There’s been considerable backlash about the Barbie movie from both critics and listeners of my show.
Well, most of the criticism comes from certain types of men. In fact, I had to search the darkest corners of the internet just to find a negative review of Barbie that made a decent point. And believe it or not, this fact could explain why they don’t understand women, have no luck attracting them, and can’t create a thriving relationship (even if you have a great desire for one).
Barbie is a movie for teenage girls based on a doll made for teenage girls. Of course some men have a hard time watching it: It wasn’t made for them. But this also reveals a deep societal insight that can improve your relationships with women:
The reaction to Barbie reveals how male-centric the world we live in still is today—in 2023.
In today’s show, I explain how this male-centric centering of society hurts your understanding of women, why watching Barbie (and Sex & the City) can help you succeed with women, and what ugly truths hating Barbie reveals.
Show highlights include:
- The weird way to attract higher quality women by watching the Barbie movie (3:02)
- The insidious “Turn Back Time” trap some men find themselves in which wrecks their chances of having a successful, modern relationship (3:56)
- Did you see Barbie and hated it? Here’s the surprising thing that this reveals about you and your potential with women… (6:52)
- How you can mimic Ken’s character arc from Barbie in real life (and become a magnet for high-quality females) (14:14)
- The “Sex and the City” secret for getting a PhD in understanding women (18:11)
- How ‘gender’ differences being more foreign than ‘race’ differences could be the reason you’re not good with women (25:07)
Does your neediness, fear, or insecurity sabotage your success with women? Do you feel you may be unlovable? For more than 15 years, I’ve helped thousands of people find confidence, fulfillment, and loving relationships. And I can help you, too. I’m therapist and life coach David Tian, Ph.D. I invite you to check out my free Masterclasses on dating and relationships at https://www.davidtianphd.com/masterclass/ now.
For more about David Tian, go here: https://www.davidtianphd.com/about/
Emotional Mastery is David Tian’s step-by-step system to transform, regulate, and control your emotions… so that you can master yourself, your interactions with others, and your relationships… and live a life worth living. Learn more here:
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Note: Scroll Below for Transcription
Welcome to the Masculine Psychology Podcast, where we answer key questions in dating, relationships, success, and fulfillment, and explore the psychology of masculinity. Now, here’s your host, world-renowned therapist and life coach, David Tian.
David: Welcome to the Masculine Psychology Podcast. I’m David Tian, your host. In this special episode, I’ll be analyzing the psychology of the Barbie movie, which as of the recording of this episode is set to surpass the $1 billion global box office mark after its third weekend. Pretty amazing. I recommend every guy see it. Even if you hate it, I recommend that you see it, and I recommend that you watch it before you continue listening to this episode because there should be lots of spoilers in this analysis. [00:50.1]
When the movie first came out, I did not plan to do a movie analysis. I haven’t done a movie analysis in quite a while because I think I ended up doing too many of them, so I was waiting for a guy-oriented movie like that Batman movie to review and I totally didn’t think Barbie would catch the interest of my audience. But after its opening weekend, I got a comment on YouTube to review it and some emails and messages to review it, because they wanted my opinion about it.
I wasn’t rushing to see the movie. I was watching Oppenheimer on that opening weekend instead, but my wife wanted to watch Barbie, but I won the coin toss that weekend and I was planning to watch it sometime in the next couple of weeks. But because of all of this interest, I scheduled and booked our movie viewing of Barbie earlier than I expected.
I’m mentioning this because I do love feedback. I respond to feedback. Your feedback helps me choose what topics to cover in future episodes. So, when I say I love getting feedback, I really mean it. Plus, I thrive off it because it helps me come up with ideas for future episodes. I mean, this would be Episode 109, I believe, so I always welcome future topic ideas. [02:05.0]
In case you were like me before the movie came out and you weren’t intending to rush to the theater to watch it, because maybe you aren’t a fan of the Barbie toy or the franchise, and maybe you haven’t kept abreast of how explosive the box office has been with Barbie and Oppenheimer, especially Barbie, and even more so, the cultural commentary alongside the Barbie movie, which has been overwhelmingly positive.
I had to really dig into the underbelly of the internet to find any kind of calm, reasoned analysis. Most of it was ranting from a fear state, and when you’re in the state of fear or panic, you cannot make any good decisions and that’s how most of the negative commentary struck me.
