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  • Helena Kallas

Barbie: feminism vs. womanism within 23 grams of plastic

Barbie, the iconic fashion doll created by Ruth Handler, has been the object of both fascination and controversy for ages. Previously, only little girls had baby dolls, which restricted their playtime to envisioning themselves as mothers. However, in “1959”, with the launch of Barbie, girls became able to play with dolls modeled as teens and adults with a range of different careers -- and, over time, new appearances -- giving girls the freedom to dream to be whatever they wanted. Without a question, Barbie has played a significant role in the toy industry and popular culture. Together with the values she represents, her image has contributed to an ongoing discussion about feminism and womanism.

Today, the new movie release starring Margot Robbie as Barbie alongside Ryan Gosling as Ken has received a huge spotlight due to its focus on modern issues that support both womanism and feminism. Before getting into specific aspects of Barbie's relation to both movements, it is essential to understand their differences.

Womanism is a term established by the author and activist Alice Walker in the 1980s, focusing on women's empowerment under cultural and social circumstances. The movement supports the belief that feminism has always been focused on the concerns of white middle-class women, while low-income women of color were overlooked. Womanism is about promoting inclusivity.

On the other hand, feminism is a bigger movement that promotes women's rights and gender equality on a larger spectrum. The movement is defined as the belief in the social, political, and economic equality of the sexes. The goal of feminism is to challenge the systemic inequalities women face on a daily basis.

The Barbie movie had a diverse cast of characters, representing a variety of backgrounds, ethnicities, and body types, which aligns with womanism values such as inclusion, diversity, race, class, and other factor, such as addressing injustice and emphasizing the stories of oppressed communities and women of color. The inclusion of characters, each representing diverse backgrounds and identities, reflects an idealistic vision of a society where everyone is a Barbie - a symbol of power, and beauty, regardless of ethnicity or abilities. While feminism also encourages diversity and inclusivity, womanism provides a more comprehensive perspective, which is frequently shown in the film.

Additionally, rather than focusing solely on her appearance and clothes, the movie’s plot emphasizes Barbie's abilities and determination more than her looks. Such ideals are in accordance with feminist concepts, which seek a bigger representation of women's abilities and ambitions outside traditional gender norms. The character is represented as a feminist icon who can make young girls in the real world believe they can achieve whatever they want in life in their terms. By portraying Barbie as not only a pretty face and a perfect body, but a complex figure with ambitions, aspirations, and the courage to follow them, the movie serves as a tool for encouraging self-confidence and ambition among its audience which will challenge stereotypes and empower both: young girls and women.

Finally, the movie presents a strong message of inclusion, diversity, and empowerment by embracing both feminism and womanism. Young girls and women are still influenced and inspired by Barbie's representation of empowerment, which promotes greater awareness of the difficulties of gender equality and the importance of intersections in the ongoing struggle for women's rights.

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