Time to go back in the box, Barbie

Published Date
Aug 1, 2023
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Wild horses couldn’t have dragged me to see the new Barbie film. But then I saw that a number of commentators from various quarters in the States were criticising the film for being “woke” and “feminist” and even burning their Barbies in protest. I immediately ditched Oppenheimer in favour of a new world view.
Who knew that the workplaces of Barbieland were without frontiers? As a woman, you could be anything from a Nobel Prize winner to a sanitation worker. Barbies came in a range of ethnicities, and, much to my delight, there was even a plus size Barbie and another in a wheelchair. Both had top jobs. Concepts like inequality, gender pay gaps and patriarchy belonged to another world. Everyday was a great day. This was the place to be until things started to go wrong. 

It became clear that the perfect Barbies were all social media constructs, shaped by stereotypes and narrow norms of femininity. The Kens were accessories to their “long-term, long-distance, low-commitment casual girlfriends”. What I thought was diversity was simply groupthink, something that was reflected in the brand’s boardroom. Truly different dolls, such as pregnant Barbie, Gay Ken and Weird Barbie, were either discontinued or cast out. And signs of weakness, doubt and depression, were indicative of failure and flaws.

Back in real-world workplaces, perhaps there is less pink, less glamour, and horses are so much more than men extenders. It’s not perfect but it is improving and is more inclusive. Give me a workplace any day where it is not about them and us, gender is not binary, and insecurities and cellulite are considered normal. 

Time to go back in the box, Barbie. 

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This content was originally published by Allen & Overy before the A&O Shearman merger