But I did find a couple of really important points, and I promise you that if you attend to this episode and then watch the movie—or, actually, I recommend that you watch the movie and then listen to this commentary, and then maybe watch the movie again, perhaps seeing it in a new, more insightful light—you will understand the interior life, the thought life and the emotional life of modern women better. [03:13.4]
As a result, it will be easier for you to be in and succeed in relationships with them, and, obviously, to succeed in your dating life in any type of situation where you are having interactions with modern women.
One of the reasons this is so important is because most of the men who are struggling to connect with women in the modern world, who are struggling to find a place for themselves in their roles socially in the modern world as young men, so many of them don’t even realize that the world has changed quite dramatically over the last few decades and has accelerated in that change, and the acceptance of it and the pervasiveness of it. [03:56.5]
Instead, they keep holding on to this wish that they could turn back time, back to basically the 1950s in the West, where women would kind of know their place and automatically respect men who are successful, or just men, in general. These men are really lost and they don’t know why they’re lost, and they don’t even have the vulnerability or awareness to recognize that they’re lost.
They think, if they can just rally enough other men, and, of course, as many other women as they can, to their cause of turning back time, then they will succeed in this ultra-conservative project of repealing these developments in gender relations over the past few decades, and then these women will behave and will respect them and will reflect back to them the values that more easily cast these young men in a positive light and an empowering strong light. [04:58.3]
Of course, by the way, from this point on, I’m assuming you’ve watched the movie. That is, of course, what is depicted in the movie in a really funny way, in a kind of simplistic, exaggerated way, but it’s a movie about Barbie, so what did you expect? It’s a satire. It’s supposed to be funny. It’s supposed to be entertaining.
Okay, so on the written outline here, I’ve got at least four main points. I hope to get to at least two of them. I promise to mention all of them, but I hope to get into depth on at least the first two. The first point is a response to the main negative criticism that had some substance to it that I found on the internet, and that is the lack of mature male characters in the movie.
There are lots of likable, lovable characters, and the fact that these men on the internet– Let me just give them a term so it’s easier to refer to them. Let’s call this the chauvinistic response. Now, I see chauvinism is different from misogyny, in the sense that chauvinism takes the view that men are superior to women, whereas misogyny has men hating women, and of course, from a feminist perspective, it might feel like men hate you, and so speaking to any kind of feminists who are listening, you see this in the movie. [06:13.8]
They have many lines of dialogue that are very memorable and there was one that’s “Men hate women and women hate women,” and I think chauvinism cannot be that chauvinistic men hate women. That would be like saying Ken hates Barbie. But, of course, you see in the movie that Ken is overcompensating for his rejection by Barbie because he wants her to like him so badly.
That’s more of a kind of insecure, codependent White Knight, which I’ll get to, and the so-called patriarchy that kept getting referred to and hilariously demonstrated is more like a chauvinism, an insecure chauvinism, where they’re trying to assert their superiority over women because they want their approval and admiration so much. [06:53.0]
Okay, so I’ll call this, in a very inexact way, the chauvinistic male response, which was that there weren’t any mature male characters in the movie, and then they hated on, they looked down on, they were ashamed of and embarrassed by the portrayals of Ken and the other Kens—the Ryan Gosling Ken in the Simu Liu Ken, and the other Kens—and they look down on them as pathetic losers, which obviously really just reflects their own self-hatred and their own toxic shame of themselves, because, in fact, they are in that position in their realities.
That’s why watching that movie hurt them so much, made them so angry as a response and made them so fearful, because everyone laughing at the Kens in the movie, they feel it as laughing at themselves, their predicament, and the more popular the Barbie movie becomes for them, their great fear is the more the world will gang up on them and exclude them and exile them.
Now, if you’re mature enough to be looking for a way to try to make sense of the sort of underground, chauvinistic, and, of course, misogynistic—I’m not going to address the misogynistic responses. They’re just so obviously wrong, but the chauvinistic responses—hopefully, this is enlightening, but especially to those who relate to the chauvinistic response, because that was your response. [08:08.8]
But in every case that I found on the internet, there was no self-awareness around the fact that you relate to the Kens, because you actually have been or are in that position, roughly, and instead, the reaction is to look down on the Kens, and that obviously is a reflection of your own shame and self-hatred.
