August 25, 2023
Good morning. In today’s either/view, we discuss whether the Barbie movie is feminist. We also look at the notification imposing fines for feeding monkeys in Sikkim, among other news.
📰 FEATURE STORY
Is the Barbie movie feminist?
Barbie and Ken are living it up in their dreamy world called Barbie Land – vibrant, flawless, and oh-so-colourful. But things take a turn when Margot Robbie’s Barbie starts thinking about life’s big questions like mortality. With Ryan Gosling’s Ken, she ventures off into the real world. The adventure of navigating human life awaits them – the ups, the downs, and everything in between.
Finally, out of the box and in the theatres, the Barbie movie has raked in a staggering $1.18 billion worldwide. Greta Gerwig, the genius behind Barbie, has made history too. She’s the first woman to independently steer a movie to the billion-dollar mark. It has all the glitz and glamour of a Mattel commercial while delivering a tongue-in-cheek critique of the patriarchy. The question is – has it pulled off its feminist statement?
Barbie’s journey starts with Ruth Handler, a businesswoman and Mattel’s first president. She named the very first Barbie after her daughter, Barbara. Back on March 9, 1959, this iconic doll made her debut, rocking a black-and-white-striped swimsuit, red lips, and a chic high blond ponytail.
Handler had big ideas about Barbie’s future. She gave her over 200 careers, and none of them included being a mother.
In brown households, Barbie’s blond and beautiful straitjacket was the epitome of the cosmopolitan success of femininity. The plastic figurine became a canvas for kids’ dreams and wishes. We wanted the blonde Barbie, but we also wanted the one wearing a stunning Salma Sitara lehenga.
Of late, Barbie’s long legs and cinched waist have become a bit outdated. The doll has come to embody the oppressiveness of unrealistic beauty standards. But here’s the twist: the makers kind of saw it coming.
Back when Barbie was just an idea in the late 1950s, Mattel hired a marketing expert, Ernest Dichter, to give them some advice. His report suggested that instead of making Barbie universally likeable, they should embrace her potential as a bit of a troublemaker. He proposed making her a tad “vain and selfish, maybe even cheap?” He knew that hating Barbie wasn’t so much rebellion as it was part of the grand scheme.
After 64 years in the spotlight, Barbie has finally made her big-screen debut in a live-action movie. It’s been a long time coming, though. Mattel has been talking about making a Barbie movie since at least 2009. The screenplay rewrites kept coming as Diablo Cody and Amy Pascal hopped on board. Lindsey Beer, Bert V Royal, and Hillary Winston also sent in their drafts.
Things got interesting in December 2016 when Amy Schumer was in talks to play the lead role. She even had a hand in rewriting the script alongside her sister, Kim Caramele. However, in March 2017, Schumer’s script was a no-go and she backed out due to creative differences.
Enter Academy Award nominee Greta Gerwig, the mind behind movies like “Lady Bird” and “Little Women.” She’s got this knack for telling stories about growing up and becoming a woman, navigating all the hurdles that come with it – dealing with your family, subverting the patriarchy, or even just finding your path.
Gerwig directed Barbie and teamed up with her partner, Noah Baumbach, to write the screenplay. These two are no strangers to collaboration, and they decided they would create something anarchic, wild, funny, and cathartic. If you love Barbie, this movie is for you. If you hate Barbie, this movie is for you.
This movie is like a genre chameleon – Barbie becomes a sassy satire, poking fun at those big toy company dreams, a music-filled extravaganza, and a statement on today’s complex gender dynamics. It’s this last bit where the discussions all around get complex. Is the Barbie movie feminist at all? If so, how does it add to the discourse?
VIEW: Out of the box
Despite its commercial roots, the movie skillfully weaves critique and satire. In a world that chastises femininity, scrutinises women’s choices, and belittles teens’ or young girls’ preferences, crafting a film about a toy’s varied impact on girls is a remarkable feat in feminist storytelling. MG Lord, the author of Forever Barbie, called it shocking how such an extravagant film in a candy-coloured setting packs in such a powerful message.
Gerwig’s film strikes a chord with the times. Newer strands of feminism are all about reclaiming the “bimbo” label, seen in the #Bimbo trend on TikTok where feminine creators embrace their style and empower women. It’s something of a response to incel extremism where women are objectified and typified into tight, oft-derogatory categories.
In the movie, Barbie’s reality check hits hard as she faces real-world challenges – harassment and catcalling. Just like real women, she confronts objectification and criticism. The film’s astute commentary accurately reflects women’s experiences, targeting its audience with precision.
The movie is perhaps as subversive as it could get while being produced by the doll’s own makers. And for this, and its historic box office success, Gerwig’s genius must be appreciated. It has garnered enthusiastic praise from progressive circles. The Nation’s publisher, Katrina Vanden Heuvel, argues that Barbie embodies gender justice – a concept feared by the American right-wing – encapsulated in her motto, “We girls can do anything”. High-profile feminist Susan Faludi goes as far as crediting 30 years of women’s studies for the script.
COUNTERVIEW: The master’s tools
Barbie’s feminism, in its eagerness to counter conservative stances, paradoxically confines itself to the individualistic ‘choice’ narrative that Barbie champions. This feminist vision barely grazes the surface of conservative ideals, missing the chance for a richer exploration. Within Barbie’s realm, women hold power while men take a back seat, inadvertently implying that women thrive solely in the absence of male competition.
Despite its revolutionary claims, the movie overlooks intersecting oppressions such as race, economy, and climate. Failing to challenge the broader economic and racial frameworks that mould all forms of patriarchy leads to a dead end. While the movie encourages American women to pursue various roles like doctors and lawyers, this narrative avoids addressing the capitalist structure supporting their choices.
