Barbie and Ken in the car in Barbie

Barbie and Ken’s Relationship Has Always Been Rooted in the Patriarchy

Remember when Barbie dumped Ken? That was great. For as long as I can remember, Barbie and Ken were two names that went together, but their history wasn’t something that I was aware of until Greta Grewig shared the reality of Ken’s origins. In a Vogue profile for the upcoming Barbie movie, Gerwig shared that Barbie, who was created in 1959, was tied to Ken two years later, and it was a direct response to letters from the public yelling about Barbie being single.

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Yes, you read that right. People were furious that a plastic doll did not have a boyfriend, so they created the greatest himbo to walk the planet: Ken.

“Ken only has a great day if Barbie looks at him.” That statement, from the first trailer we got for the movie, is accurate, but in the profile, Gerwig talked about the Barbie/Ken dynamic and how they brought it to life in the film. “Barbie was invented first,” Gerwig pointed out. “Ken was invented after Barbie, to burnish Barbie’s position in our eyes and in the world. That kind of creation myth is the opposite of the creation myth in Genesis.”

This, to me, is fascinating because it is really “woman came before man” and is something that, when you break it down, shows not only how the patriarchy trickles down even to toys but how Barbie as a brand has constantly been a bit different than other toy lines out there. Still, public outrage that a doll doesn’t have a boyfriend is fascinating because it shows just how deeply entrenched the “family image” was in the ’50s, to think that a doll who wore cute little dresses had to have a boyfriend doll to sell to little girls.

Ken literally wouldn’t be here without Barbie

On one hand, the uplifting of the patriarchy and forcing Barbie to be in a relationship just because she’s a single doll is absurd and is a result of what the patriarchy has decided that women need to have. On the other hand, Ken only exists because Barbie does. Honestly, that’s kind of cool when you think about it—that Barbie is responsible for the fame and success of Ken, and even then, he’s still not more famous than her.

I truly do hate the origins of Barbie and Ken because it shows that the public viewed children (primarily young girls) as just individuals who needed to grow up and become wives—that even when they do get a doll all their own, she has to have a man at her side. That’s the warped world that many of us grew up in, and I do like that the world is changing (toy-wise) for the better.

Even though Ken was created to “appease” the masses and their ideas of what a woman should do, throughout the years, it has been Barbie’s show, so it’s important to remember why Ken came to be but also to uphold Barbie as an idea outside of her connection to him.

(featured image: Warner Bros.)

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Rachel Leishman
Rachel Leishman (She/Her) is an Assistant Editor at the Mary Sue. She's been a writer professionally since 2016 but was always obsessed with movies and television and writing about them growing up. A lover of Spider-Man and Wanda Maximoff's biggest defender, she has interests in all things nerdy and a cat named Benjamin Wyatt the cat. If you want to talk classic rock music or all things Harrison Ford, she's your girl but her interests span far and wide. Yes, she knows she looks like Florence Pugh. She has multiple podcasts, normally has opinions on any bit of pop culture, and can tell you can actors entire filmography off the top of her head. Her work at the Mary Sue often includes Star Wars, Marvel, DC, movie reviews, and interviews.