But that wasn’t even the point I wanted to make. It was a tangent because I said these lovable Ken characters, who, by the way, were played so perfectly, especially Ryan Gosling, right off the bat, his body language. That’s another point that I won’t get to, but the use of body language and movement, physical movement, in the movie was incredible and so full of symbolism. [08:49.5]
Okay, so returning to the criticism, there were no mature male characters in the movie, but, of course, in the movie, there is a mature female character, the ghost of the creator of Barbie, Ruth Handler. During the movie, she just appears at the end and isn’t really fleshed out very much. I had to google her to learn more about her. But in the movie, she is depicted as a sort of Oracle figure and a wise mentor or guide, and then there are plenty of heroines, of course, in the movie, though I wouldn’t consider them mature and that’s the point I’m going to get to. That’s the second main point, but staying with this first one, which is that there are no mature male characters, point taken.
However, recognize who this movie was made for, just as in G.I. Joe or even, much more recently, the Avengers. Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow character was there from the beginning and, for 10 years, didn’t get her own spotlight until the whole franchise, that whole phase was done with Thanos, and then she got a retrospective movie that was set in the past so they killed her off, so there was no future in it, even contrasting this to the other comparable character, Hawkeye, who got a whole TV series and is still alive. But, anyway, what do you expect? That’s Marvel and it was originally written to appeal to dudes. Superhero movies are made generally for dudes. [10:06.5]
In the new phase, Disney knows that they have this huge male audience that is now 15 years older, so these are guys in their 30s and 40s now, so they’ve got to go back and pick up a new audience and they’ve chosen to diversify their audience racially and in terms of gender, and as a result, they’ve alienated the old dudes in the 30s and 40s who are along for the male-centered ride of the first phases—and that’s what I’m getting at here, the centering of the male-centric world.
Now, in 2023, which was when this movie came out, you as a man might not feel like the world is male-centric because you’re not making much money or you’re not getting many advantages. It’s not privileging you or you’re not aware of any, quote-unquote, “privileges.” But as a man, I would venture to say that you just haven’t reflected enough to notice the privileges that males have versus females in the modern world, even now, and here’s one great example. [11:06.4]
Not all males have succumbed to this. Notice that the vast majority of both critics and user reviews—or actually, they’re not called users or viewer reviews, or amateur reviews—are incredibly positive, and I did have to dig pretty deep into the internet, the underground internet, to find substantial negative reviews of Barbie. But notice the complaint here that there weren’t any mature male characters and that there wasn’t equal treatment of men and women in a movie whose intended audience was teenage girls. The movie is rated PG-13. In case you didn’t know that, that means that they recommend anyone under 13 should be with a parent to watch it, and PG-13 is basically pointing out that the movie was not intended for anyone under 13. [11:52.4]
Now, I came across a really painful Ben Shapiro review of Barbie and I couldn’t get past it, so I kind of read the transcripts and I read some responses to it, because the review was half the length of the movie itself and it wasn’t really making substantial points, in my opinion. It was a lot of ranting. But one of the rants that he made was that this movie was intended for seven-year-old girls and it was clearly not appropriate for them. I agree it’s not appropriate for seven-year-old girls and it wasn’t meant to be because the movie is rated PG-13.
Now, when I went to see it, it was a little bit disconcerting, but it was really cute that there was a mother and father with two daughters and they had all dressed up in pink, even the dad, for this movie, and we were in the VIP theaters. They had these big seats and the food was served and all that. Then the first scene, this clever call back to 2001: A Space Odyssey was kind of violent and shocking in its satire and it was hilarious, but it went over, I’m sure it went over their heads.
Then I kept hearing at various points of the movie, the little girl in the row in front of us asking her dad, “Why is he crying? Why is she crying?” She didn’t get it and, of course, she doesn’t. This is actually a really clever and multilayered mature movie, even more so than the Pixar movies, which have a lot of humor that are aimed at adult audiences, the parents that are watching with the kids. [13:12.6]
Okay, so I feel a little sorry for the parents who are going to have to explain to their seven-year-old daughters what this movie was about, but the rating should have told you it was not intended for people under 13. Now, I just said people, but it was actually aimed at girls. Now, how chauvinistic is it for a dude to demand that a movie aimed at girls should also appeal to him and put his interests in the center? How many male action movies actually have fully-fleshed-out female characters who are mature and just as fully developed as the male lead? You’re probably racking your brain to think of some and I’m sure you can come up with some.
