is the perfect day ever, Barbie asks the opposite Barbies, “Do you guys ever take into consideration dying?” The music stops. The phantasm is punctured. And the following morning, her pure physique asserts itself. She has unhealthy breath, flat toes, and the primary little dimples of cellulite—briefly, a full-on existential disaster.
Bizarre Barbie helps our heroine select the Birkenstock over the stiletto, place her toes totally on the earth, and take a short foray with Ken to actuality.
Within the Actual World, Barbie will get objectified, experiences self-consciousness tinged with worry, and learns that ladies really feel unhealthy about themselves for not dwelling as much as the contrived requirements which she represents. She visits Mattel Headquarters, the place client capitalist patriarchs manufacture their death-denying sausage within the type of empowerment feminism as a result of they “love girls.” Right here she learns that, like Midge and Rising Up Skipper, whose conceits of being pregnant and breast improvement minimize somewhat too existentially near residence, “Proust Barbie” didn’t promote effectively both.
In the meantime, Ken experiences the fun of Actual-World masculinity, gleefully determining that gender roles are “reversed right here.” And when he returns to Barbieland, he brings the patriarchy again with him, establishing Kendom, the place Kens are in cost, and Barbies discover reduction in “giving their brains a break” by carrying bikinis, cheerleader’s and maid’s uniforms and serving their Kens “brewskie beers.”
The movie’s Actual World and Kendom mirror our experiments—by which after we remind folks of their mortality, we discover males scale up their objectification of ladies, preferring commercials the place girls’s our bodies are merged with merchandise like beer bottles. When reminded about girls’s reproductive capabilities, equivalent to menstruation, we additionally see elevated objectification, with people tying girls’s price to their magnificence and look extra strongly, and with girls associating themselves with traits descriptive not of human beings, however of objects.
And just like the Barbies of Kendom, girls who self-objectify are much less prone to see gender inequality as an issue or vote in their very own finest curiosity—as a result of objects don’t object to the patriarchy.
From Barbie’s very first tear that felt “achy, however good,” she begins to acknowledge that being plastic comes at a worth. For her, there’s no getting again within the death-denying field, regardless of how nostalgic it smells. So even after working to revive Barbieland to its neoliberal, empowerment feminism utopia, she has to select: Keep excellent, plastic and immortal in Barbieland—or develop into human.
“You perceive that people solely have one ending,” Ruth stated. Holding palms together with her creator, Barbie sees a imaginative and prescient of strange women and girls who haven’t chosen to disclaim dying by investing within the plastic world of self-objectification. Some are younger, some previous, some are laughing, some crying, some are fats, some skinny. All are human, all too human. When Barbie opens her eyes, she chooses Actuality. She chooses mortality.
The ultimate scene of the movie enlists viewers in questioning what downtown appointment Barbie is dashing to make, and the reveal couldn’t be extra illustrative of our existentialist feminist perspective, nor extra effectively timed to the second by which we discover ourselves: holding our breaths not for award nominations, however for the very best Court docket within the land to listen to an attraction relating to remedy abortion within the wake of the Dobbs choice.
As a result of actual girls dwell within the our bodies that may create and maintain life, cultures worry and thus search to wrest management of these our bodies from girls themselves. Barbie the doll symbolizes that management within the type of objectified magnificence, and instructs ladies in self-control via self-objectification.
However Barbie, the true girl, begins her mortal human journey at an appointment with the gynecologist—which is, after all, a way more acceptable place than a politician’s workplace or a courtroom for such a journey to start.
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