Kens go to war with other Kens in Barbie (2023)

Does ‘Barbie’ Subvert Incel Talking Points or Play Into Them?

Barbie is not responsible for Ken’s behavior.

Greta Gerwig’s Barbie has been widely celebrated as a movie that centers women’s experiences, tackling complex issues of feminism, patriarchy, and what it means to be a woman.

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However, one aspect of the movie seems entirely counterintuitive to that goal, to the point of potentially playing into some of the biggest talking points from the worst corners of the internet.

And unfortunately, it’s Ken’s plotline.

It’s just Ken

**Spoilers for Barbie ahead**

In Barbie, Ken is entirely defined by his relationship with Barbie and his job of “Beach.” Barbie makes it clear that her friendships are the most important things in her life and take up most of her time, but Ken still does everything he can to insert himself into her life, including tagging along on her journey to the real world.

From there, Barbie has to act as a maternal figure to Ken, having to care for him while fulfilling her quest. When she does leave him alone to seek out the human girl she thinks she’s connected with, Ken discovers the patriarchy and becomes “red-pilled” from there.

After failing to succeed as a man in the real world, Ken brings the patriarchy to Barbieland, convincing the other Kens to turn on their Barbies and declare themselves the ones in charge. His whole motivation is that Barbie doesn’t respect him or make time for him, so he tries to dominate her instead, taking over her dreamhouse and throwing out her clothes in an attempt to bully her into submission.

Unhealthy relationship dynamics in Barbie

To be fair to the film, it is actively making a point about how unhealthy it is for someone of any gender to define themselves entirely by their romantic relationship. The film also makes a point about how young boys and men are drawn to online communities centered around misogyny because those communities pander to them and make them feel validated and powerful.

However, the movie also puts a good portion of the blame for Ken’s behavior onto Barbie. The film frames Ken’s behavior as a direct response to being ignored by Barbie, with Barbie being so focused on her friends and her self-actualization that she doesn’t consider his feelings or his quality of life. Barbie herself expresses feeling responsible for Ken’s actions, noting how she doesn’t want to hurt him. There is some emotional truth to this; Is Barbie half responsible for the dissolution of her relationship with Ken? Yes. But that doesn’t make her responsible for Ken’s actions, whether she was his motive or not.

@jordanifueko

stitch with @Sparrow This will be my last post about this b/c people are really defensive about this film rn, but y’all. The script literally has Ken destroy Barbie’s world and she still ends up apologizing to him. (He never apologizes to her once.) why are we all okay with this ? barbiemovie

♬ original sound – Jordan Ifueko

It’s a classic incel/abuser move to blame women for the actions of men—“I wouldn’t have done this if you didn’t make me,” “She was asking for it,” “Boys will be boys,” and a million other excuses that absolve men of having to take responsibility for their actions. It’s reductive to men and women alike.

What’s especially strange is that in the film, America Ferrera’s character’s powerful monologue touches on the ways in which women are held “responsible for men’s behavior … but if you notice that, you’re accused of being a whiner.”

Even worse, when the Kendom patriarchy falls, Barbie comforts Ken over his loss of power. He also tries to brush off his actions by saying that he “mostly thought it was about horses and was disappointed when it wasn’t.” Classic deflecting of blame.

Remember, this man stole Barbie’s house and had the other Barbies dressing like maids.

It’s not just Ryan Gosling’s Ken that gets to avoid facing consequences for his actions. The only male dolls to not join the Kendom patriarchy were Ken’s best friend Allan (Michael Cera) and the discontinued (and implied to be gay) Sugar Daddy Ken and Earring Magic Ken. The rest of the Kens seem pretty thrilled with patriarchy. While Barbie and Ken don’t get back together at the end, the rest of the Kens are easily forgiven and most get back together with their respective Barbies.

Overall, it’s not a great message to send to anyone of any gender, that 1) people with power can get away with degrading their partners and 2) That they can and should be quickly forgiven, even when they themselves have made minimal efforts to change or correct themselves. Whether they’re a doll or not.

(featured image: Warner Bros. Pictures)


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Kimberly Terasaki
Kimberly Terasaki is a contributing writer for The Mary Sue. She has been writing articles for them since 2018, going on 5 years of working with this amazing team. Her interests include Star Wars, Marvel, DC, Horror, intersectional feminism, and fanfiction; some are interests she has held for decades, while others are more recent hobbies. She liked Ahsoka Tano before it was cool, will fight you about Rey being a “Mary Sue,” and is a Kamala Khan stan.