But notice, you don’t require it. You’re not going to watch these action movies that are male-centric and are aimed at male audiences for the female lead, at least, not in terms of her character. You may be going because she’s hot or something, but you’re not looking for it to be a fully fleshed-out character with a full backstory and they spent a lot of time on developing that and her maturity, and so forth. [14:14.6]
And, by the way, hopefully, you’re not weighed down by too much toxic shame that you can appreciate the character arc of Ryan Gosling’s character, the Ken character in the movie, which was incredible and is the kind of character arc I see and guys I work with all the time. Of course, you’re just seeing the beginning of his journey into a more mature masculinity. But his development was beautiful and beautifully depicted by Ryan Gosling.
Now, it’s really hard for men who feel like they’re beaten down, who are struggling, to succeed in the dating world to appreciate how the modern world, and especially even the world 30 years ago and earlier, was male-centric, so much so that I have only in the past couple of years recognized how male-centric my reality was. It really came home to me in my writing group in which I am working on a book of my own and in presenting drafts of my book. [15:10.0]
The feedback both from the leader of the group and especially from some of the women in the group was that the women characters in my book were sort of stereotypically described or only superficially described, and weren’t fully fleshed out. They were sort of like placeholders, like mannequins, like I was mentioning them and writing about them to set up my own personal growth, which, of course, was the main thread of the book. Practically speaking, part of the challenge was maintaining their anonymity, so I had to remove any identifying details, so it kept it at a high level of generality.
I should have, as I am doing now, fleshed out these women characters with more detailed descriptions and backstory while changing any identifying details. But it was sort of a shock to me that I thought it would be okay to write these women characters at this level of generality, but then I recognized that I had demonstrated the trap that I could easily be accused of, which was that I was a self-centered male chauvinist out to manipulate women for my own ends and seeing women only as instrumentally valuable for my own growth, in this case. [16:22.8]
All of these women have their own stories and I don’t get to write them out completely, obviously, because it’s my story, but when I do write them in, I need to do them justice. Also because if I write it at that level of generality, people will get bored and it’s not interesting anymore.
Then there was another member of the writing group whose book is coming out, I believe, next year—I’ve already pre ordered this, but the date is not clear—and this is the book I’m going to recommend right now. Chelsey Goodan. That is, Chelsey with a “Y” at the end, and then Goodan, “Good A-N”, and the book title is Underestimated: The Wisdom and Power of Teenage Girls. [17:00.0]
I reviewed an early draft of it and was so moved just by that draft that, at least in a couple places in this book, I broke down in tears, because it so beautifully depicted the inner lives of many teenage girls. My goddaughter that I’ve shared about when she was two years old and how she saved me from the brink of suicide and was the first person that I consciously recognized that I loved unconditionally, she’s now entering her teenage years and has, unfortunately, undergone some unavoidably horrific tragedies, and I recognized that underneath her calm exterior was this cauldron of conflicting emotions bubbling under there that she wasn’t letting out. Reading that book, Underestimated, helped me to have a window into what might be under there and allowed me a greater empathy, and, of course, a greater understanding, so it makes it easier to form a connection. [17:57.8]
Now, I know that a lot of my audience has no connection with teenage girls and probably doesn’t have a teenage daughter, but if you don’t understand teenage girls, you’re not going to understand young women, because young women came out of being teenage girls.
Now, when I was learning pickup 15 years ago, I immersed myself in what was then called, derogatorily, in the pickup world, “chick crack,” and this meant that I was a PhD-level researcher and professor, so when I approached research, I knew how to do research. I got piles and piles of books and magazines, and I watched every episode of Sex and the City. I read Fifty Shades of Grey. Some of it was hard to get into and keep my attention and all that, but I read it as a way and got into erotica intended for female audiences and trying to see it from the female eye, and I learned a ton from that. I recognize that most guys haven’t even done that level of analysis and that’s mostly aimed at sort of a more superficial sexual level. [18:58.1]
But I’ve noticed that my wife is watching the new episodes of the new seasons that are coming out of Sex and the City. Yes, they have come out with new episodes, and I recommend to any guy who’s trying to understand women, because if you feel like women don’t understand you, very likely, because you don’t understand women, in addition, of course, to not understanding yourself, but at least try to understand the interior life of the women that you are interacting with the majority of the time.
