There's one moment in the Barbie movie that's making women sob in their seats.

I thought I knew.

Pink. Sparkles. Smarts. Girl Power. 

That's what I was expecting from the much-hyped Barbie movie. Sure, there were doubts. Barbie is, after all, the plastic doll my second-wave feminist mother never wanted me to have. But this is a movie made by clever, powerful women, and everyone knew, as soon as writer/director Greta Gerwig's name was associated, it was going to be as edgy, feminist and subversive as The Doll would allow.

Barbie, the movie, is all those things. It's also very, very funny. 

And, in parts, it's quietly devastating. 

Image: Warner Bros. 


Stay with me. Maybe you've seen Barbie. Maybe you're going this week. Maybe you're trying to decide whether it's worth your time and your dollars and your brain space (it is). Maybe you're feeling resentful about the idea that the culture is trying to FOMO-you into seeing a two-hour long advertisement. 

I get it. Barbie gets it. She's a lot. 

But you should go. You should go to experience something remarkable, something that just doesn't happen often, or ever. The biggest movie of the year - the one with all the budget, all the marketing hype, all the merchandising tie-ins and even the awards-show buzz - is about the female experience. And it gets parts of it so right. 

Like the part that made me cry.

Spoiler alert (although, in all honesty, plot is not the main draw card for Barbie), about a third of the way into the film, Barbie (Margot Robbie, obvs) leaves Barbie Land and heads to the Real World, with Ken Who She Doesn't Fancy (Ryan Gosling, obvs) by her side. 

All you really need to know is that Barbie Land is a matriarchy, where the Barbies are in charge of everything and the Kens are attractive, fun, but powerless appendages. It's an unequal paradigm, but it's our doll's normal. 


Listen to this episode of The Spill reviewing Barbie. Post continues after podcast.

When Ken and Barbie arrive at Venice Beach on rollerblades in eye-watering fluoro, she immediately senses that something is very, very different. The first clue is in the way men are looking at her. And at Ken, sure, but mostly at her. Their eyes settle on her breasts, her bum, her legs. Their eyes widen, they suck their teeth, they purse their lips.

These men say things, too. Crass things. Offensive things. Insulting, vaguely threatening things. 

They also react to Ken, but differently. As an attractive, youngish, white man, he is a curiosity but a figure of respect. Especially if, you know, he's with Barbie. 

Eventually, one of the men slaps Barbie on the arse, and she immediately swings around, punches him in the face and gets arrested. At which point our doll is ogled and teased some more by the police tasked with protecting her. 

It's all overstated, stylised, slapstick stuff, but the confusion is real. 

Barbie doesn't understand this alien feeling. Of being hyper-visible. Of being judged. Of being watched, surveilled. Of being consumed, like a product. Of her physical body being viewed as a statement of something. Exhibitionism? Temptation? Sex? Disrespect? 


Ken likes the attention. He feels powerful. He says it's interesting that there's no undercurrent of violence. 

The energy Barbie is feeling is very different, and she can sense a whiff of violence in the air.  

And suddenly, there's water on my face, and a catch in my throat because - and yes, we're talking about a movie, we're talking about an actress, we're talking about a doll - I know what Barbie is feeling.

I've lived through it myself. And I've just watched my daughter pass through the same portal.  

It's the moment you leave girlhood and move into adolescence, and your body suddenly stands for something different than it did just a moment ago. Then, you were going about your life, running and jumping and spinning and dancing and your body was just your body and it felt good to move it and swing from stuff and climb things and just... exist. 

And then suddenly, your physical body is something else. And it feels different, and it looks different. And everyone has an opinion about it. 

And people look at it, but not really at you. 

It's the moment of transition out of a childhood innocence. And girls can never, ever turn it back. 

Less subtle but equally insightful is the monologue delivered at perfect-pitch by America Ferrera as Gloria, anxious mother of a teenage daughter (is there another kind?). As the film turns towards its conclusion, her speech is the more obvious button-pushing moment that has the grown-up women fist-pumping and weepy in their seats. 


"It's literally impossible to be a woman," Gloria tells Barbie. "You're supposed to stay pretty for men, but not so pretty that you tempt them too much or that you threaten other women... But always stand out and always be grateful..." And so on. And so on. 

Honestly, a blockbuster created to make you want to buy more dolls shouldn't feel this validating.

My 13-year-old daughter was with me at the Barbie movie. She was laughing at the Kens' boy band choreography and she was cheering for the Barbies and she was, doubtless, internally eye-rolling at Sasha's feminist mother, because, you know, she lives with me.

Thankfully, she was too distracted by the pink, sparkles, smarts and girl power to see me having my sobbing moment. It would certainly have put her off her popcorn. But I was crying because I know she's been living through that transition, and sometimes it feels powerful, and sometimes it feels frightening, and most of the time, it feels confusing as hell. 

And Barbie nailed it. In a fluoro leotard on rollerblades.

Feature image: Warner Bros. 

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