Ken You Man Up?

By Sinchana Holla

The Barbie movie, known for its colorful worlds and empowering messages, has caused a giant wave of excitement and disruption throughout the world. The movie is a whirlpool of glitz, glamor, “and pink!” In its goal of instilling positive ideals, the movie has perpetuated stereotypes that contribute to the reinforcement of toxic masculinity.

Toxic masculinity: cultural norms and behaviors that impose damaging expectations of what it means to be a man, such as suppressing emotions, dominance, aggression, and rigid gender roles. 

Even though Barbie focuses on the titular character Barbie and her journey, the portrayal of male characters can unintentionally perpetuate toxic masculinity. The Barbie Movie depicts three examples of the existence of toxic masculinity: stereotypical roles, body image, and emotional expression.

Ryan Gosling’s portrayal of Ken is a perfect example of this enforced gender role. Ken is a narcissist, who, in pursuit of becoming a ‘real man’, turns from a clingy boy to a macho man. Gosling’s Ken represents the continuously established ‘masculine’ tropes. As the movie progresses, Ken is not just an added accessory to Barbie’s world but brawls with his identity as he experiences a need for validation from Barbie. The identity crisis Ken faces is a mirror picture of the dilemma with boys in the modern world. Many men struggle with rigid social expectations with Ken’s crisis acting as a metaphor for the societal pressures and confined expectations every man faces.

The Barbie dolls have forever been criticized for their unrealistic body proportions. The Barbie Movie plays into this by depicting the male characters—gym-sculpted, chiseled-jaw— with unattainable physiques. This portrayal can fuel the body image issues for adolescent boys who may feel pressured to adhere to these unrealistic standards. 

Barbie and Ken, the dynamic duo, have always been the epitome of a perfect couple. However, the movie unravels the truth and uncovers the reality of their relationship. Barbie’s desire for independence and Ken’s need for validation clashes, leading to a power struggle mirroring the confusion that couples face with gender dynamics in today’s society. Being in a relationship does not mean dominating one another, but respecting each other’s individuality. 

Barbie gives us a chance to rethink and reframe our perspective on masculinity and femininity.