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"Undressing" Barbie

Updated: Aug 16, 2023


Have you seen the blockbuster Barbie movie yet? If so, chances are you’ve enjoyed a rare and special synthesis of entertainment and enlightenment. It’s a movie that deserves to be seen more than once because there is so much meaning beneath Barbie’s exterior that deserves to be fully understood and reflected upon. So let’s more carefully "undress" Barbie to reveal the naked truths of this amazing tale.


The meaning of Barbie cannot be separated from the topics of feminism and patriarchy. Wikipedia defines feminism as; a range of socio-political movements and ideologies that aim to define and establish the political, economic, personal, and social equality of the sexes. The word “establish” is emphasized here because it implies that women are fighting for equalities that they’ve never had before. But what Barbie has in common with new scholarship in the fields of anthropology, archeology, linguistics, zoology, and genetics, is the revelation that equality between the sexes does not need to be established, it needs to be re-established. Historically speaking, women not only used to have powers equal with men, but more often they had more power than men.


Patriarchy refers to social, political, legal, and financial systems of male dominance. It means that men are the heads of households, having authority (and often ownership) over wives and children. Family names and property rights are passed down through the father’s genetic lineage, which is why women take the last names of their husbands upon marriage and properties are traditionally inherited by sons, not daughters. Male dominance in patriarchal societies extends beyond family dynamics into other societal imbalances. Examples include not giving women the right to vote, own property, receive education, choose their spouses, have control over reproductive choices, or receive equal pay for equal work. Despite meaningful gains for women’s rights in the United States over the past 200 years, not enough states agreed to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) to the constitution, guaranteeing equal rights for women, since it was first proposed in 1923. Patriarch in America remains alive and well.


There has been loud protesting about Barbie because it has been misinterpreted as pitting feminism against patriarchy as if it was a battle of the sexes that engages in male bashing. This is not the case. The evils of patriarchal societies don’t just harm women, but men as well. What makes patriarchies unhealthy for both women and men is that it is a form of hierarchy. Hierarchies are organized systems (family, religious, political, economic) in which power and control are determined by the dominance of rank. A matriarchy would be another form of hierarchy with the same inequalities of hierarchy, only with women ruling as the dominant powers. That’s not what Barbie is about.


Returning to the new discoveries emerging from the fields of anthropology, archeology, linguistics, zoology, and genetics, scholars have uncovered abundant evidence disproving that human societies have always been patriarchal. Instead, patriarchal societies appear to have emerged only within the past 4,000-5,000 years. Because of such a long history of evidence of patriarchies, anthropologists and other social scientists previously (and wrongly) believed that patriarchies were the true reflections of human nature. It’s just the way we are. But as new scientific methods have emerged in recent decades, it has become clear that women-centered societies were the norm throughout the world for tens of thousands of years prior to the rise of patriarchies. In other words, we haven’t always been like this!


Before patriarchies became the dominant social norm around the world, matrilineal (mother-centered) societies were the norm. In these societies, children belonged to their mothers, not their fathers, and their children were raised by their mother’s family and clan members. Biological fathers had no ownership and oftentimes played little role in the raising of their children. Women decided which men to have sex with, usually from other clans, and took everything into their own hands thereafter.


Matrilineal societies were different from patriarchies in many other ways besides sex and child rearing. War, violence, rape, sexism, classism, racism, prostitution, the destruction of natural resources, and the shaming of female sexuality were virtually non-existent. That’s because these societies were egalitarian and cooperative by nature, rather than hierarchical and competitive. Spirituality was centered around the worship of goddesses and overseen by priestesses who taught everyone how to have direct relationships with the Divine rather than depending on the authoritative word and scriptures of male priests who proclaimed the existence of a singular male God. Early Christianity remained heavily influenced by priestesses until patriarchal emperors took over, banned (and killed) the priestesses, and burned the books and libraries that preserved their writings.


The new historical evidence comparing patriarchies to matrilineal societies reveals that, not only did women and children have better lives in matrilineal societies, but so did men. There was no battle of the sexes and men didn’t have to work as hard as they were later required to under the dominance of their higher ranking overlords. They were not conscripted into wars for political, territorial, and material gain. Men were free to have sex with more women because they were not bound by marriage contracts for raising their children.


Barbie is the story of how women have lived under the submissive spell of patriarchies for as long as we can remember, then depicts how women can be awakened from this spell. It’s not simply about how women are free to compete with men, but that women know more about how people can exist harmoniously when everyone is free from the domineering constraints of patriarchy.


Barbie “undressed” is not about the sexualization of a hot looking doll, but the resurrection of natural femininity to its rightful place of wisdom.



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