REVIEW: Barbie’s pink world turns blue 

‘Barbie’ dominates the box office, with millions of tickets sold in its first weekend of release 

In a whimsical fantasy comedy film, Barbie’s, writer-director Greta Gerwig humanises the infamous doll by critiquing the unrealistic beauty standards it represented for many young girls around the world.  

With the rise of the feminism movement in the 2000s, Mattel Barbie doll’s popularity waned as consumers did not like what the doll stood for: sexism, negative body image, and its lack of diversity. 

Bearing these debates in mind, Gerwig’s movie takes a different route, in the film, she takes us through the journey of Barbie, played by actress, Margot Robbie, whose perfect world is tainted after she repeatedly has thoughts about death.  

To fix this, she is advised to travel to the real, to meet her owner, who might be the one struggling mentally. She is accompanied by fellow doll Ken, who discovers patriarchy and seeks to implement it in Barbieland.  

One particularly pleasing aspect about of the film is how it was able to showcase that women in the real world are still being reduced to their beauty and body; while in Barbieland, they are seen as people, who are celebrated for their intellects 

Matriarchy and patriarchy are both put to the test in the film. However, although the film tries to send across a message of women empowerment, it makes it seem as though a world run by women would disregard the role that men play in society. This is in contrast with what feminism stands for, and that is equality for all genders. 

In its first weekend of release, the movie made $162 million in North America, while cinemas in Sandton, Montecasino and Clearwater Mall in Roodeproot were filled with eager fans. 

Whether you love or hate the seemingly perfect doll, are male or female – we all have something to learn from her. Be it doing some self-introspection or unlearning patriarchal mindsets. 

The Barbie movie premiered in cinemas on Friday, July 21, 2023. 

Vuvu rating: 8 out of 10 

FEATURED IMAGE: Barbie movie poster starring Margot Robbie who plays ‘Barbie’. Photo: www.barbie-themovie.com

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SLICE: Pageants may glitter, patriarchy still tarnishes them

Throwing around buzzwords such as ‘social change’ and ‘inclusion’ cannot disguise the misogyny at the root of beauty pageants.  

The search for Miss South Africa 2023 is on and like clockwork, every year social media is filled with entry videos from young women who have their eyes set on the pageant crown.  

This year the Miss SA organisation has changed some rules and will now accept entries from aspirants ages 20-30 years old, a change from the 20–28 years range. For the first time, married women and those with children may take part in the contest. This comes after Miss Universe announced in August 2022 that married women and mothers would be allowed to compete in 2023 for the first time in its history.  

Miss SA prides itself on advocating for women’s rights and its awareness of social change. The organisation in its own words describes itself as “a platform for change, a powerful organisation, a leading voice on female empowerment and a launch pad for much needed change”. 

However, changes made to the competition rules, glitter and buzzwords such as “empowerment” and “social change” cannot distract me from the problematic fundamental nature of pageants.  

I am also reminded that in 2021 the organisation sent Miss SA Lalela Mswane to Israel to participate in Miss Universe 2021 despite the SA government withdrawing its support and that of South Africa for the pageant. This is related to Israel’s historical and ongoing apartheid politics.  

The Miss Universe organisation on its website says it “celebrates women of all cultures and backgrounds and empowers them”, and yet hosted a pageant in a country that actively disrupts the lives of many Palestinian women. And Miss SA took part in the competition and represented a country still wounded by its own history of apartheid in another state that perpetuates it.  

In 2018, when Miss SA celebrated its 60th anniversary it revived controversy around apartheid when black women could not compete in the pageant, and relegated to contesting in “Miss Africa South” until 1992 when the pageant became inclusive. The organisation failed to acknowledge that racist and segregationist history contributed to black participants breaking away to a pageant of their own. 

What does “inclusivity and diversity” mean when finding one woman out of thousands is at the heart of pageantry? What does “woman empowerment” mean when only the woman who fits into a set criterion of beauty and femininity wins?  

The ways of beauty pageants have changed over time, from awarding women for simply being beautiful to promoting other attributes such as education, eloquence and a demonstration of general knowledge. This is what Miss World calls “beauty with a purpose” which also focuses on how the contestant will use the title or opportunity to better their communities. 

Third wave feminism recognises that women have agency and rejects the idea that women do not have choices and therefore is in support of women participating in pageants. However, it does not accept the gender binary and exclusion of other genders such as transgender or gender non-conforming existences. 