The movie’s message oddly aligns with a specific image: the privileged white ‘girl boss’ juggling wealth, looks, and likability. It feels contrived, like an attempt to dodge criticism by adding diverse characters haphazardly. The supporting cast is quite diverse, but it shows primarily a white person’s experiences. Remembering Barbie’s history of mishandling race, like the “Barbie Oreo School Time Fun” dolls in 2001, makes this even more glaring.
In the battle between patriarchy and matriarchy, equality gets sidelined in Barbie Land. The film reflects real-world dynamics by women not offering men due representation. As said before, Kens just chill. Critics, including Toby Young, labelled it “unapologetic misandry”. Others saw it as capitalism’s triumph.
- How Barbie Took Over the World – Time
- Why Barbie Must Be Punished – The New Yorker
- Greta Gerwig on the Blockbuster ‘Barbie’ Opening (and How She Got Away With It) – The New York Times
- Is Barbie feminist? Not for all women – Al Jazeera
- Greta Gerwig’s Barbie movie is a ‘feminist bimbo’ classic – and no, that’s not an oxymoron – The Conversation
- Barbie, where equality takes a back seat – Hindu Businessline
- How Into This ‘Barbie’ Movie Do We Have To Be? A Conversation – Junkee
What is your opinion on this?
(Only subscribers can participate in polls)
a) The Barbie movie is feminist.
b) The Barbie movie is not feminist.
🕵️ BEYOND ECHO CHAMBERS
For the Right:
Chinese whispers: While it is hardly surprising for communist Beijing to pursue its tradition of opacity, it should be troubling for Indians that their own government is being less than honest
For the Left:
The Onus is On the Gandhis to Replicate Congress’s 2009 Formula
🇮🇳 STATE OF THE STATES
Playing host to the Moto GP (Uttar Pradesh) – The Buddh International Circuit will play host to India’s first-ever Moto GP race next month. Dorna Sports, organisers of the FIM World Championship Grand Prix since 1996, and tasked with organising races in India for seven years, said the circuit is ready and preparations are almost done. In June, Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath unveiled the first ticket for MotoGP 2023.
Why it matters: Dorna Sports approached the state government last year to express interest in holding the Bharat Grand Prix at the 5.125 km long circuit. It previously hosted the Formula One Indian Grand Prix from 2011 to 2015. Since then, the track has been largely unused. The entire Moto GP event is expected to generate job opportunities for about 5,000 people.
Semiconductor setback (Karnataka) – The recent termination of Intel’s $5.4 billion deal to acquire Israeli contract chipmaker Tower Semiconductor has raised concerns about Karnataka’s semiconductor future. Also, a key semiconductor project between Next Orbit Ventures of Abu Dhabi and Tower Semiconductor was rejected. Among the challenges is the water requirement for a semiconductor plant, given the state’s water crisis. Experts believe the government and private sector should invest in education and training to generate a skilled workforce.
Why it matters: The proposed joint venture between Next Orbit Ventures and Tower Semiconductor would’ve seen an investment of $3 billion (₹22,900 crore) in a new semiconductor plant. There are several challenges that the state and region face including, supply chain, logistics, and the regulatory environment. The state also needs to address issues like power supply.
Reduced paddy procurement (Odisha) – The Centre has fixed a 44.28 lakh tonne target of rice procurement from the state for the upcoming Kharif marketing season. It’s a decline in procurement compared to last year’s 53.83 lakh tonne. The state-wise procurement targets were fixed after a consultation with the state food secretaries. Due to paddy crops in coastal areas affected by rainfall and floods, there are no definitive data on the total area covered under the crop.
Why it matters: Odisha is the country’s fourth-largest paddy-producing state after Punjab, Telangana, and Chhattisgarh. Odisha has been buying paddy through its agencies under a decentralised procurement system from 2013-14. In 2022-23, it purchased a surplus of over 79 lakh tonne against a target of 71 lakh tonne. The Centre will revise its procurement targets once actual paddy production numbers are available from all states.
Hold the phone (Gujarat) – The state government has asked employees to save the numbers of elected representatives and answer their calls. A circular issued stated that if a politician calls an official on the landline during office hours, but they’re unable to answer, the call must be returned immediately once the official is free. It also mandates employees of government agencies to save their phone numbers, including those of MLAs, Mayors, and panchayat heads.
Why it matters: The government’s motive behind this is to prevent any miscommunication or standoffs between the legislative and executive and foster a healthy relationship between the two branches. Some officials complained that work in their constituencies wasn’t being completed since government officials weren’t answering their calls. The BJP wants to resolve this issue before the 2024 Lok Sabha polls.
Don’t feed monkeys (Sikkim) – Feeding monkeys in Sikkim will now invite a ₹5,000 fine per a notification issued by the state’s Forest and Environment Department. The government is concerned about the transmission of zoonotic diseases from animals to humans and vice versa. The Macaque species is a protected species, and feeding them is banned under the Wildlife Protection Act of 1972.
Why it matters: The feeding of monkeys and an improper management of food waste have resulted in the unusual growth of their population. One of the issues highlighted is that frequent feeding of the monkeys has led them to associate people with food, and they become aggressive. Preventing feeding will ensure their natural feeding and habitat patterns aren’t disturbed.
🔢 KEY NUMBER
₹8,278 crore – Qatar Investment Authority (QIA) will invest ₹8,278 crore in Reliance Retail Ventures Ltd. It would take the retail arm of Reliance’s valuation to around ₹8.3 lakh crore.