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Barbie: What is the Connection between Barbie Land and Feminism? 

When the Barbie film came out, a whirlwind of articles told us to focus on its beginnings and how it continued to divide feminist waves, but this is not always the case. Barbie’s evolution is intertwined with decades of feminist struggles for accurate media representation and a challenge to prevailing perceptions of masculinity in pop culture.

Image credit: Warner Bros
WILPF International Secretariat
11 August 2023

For decades, the feminist movement has been on the frontline of activism including for representation. The influence of media portrayal on societal perceptions is profound. Feminists introduced evaluative tools like the Bechdel test, which assesses films based on criteria such as the presence of at least two women engaging in conversations unrelated to men. Remarkably, even three decades since its inception, some films  continue to fall short of passing the Bechdel test, highlighting the ongoing need for feminist advocacy in the entertainment industry. Throughout the years, Barbie’s development has mirrored the ongoing discourse surrounding popular culture. In the present day, the film’s ability to convey messages challenging the constraints imposed by patriarchy stands as a significant win for feminism. In this article, we delve into the significance of Barbie Land and its crucial role in providing insights into the ongoing feminist movement.

Barbie and the feminist movement 

Barbie, to feminists, may not initially appear as the archetypal feminist symbol. As Gloria Steinem pointed out, feminists of the 1970s chose to define themselves in contrast to Barbie, the material embodiment of “everything we didn’t want to be but were told to be.” During that era, Barbie epitomises the ideal figure that the media encouraged women to aspire to be worldwide; not only did she conform to narrow beauty standards, but her perceived perfection was reinforced by the fact that she didn’t cause any trouble. Barbie was often portrayed as a shallow but agreeable character, catering primarily to male preferences. This skewed representation of women has too long gone unchallenged.

The concerns of the feminist movement to Barbie were multi-layered, some were totally against the doll and some didn’t believe that it represents all women in their shapes, sizes and also characters. Back then, Barbie was simply a product, just like all products, judged through the supply and demand equation. In this context, Barbie had to adapt to the evolving societal changes and to incorporate the conversations about diet culture, diversity and inclusivity. While the feminist movement played a vital role, civil rights movements were equally instrumental in challenging social norms, paving the way for more progressive societal beliefs. 

Fast forward to the 2023 Barbie film, where Barbies exhibits greater inclusivity. Barbie Land, in contrast, is a place where women occupy the center stage of power, with everything revolving around them. The Barbies embody limitless capabilities and leadership defined by core values like cooperation, tolerance, and respect. The introduction of patriarchy, a dominant system oppressing all, with women and non-binary individuals as its primary targets, entered the equation when Ken decided to import it into Barbie Land. Despite the universal impact of patriarchy, certain individuals reap its benefits, predominantly men. The film succeeded in sending multiple thought-provoking messages about feminism, but perhaps the most significant insight is the direct and unequivocal link between patriarchy and instability.

Understanding Kens and/vs Allan’s Masculinities

Violence and unrest began in Barbie when the Kens discovered how the patriarchy empowers them through rewarding their masculinity. The trouble began when men assert their entitlement to be primary characters rather than mere background figures and they set out to change the rules of Barbie Land to match the real world, a world where gender inequality is the norm.

The concept of masculinity could  be problematic, for in many societies, it equates to power and with power, you have access to even more power and resources and to preserve this, you have to protect any challenge to your masculinity and even use it as a tool to oppress others. This is what happened when Barbie and Ken had a chance to drive out of Barbie Land and into the real world. The real world in this case is inhabited by humans and their deeply embedded values and norms that subjucate women unlike Barbie Land where the Barbies rule and life is in order. Barbie realises this quickly when she starts to be sexualised and her abilities are doubted while Ken discovers his privileges as a man in the real world and its intersection with his masculinity. The only way to preserve his newfound comfort is by importing patriarchy into Barbie Land. The film quickly shows us how masculinity turns toxic and Ken takes up arms, highlighting the undeniable link between patriarchy, instability, and violence.

By the end of the Barbie film, the Barbies take advantage of the Kens fighting to resinstate their rule. This mirrors the real world in which women are leading massive peace efforts to reinstate peace in conflict-ridden societies and this is why WILPF champions feminist peace which is about women being at the center of the peace process. 

Our work for rights will not end soon, but maybe for once, we can take a few moments to celebrate success especially when we are able to see some strong messages through popular mediums such as the Barbie film.