The question remains whether these competitions uphold patriarchal norms. The rules may say contestants need traits other than beauty, but at the end it is beauty that determines the winner. 

Whether women have agency or not, the objectification of beauty measured by competitive processes that have so much to do with the body specifically, reinforces patriarchy instead of taking it apart.  

With the changes to the rules, Miss SA has shown the ability to challenge ideas in nonthreatening ways and by some right, they have shown that with enough time they can adapt their steps to new socio-political and cultural climates. However, it is a matter of how dismally late changes come.  

By the time I am done holding my breath for another step in the right direction for pageants, maybe we would have fully obliterated the need for them.  

FEATURED IMAGE: Mbalenhle Dlamini. Photo: File

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SLICE OF LIFE: I’m a flaming feminist, yeah I said it

“I don’t mind women in general wearing crop tops or short shorts, but I don’t want my girlfriend wearing those things because they make me feel uncomfortable,” said a male friend.

He considers himself sympathetic to feminism. This conversation occurred after I had accepted the label, feminist. If it had happened two or three years ago I might have “understood” where he was coming from, now I don’t. It took me quite a while to come to terms with feminism, to understand it and identify with it. To me feminism simply means the freedom to choose who I want to be.

[pullquote]”I don’t mind women in general wearing crop tops or short shorts, but I don’t want my girlfriend wearing those things because they make me feel uncomfortable.”[/pullquote]

I’m out

In the past I’ve labeled myself as a “laissez-faire feminist” and described myself as such in social conversations. What I meant was that I do recognize that patriarchy is real and is at work 24/7 to undermine people of my gender. What I was saying along with this at the time is that I prescribed to the gender roles dictated to us by society, and that I was comfortable with this status quo.

The attitude has fallen away to be replaced by a more precise concept “black feminism”. I am out. Loud and proud. I have successfully rid myself of the fear of discrimination for being vocal about feminism.

A lot of people have a stereotypical image of an unshaven, angry, man-hater when they think of the word “feminist”. I was scared to associate with the feminist struggle because of this negative stereotype.I now realize one can shave, like to cook, love men and still be a feminist.

The problem with patriarchy 

People are uncomfortable with accepting certain truths, especially if they somehow benefit from whatever it is you are speaking out against.

Men, whether they like it or not benefit from the patriarchal shield that makes their lives a little sweeter. God forbid he cook and clean, domestic chores are for girls. He should sit on the couch, have beers and snacks delivered as he shouts at the TV in front of him. This kind of behavioural conditioning in the media and in our homes provides a breeding ground for the next generation to play into the same kind of zombie like fixation with gender roles. [pullquote align=”right”]”Patriarchy is the reason we have a rape culture here and elsewhere.”[/pullquote]

The problem with patriarchy is that it makes men believe they are rightfully entitled to certain things where women are involved, women’s fashion choices among them. It makes women believe that they have to do certain things, look a certain way, say certain things to win them the “real women” label. Being desirable trumping other pursuits, overshadowing other attributes of their womanhood.

Patriarchy is the reason we have a rape culture here and elsewhere, it allows for the pathological thinking that says a woman can be owned, domineered and conquered at will.  That a woman’s body can be seized, forcefully if all else fails.

What feminism says 

Feminism stands up and shouts “NO!”. It says women are more than their boobs and their bums, more than the scrubbing their hands can endure, are more than the nappies they can change. It says women are capable of more than they are given credit for. It says that women deserve to be treated justly, that they have a place outside of the kitchen. It says gender roles are bullshit, archaic and oppressive.

[pullquote]”I don’t have to be an emotionless “bitch” to be respected, that independence is not about being alone, that my sex life is no one’s business but mine.”[/pullquote]

Feminism has taught me to ignore the cues given to me by society about what kind of woman I should be, because they say so. I should be the kind of woman I choose to be, because I say so. I don’t have to cook and clean to be “wifey material”, a man who thinks like that has no business looking for a wife because clearly all he needs is domestic assistance, which is fairly easy to find in a want ad.

Feminism has also taught me that I don’t have to be an emotionless “bitch” to be respected, that independence is not about being alone, that my sex life is no one’s business but mine. It’s taught me that justice and equality aren’t the same, that sometimes justice does mean giving someone an opportunity based on their gender or race – because equality tends to ignore the existing imbalances between two people when handing out the so called same opportunity or advantage.