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  • Writer's pictureMelissa Akaka

Am I Kenough?

(Warning: There are some spoilers in here and if you haven't see the movie, you should!)

Barbie is a doll, an American icon, a reflection of where women have been and where we are going. I grew up with a few Barbie dolls and have watched (way too) many Barbie shows with my daughters, but have never felt a strong connection to this brand...until now. Barbie’s re-emergence into the spotlight of American culture (and around the world) is creating an awareness around the internal struggle of “progress” faced by women everywhere. We want to have opportunities to do everything, but now that we have opened doors and broken glass ceilings we have created a situation where we are expected to do it ALL.

There is a lot of buzz about America Ferrera’s powerful monologue, but this is the part that really hit home for me…

“You have to be a career woman, but also always be looking out for other people. You have to answer for men’s bad behavior, which is insane, but if you point that out, you’re accused of complaining…. You have to never get old, never be rude, never show off, never be selfish, never fall down, never fail, never show fear, never get out of line. It’s too hard! It’s too contradictory and nobody gives you a medal or says thank you! And it turns out in fact that not only are you doing everything wrong, but also everything is your fault.

This is a pivotal turning point in the movie that resonates with women everywhere. America calls it truth telling. And it is. The problem is that in trying to do everything we never feel like we’re doing enough. There is no end to how productive, how impressive, how generous, and how grateful we can and should be. We constantly feel like it is a privilege to be able to have the jobs we want, to make the money we make, and to live the lives we want to live. But this privilege comes at a cost. Somewhere along the way we lose ourselves – whoever we are without all of that striving, and pursuing, and succeeding.

This movie also casts a dark shadow on the flip side of women ruling the world, what happens to the men? They don’t seem to play the mental games we do. Are they are willing to sit back and let us spin our wheels while they continue to enjoy what we consider to be privilege with less effort, less self-awareness, less sacrifice? Or do they just lose their way? Towards the end of the movie Ken realizes that he doesn’t have to embody toxic masculinity and promote the patriarchy, that he can just be himself. After the Barbies resume their rightful place as the rulers of Barbie Land, Ken realizes he is Kenough…but as I catch up on emails, make my to-do lists for work and home, and plan for getting my kids back to school next week, I wonder, am I?

I can’t help but feel like it’s not enough to help women succeed through promotions and higher pay. I think we need to work on changing expectations around what success looks like because if we strive to succeed like the men in the world, then aren’t we really upholding the patriarchy ourselves? As much as I love this movie, and have a newfound love for all things Barbie, I find myself pondering, “What would Barbie Land look like if we created different metrics of wealth and prosperity, focused on meaning instead of happiness, and worked together with men to build community?” Maybe a little less pink and a lot less plastic.

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