“Barbie” dominated the summer movie scene becoming not only the highest grossing film of the year, but also the highest grossing film Warner Brothers has ever released. It’s already the 14th highest grossing film of all time.
But “Barbie” wasn’t just a fun movie.
It raised questions about what it means to be a woman and, maybe even more, what it means to be a man. Ken goes from living in a matriarchal world to then wanting to create a patriarchal world; then the Barbies take back control but work for more equality for the Kens…just see the film.
But “Barbie” wasn’t creating those questions of identity and place for men—it was mirroring them. Right now, there seems to be more confusion than ever about what it means to be a man. The Kens of the world really don’t know what it means to be a Ken.
If you start typing “What it means to be” in Google, you’ll find it auto completes with things like:
What it means to be an American;
What it means to be a leader;
What it means to be a friend.
What you won’t find is, “What it means to be a woman.” But what you will find, right at the top of the autofill, is, “What it means to be a man.”
It brings to mind an article that came out a few months ago in the Washington Post that was simply titled, “Men Are Lost.” In writing about the men who were interviewed for the story, it was found:
They struggled to relate to women. They didn’t have enough friends. They lacked long-term goals. Some… just quietly disappeared, subsumed into videogames and porn or sucked into the alt-right and the web of misogynistic communities known as the “manosphere.”
The weirdness manifested in the national political scene, too: in the 4-chan-fueled 2016 campaign, in the backlash to #MeToo, in amateur militias during the Black Lives Matter protests.
Misogynistic text-thread chatter took a physical form in the Proud Boys, some of whom attacked the Capitol on January 6, 2021. Young men everywhere were trying on new identities, many of them ugly, all gesturing toward a desire to belong.
It felt like a widespread identity crisis—as if they didn’t know how to be.
One doctoral student who was interviewed told of an undergraduate student asking, “What the heck does good masculinity look like?” He said, “I’ll be honest with you: I did not have an answer for that.”