How Finding Positive Masculinity Helps Us All.
Despite Ken being surrounded by other Kens where they all sing in unison, “Hey world, check me out, yeah, I’m just Ken,” the line feels so lonely.
With millions watching the movie Barbie, bringing it to 1.5 billion dollars at the box office and breaking historic records, one important message was missed.
Barbie does a great job exemplifying the real world and what happens when men take power with the patriarchy. Women are objectified, made to be servants, and sat down for hours listening to men explaining the Godfather. The system that was supposed to benefit men ended up harming them, with Ken dreading how hard it was to manage the patriarchy. The movie’s message highlights how women don’t abuse their powers and wish for an equal society. But there’s a major discontent: Barbie’s additional focus on men. Critics say that despite this being a movie for women and feminism, the Kens’ stole the show, Margot Robbie got overshadowed, and Ryan got Oscar buzz. Basically, why are men in a feminist movie?
I argue the focus on men helps the very problem feminism has been trying to combat: the self-destructive masculinity that men and boys aspire to be and the lack of positive manhood.
Before I go on, I must address that I am a man. However, as an immigrant who has
witnessed the violence that runs rampant in a collectivist and individualistic culture and has seen it
hurt the many women I hold dear in my life, I must speak up for those who cannot and will not simply because they are “just a woman.” If feminism’s job is for men to own up to men’s actions, I will own up to men’s actions. If feminism’s ideal is to stand up for women, then I will stand for that ideal. I have a right to because I have women who are important to me.
The root of the problem
So why is Feminism a thing in the first place? Womanhood and motherhood are often undervalued because one is expected to do it. Despite rigidly holding on to the role of a woman as a society, we don’t have any good policies that support the role of a woman. There are no accessible childcare systems, women are underpaid and denied out of positions of power, etc. There’s also femicide, a disproportionate killing of women. On a bigger scale, women are victims of misogynistic ideas that make them undervalue themselves and value men as superior. Feminism originates from women but ultimately exists because of men.
And when a woman finally gets a film that focuses on what it means to be a woman, unfortunately, it still focuses on men. However, the additional focus aids the very liberation of women. Because as I was saying, feminism did not exist because of women; it existed because of men.
There’s been a growing conversation surrounding how the current idea of manhood is no longer valued, causing men to go towards destructive expressions of masculinity.
In the video essay “Men,” an ex-academic philosopher and YouTuber, Contrapoints, explains it best: “The sacrificial role of men as warriors is no longer widely glorified or necessary. The traditional protector/provider role of men is being replaced by a more equal and undefined gender dynamic. And college professors and activists are telling men that most of our culture’s aspirational representations of manhood are toxic and bad. But without an attractive replacement vision of aspirational manhood, average young men can only imagine their future as… what?”
The current discourse around men doesn’t leave men with an answer but more problems to grapple with, which leads to destructive methods of fulfilling their masculinity.
She continues, “If you’re being oppressed, you have a struggle. You have something to fight for and, therefore, a purpose. But for a lot of men, their lack of purpose puts them in search of a struggle. And that, along with the loneliness and the lack of a positive identity, is what makes men vulnerable to recruitment by the manosphere groups and by the alt-right. And even worse, it seems to be a motivating factor for the small but growing number of
young men who decide to pick up a gun and open fire in a shopping center.”
The movie does a great job of recentering the root of the problem that men struggle to find a positive idea of valued masculinity. The lyrics to the song “I’m Just Ken” are evidence of that:
“Doesn’t matter what I do, I’m always number two,” alludes to the urge to gain a sense of significance in men.
“All my life, I’ve been so polite. But I’ll sleep alone tonight,” refers to how even when men act out the idea of being “nice,” they don’t get anything in return nor the guidance but are bashed for it.
“Is it my destiny to live and die a life of blond fragility?” alludes to a man’s existential dread and lack of purpose due to their gained privilege, which is why the Kens’ sought for a struggle.
“What will it take for her to see the man behind the tan and fight for me?” It alludes to wanting the world and people around him to see his inner struggles.
The lyrics have a theme of struggling to find a masculinity that holds significance. The movie aptly showed that men didn’t have an outlet for a positive expression, so they adopted the patriarchy, belittled and objectified women, and resorted to other violent ways for that expression.
Hope for Men
However, during the final conversation between Ken and Barbie, where Ken says, “I don’t know who I am without you,” Barbie replies, “You aren’t your girlfriend, You’re not your house, you’re not your mink…You’re not even beach.”
Barbie says you don’t need someone to be someone, answering the struggles of external validation and identity crisis. You can never be truly alone if you find yourself. As Barbie said, “It’s Barbie, and It’s Ken.” This helps the Barbies coexist without conflict or exploitation, which is the very principle of feminism. In addition, Ken then throws his mink fur coat to another Ken, saying, “I want you to have it!” This shows that part of finding positive masculinity uplifts others because it will ultimately uplift yourself.
The focus on men ultimately shows that men must create a more positive and constructive idea of manhood. That can be demonstrated by Allan’s support for women. Realizing that it’s okay to be vulnerable, that it’s okay to express your emotions and even bail out when things get rough.
If you’re not convinced, let me ask you this. Do you have women in your life that you call important and genuinely care for?
Then let me say this, from man to man: If you don’t stand up against the violence and injustice against women, you are also not standing up for the very women you hold dear in your life.
“But the men were oppressed in Barbieland.” Sure, it may come off that way, but I view it as indifference from the Barbies. The Kens had the opportunity to be whoever they wanted. And if anything, after the Barbie revolution, instead of prosecuting Ken, they allowed the Kens to work up the ladder for positions of power like a Supreme Court justice, achieving gender equality.
But yes, they were oppressed, so you stand up for oppressed people. You stand up for women who suffer simply because they are women. Nothing, and I say nothing, is more manly than standing up for what’s right and important to you. That’s what Alan would do. That’s what Ken would do. That’s what a man would do.
Although there is no easy answer for what the positive idea of manhood should look like, I’ll tell you this. There is an answer. If Ken can be someone, then you can be one too.