barbie (2023) loves women but um. not in that way ♡

marrow #10 | posted 10/08/2023

so. the barbie movie huh. i'll start off by saying i liked it, it's funny, it's enjoyable. it's a two hour long ad for i am kenough hoodies. whatever. i do not expect such a movie to have teeth. i think it was a solid 4/5 stars, the set design was nice, i think ryan reynolds and margot robbie were great casting choices because they really are Attractive People that don't look enough like humans to provoke lust; they make for pretty good dolls. their performances are quite good too, you can tell reynolds was having the time of his life. michael cera's allan has more screentime than i expected, which was great as well. besides some snags here and there, the story is pretty fun too. overall it lived up to the hype and i can recommend it!

if you haven't watched it, here's a sloppy summary. analysis will have spoilers too but i think they're rather vague. it's not a movie where it matters either way but people can be annoying about these things.

story summary

margot robbie plays stereotypical barbie, living her perfect life in barbieland — a metaphysical world where barbies and kens (and allan) are more or less brought to life by the people* (in text i think they're explicitly girls but let's not get into it because i have bad memory) who play with them. kinda tulpa style? egregores? doesn't matter — until uh. she starts thinking about death and her life is no longer perfect and she has celullite (not body hair though, good heavens she might as well be buried if that were the case!) and she has to go to the real world set things straight with her owner so she can get back to how things were. she goes with ken, who finds out about the patriarchy and thinks it'd be swell to be important for a change, so he goes back to barbieland before barbie does and creates his little patriarchy. barbie finds out about being human and shit, and that the real world sucks for women. she and the barbie outcasts and her owner (and her stereotypical not-like-other-girls "goth"-adjacent tween daughter who gets dressed in progressively pinker clothes) get rid of the patriarchy, things go back to how they were, and stereotypical barbie leaves barbieland to be a human and live and die in the real world.

with that out of the way, i wanna talk about lesbianism. or the lack thereof.

do you guys ever think about women?

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not regular yuri nor yuri of absence. the spectre of the absent lesbianism haunts this movie. you know the feeling when you're trying to push two magnets together but they're repelling each other? that's yuri of absence. now take away the repulsion but keep the magnets apart. that non-feeling is the barbie movie.

when every night is girls night and it's all about the relations between men* and women* it's quite inevitable that the mind turns itself towards what it's like to not have a boy you crush on to talk about at the slumber party. your feminist friend who's always complaining about men but gets weird when she finds out you're a dyke.

barbie doll anatomy

seemingly interested in and also fundamentally about gender, the movie consciously makes its way as far as possible from sex. it's the ideal movie for this era of hollywood. everyone is beautiful and no one is horny, magic earring ken without his cock ring necklace and mesh shirt and so on. it doesn't not make sense as a product, but as a story? where's Weird Homoerotic Friendship That Fucks You Up Barbie (TM). watsonian analysis does not interest me, but even if i were to humor it, i already had my weird complicated feelings about girls that i wouldn't fully understand for years while i played with barbies. many such cases. anyway, i like talking about absences.

ken doesn't just take the patriarchy to barbieland: he also takes the twin beast of (cis)heteronormativity. but gerwig doesn't say that last part out loud. the barbies were sexless before then — midge's pregancy is absurd, aberrant — but now they're girlfriends (of men). post-patriarchy, it's back to status quo, back to nothing. the options here are unfulfilling relationships with men, or no relationships at all.

but i'm a cheerleader (1999)

i think but i'm a cheerleader is a great movie to compare and contrast here, even though (and partly because?) the plots are so different.

if you haven't watched it, you really should remedy that as soon as physically possible, it's very good. but in short, it's a satirical romcom. the protagonist megan is the perfect american dream teen. except, as it's clear to everyone except herself, she's a lesbian. so she's sent to a conversion camp where she realizes oh yeah, she really is a lesbian, and the american dream is rather bullshit.

there are two things i feel beg comparison. one, the aesthetics. cheerleader is grounded on the aesthetics of gender, pink and blue and patriarchal stereotypes to the bone, and their plastic artificiality. after all, stylization and exaggeration go hand in hand with satire. gerwig knows that, and barbieland really shines, both as the status quo and as ken's idea of the patriarchy (as an aside, the horses slapped, that was a peak aesthetic moment imo) were really good at conveying that not only is this a toy world, but an extremely gendered one.

the second point is the protagonists. megan and stereotypical barbie are one and the same at the start of the narrative; it's in barbie's damn name. they're the female ideal yadda yadda but it all starts falling apart. barbie thinks of death (although what exactly she thinks of is mostly irrelevant) and megan thinks of women.

cheerleader is about megan coming to terms with herself, about the social construction of gender and heterosexuality/normativity, about seeing what's outside of these norms and choosing that path even though it's hard, because the alternative is feeling like death forever.

barbie gives us a girly utopia confronted with a fully, diegetically artificial patriarchy, and a protagonist that realizes that being a woman under the patriarchy rather sucks... so it'd be better to just make the girly heaven back into what it was asap thank you very much. like... it just feels so flat, doesn't it? i don't mean to imply the movie is vapid (though it is toothless). but: barbie leaves barbieland in her coming of age hero's journey and most of what she sees out there in the real world sucks! she comes back to ken's mojo dojo casa house world desperate for the status quo. she, humanized, bonds with the brainwashed barbies — now turned into women — through their now shared discontent with men (in a scene that reminds me of our high school feminist collective's meetings where we bonded through misery more than advisable).

in conclusion

i'm finding it hard to be articulate. maybe because it's so obvious to me. doesn't it all just feel weird? it's weird that the movie has male homosexuality of the "is he... you know?" and "i know what you are" and "teehee cock ring and sugar daddy ken" variety (because that's what we are all thinking, right?) but when it comes to any whiff of lesbianism the most you get is "well, weird barbie has an undercut" (this is the butchest girl twitter can handle before getting scared). it's weird that barbie (2023) claims to be about women loving women without having any dykes in it.

further reading

other texts on this movie that i found interesting. i'm still kinda hunting for someone who articulates my thoughts on lesbianism better than i personally could, but lesbophobia is also part of misogyny and these are all good regardless.