Now, you might find what they believe in their lifestyle and their emotional life appalling, and if you do, this is one of the main reasons you’re not able to connect with them, and I feel sorry if you end up having a daughter because she’s going to have a hell of a time with you. Probably to get along with you, she’s just going to have to hide parts of herself, because those parts are there, but if you don’t accept them, she’ll just hide them or she will just flat out rebel to your face. Then, of course, you’re going to be like those bitter men and never grow. You’re going to get stuck, because you’re going to think that your problem is that the world isn’t going according to your preferences, and you’re not adapting. You will get evolved out, because you want to turn back time. [20:07.6]
I thought of a way in for some of my audience and I know a big part of my audience is a minority race in their culture. I am Asian, I don’t know if you’ve picked up on that, and I was raised in Canada and then I went to the States for my PhD. I also lived there for four years as the first place we immigrated to from Taiwan, and right up until the middle of my undergrad years, I was a small minority of Asians in any classroom. I was used to being one out of only maybe two or three other Asians in a classroom of 25 to 30 kids.
Now, I’m pointing this out, because if you grew up as a minority race, you know what it’s like to be in a world in which your perspective is not centered, and it’s so hard to explain to your– in most of these cases, I’m talking about Western countries, so it’d be white friends, how you feel in these situations. [21:05.3]
I remember in the ’80s and ’90s when using chopsticks was something that would induce giggling. These Westerners were trying to use chopsticks and seeing them as these really exotic things that “This is so illogical. Why would anyone do this? Ha-ha-ha, this is so stupid. But, okay, we’re going to do our Japanese night.” And the same with sushi, right? “Ew, gross, raw fish, slimy,” whatever, right?
Now, I can say this now in 2023, because in all the cosmopolitan cities, I see white people using chopsticks perfectly fine and they don’t make a big deal out of it at all, and in the big cities that I venture to in the West, I’ve seen Westerners apologize that their chopsticks skills aren’t up to snuff and then they ask for a fork or something. And, of course, the explosion of popularity of sushi. It helped that these sushi restaurants catered to Western tastes and developed whole menus full of rolls, which you won’t find in Japan. [21:58.6]
But I call this progress, because now, decades later after my childhood, in these examples here, the use of chopsticks and sushi are more in the center of mainstream society. Even if you’re a minority Asian in society, parts of you are more accepted into the center.
I don’t know if the centering discussion is helping at all, for those who are white males living in Western countries. It’s so hard to see the unconscious privileges that you’ve gotten, because our human bias is to focus on the problems and you probably can’t see any of these advantages that you’ve gotten, or the fact that your perspective as a Westerner is centered in Western countries. Here’s an easy example. When you go to Japan, all the street signs, everything is in Japanese. That makes sense that Japan would center the Japanese perspective in Japan. No, duh, right? [22:51.2]
Part of this controversy that you can see right now with the Barbie movie is that there are all these males who are complaining that this Barbie movie made and intended for, aimed at teenage girls is not centering the male perspective, and that’s like a white person watching a Chinese movie and saying there aren’t enough white people in it, or, as you could level against the movies produced by Mainland China, the big hits right now like Wolf Warrior, where they’re clearly centering the Communist Chinese perspective and decentering the American’s hero perspective. That, by the way, Top Gun centers the jingoism of the American military against the faceless foreign bad guys. [23:36.5]
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Now, having spent 20 years in North America, I’m so used to accounting for Western-centric everything that I just take it in stride and enjoy it for the limited parochial scope that it has, and I find plenty of enjoyment. It’s a fun movie. Similarly, with Barbie, it’s not intended for me. It wasn’t written or aimed at me, and I have to take that into account as an intelligent human being. [24:58.3]
Thankfully, I’ve done, now at 47, coming up to 47, enough work on myself to be open-minded to taking the foreign point of view, and the foreign point of view in the case of Barbie is a young woman’s point of view, especially a teenage girl’s point of view—and one of the reasons why it’s so hard for dudes, regardless of race, to enter into the woman’s point of view, but especially the young woman’s point of view, is actually because, from my analysis, gender is more foreign even than race.
You notice we accept action stars of all kinds of races, and as dudes, you can imagine yourself as a samurai badass or a ninja badass and now you’re kind of entering the Japanese male action hero’s perspective or you can enter into Bruce Lee’s perspective, all of this sort of stuff. There are all these male action heroes of different races, like Black Panther. It’s a lot easier to accept that and that’s because, I think, males around the world have a lot more in common, being male, regardless of their culture and race, than they do actually with the lived experience of females. [26:09.5]
It’s really hard for us to understand what it’s like to not have a penis instead of having a vagina, and then to bleed from our genitals every month for days on end and have other side effects like major cramping and headaches and all that stuff, and then to have breasts and the awkwardness of all of that, and then to bear children. I won’t even go there. It’s a much bigger stretch for men to enter into a woman’s perspective than it is to enter into another man’s perspective, just swapping our skin color and culture.