After this brief celebration, we get back to work because we still have a lot to do as Natalia Petrzela notes in her article on Barbie, “the recent reversals to women’s progress have been so fast and furious that we should really reflect before being too readily swept up in an intoxicating swirl of Barbie pink.”

More readings on Militarised Masculinities:

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WILPF International Secretariat

WILPF International Secretariat, with offices in Geneva and New York, liaises with the International Board and the National Sections and Groups for the implementation of WILPF International Programme, resolutions and policies as adopted by the International Congress. Under the direction of the Secretary-General, the Secretariat also provides support in areas of advocacy, communications, and financial operations.

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Melissa Torres


Prior to being elected Vice-President, Melissa Torres was the WILPF US International Board Member from 2015 to 2018. Melissa joined WILPF in 2011 when she was selected as a Delegate to the Commission on the Status of Women as part of the WILPF US’ Practicum in Advocacy Programme at the United Nations, which she later led. She holds a PhD in Social Work and is a professor and Global Health Scholar at Baylor College of Medicine and research lead at BCM Anti-Human Trafficking Program. Of Mexican descent and a native of the US/Mexico border, Melissa is mostly concerned with the protection of displaced Latinxs in the Americas. Her work includes training, research, and service provision with the American Red Cross, the National Human Trafficking Training and Technical Assistance Centre, and refugee resettlement programs in the U.S. Some of her goals as Vice-President are to highlight intersectionality and increase diversity by fostering inclusive spaces for mentorship and leadership. She also contributes to WILPF’s emerging work on the topic of displacement and migration.

Jamila Afghani


Jamila Afghani is the President of WILPF Afghanistan which she started in 2015. She is also an active member and founder of several organisations including the Noor Educational and Capacity Development Organisation (NECDO). Elected in 2018 as South Asia Regional Representative to WILPF’s International Board, WILPF benefits from Jamila’s work experience in education, migration, gender, including gender-based violence and democratic governance in post-conflict and transitional countries.

Sylvie Jacqueline Ndongmo


Sylvie Jacqueline NDONGMO is a human rights and peace leader with over 27 years experience including ten within WILPF. She has a multi-disciplinary background with a track record of multiple socio-economic development projects implemented to improve policies, practices and peace-oriented actions. Sylvie is the founder of WILPF Cameroon and was the Section’s president until 2022. She co-coordinated the African Working Group before her election as Africa Representative to WILPF’s International Board in 2018. A teacher by profession and an African Union Trainer in peace support operations, Sylvie has extensive experience advocating for the political and social rights of women in Africa and worldwide.

WILPF Afghanistan

In response to the takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban and its targeted attacks on civil society members, WILPF Afghanistan issued several statements calling on the international community to stand in solidarity with Afghan people and ensure that their rights be upheld, including access to aid. The Section also published 100 Untold Stories of War and Peace, a compilation of true stories that highlight the effects of war and militarisation on the region. 

IPB Congress Barcelona

WILPF Germany (+Young WILPF network), WILPF Spain and MENA Regional Representative

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WILPF uses feminist analysis to argue that militarisation is a counter-productive and ill-conceived response to establishing security in the world. The more society becomes militarised, the more violence and injustice are likely to grow locally and worldwide.

Sixteen states are believed to have supplied weapons to Afghanistan from 2001 to 2020 with the US supplying 74 % of weapons, followed by Russia. Much of this equipment was left behind by the US military and is being used to inflate Taliban’s arsenal. WILPF is calling for better oversight on arms movement, for compensating affected Afghan people and for an end to all militarised systems.

Militarised masculinity

Mobilising men and boys around feminist peace has been one way of deconstructing and redefining masculinities. WILPF shares a feminist analysis on the links between militarism, masculinities, peace and security. We explore opportunities for strengthening activists’ action to build equal partnerships among women and men for gender equality.

WILPF has been working on challenging the prevailing notion of masculinity based on men’s physical and social superiority to, and dominance of, women in Afghanistan. It recognizes that these notions are not representative of all Afghan men, contrary to the publicly prevailing notion.

Feminist peace​

In WILPF’s view, any process towards establishing peace that has not been partly designed by women remains deficient. Beyond bringing perspectives that encapsulate the views of half of the society and unlike the men only designed processes, women’s true and meaningful participation allows the situation to improve.

In Afghanistan, WILPF has been demanding that women occupy the front seats at the negotiating tables. The experience of the past 20 has shown that women’s presence produces more sustainable solutions when they are empowered and enabled to play a role.

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