That’s my own anecdotal opinion. I haven’t done and I don’t think anyone’s done rigorous research on this yet, and feel free to disagree with me. I don’t have a big bone to pick here. I’m just throwing this out as a hypothesis to explain the much greater animosity against women-centric TV shows like She-Hulk and movies like Barbie, versus the relatively easy acceptance of watching an all-Chinese kung-fu movie with an all-Chinese cast and totally in Chinese, or watching a Japanese samurai movie with lots of action and all the characters of Japanese. It’s in Japanese. It’s aimed to Japanese audiences. [27:15.6]
It’s so much easier for us dudes to enter into that world and get into it than it is for us to enjoy a movie intended for our sisters, as somebody as close to you as it gets genetically, but has a completely different body and lived experience. I’ve only mentioned biology.
Now, I want to come back to race because this might trigger people saying, “What? You’re saying race is not important.” It’s so important that I’ve chosen it as a comparison, because, hopefully, you recognize how impactful and how important it is, and how far we’ve come that we have this ability to enter into other worlds that are not our race, and that’s a lot of progress, even the fact that I can mention kung-fu movies and samurai movies in Chinese and Japanese entirely. Hopefully, you’ve seen some of those at least with subtitles. If you haven’t, like, what? [28:07.8]
Anyway, notice how if it’s race and gender combined, so if you’re a white man trying to understand the lived experience of a black girl, how much harder it would be for you, or even for me, a Western-raised Chinese man trying to understand what it would be like to be a four-year-old black girl. I bring that up because, hopefully, you’ve seen the viral video of this four-year-old girl, Ariyonna, who is at the hairdresser’s and she starts to say that she’s ugly and breaks down, and every time I watch that, I break down with her and it is so heart-rending.
My wife has pointed out when we were dating, how the dollars that I was buying for my goddaughter, who was three or four at the time, that I should choose– Because she was really into Frozen, so I was getting these Frozen dolls and all that, and those are Scandinavian dolls. They were blonde and brunette, and very white. I’m not knocking the movie. It’s set in where it’s set, so they should look like that, and the stories were arresting enough and I think they’re great. And they were arresting enough that they would capture the imagination of this Asian girl all the way around the world in Singapore, right? [29:17.4]
But she pointed out that I should also balance it out with dolls who reflect her race, her skin color, her facial features, and I was so excited for my goddaughter when the movie Raya came out, because it reflected Southeast Asia and it had a strong female heroine as the main character of that movie, because representation matters so much because it’s about centering.
When you’re not the center, as Ken is not the center of Barbie, obviously, there’s that great line in the movie, “Barbie has a great day every day. Ken only has a great day if Barbie looks at him,” and how awful it feels when your world is not centered around you, and what the Barbie movie gives you a taste of is what it’s like, as a woman, to live in a male-centric world. [30:06.5]
A great illustration of this is the backlash that I was asked to comment on that there weren’t more mature male characters in the movie. It’s a movie about a doll made for girls, and what’s hilarious is they made a male doll, and, of course, that’s the predicament Ken finds himself in.
Okay, so that was just the first point about centering and understanding better or trying to understand the woman’s point of view, the female point of view, especially the teenage girl’s point of view here, and as you get to understand their world better through their eyes, you’ll begin to see how the world is more male-centric than female-centric.
It’s a lot like helping my white friends back in North America, back in the ’90s or in the 2000s, see how their world was mostly white-centric, Western-centric, when they said things like, “Let’s see ethnic tonight,” and just lumping all other non-Western cultures into one category, like that could mean anything to somebody like myself. [31:05.6]
Or even working part time at the Center for Chinese Studies during my PhD program and seeing that we would take people out for lunch and we would end up at a Vietnamese restaurant because “Well, it’s Asian and it’s kind of China-adjacent” that no one ever talked about that, and then, of course, the Chinese restaurants were kind of further across campus. So, we settled for the Vietnamese, which was delicious. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the free lunch, but let’s not pretend this is Chinese food. But to white people, it’s just Asian, and that’s an example of centering.
Hopefully, as you begin to see how your world is centered, and you didn’t even know it, because that’s part of what centering is—it’s just in the background, unconscious, like you just walk into it—unless you are decentered, you won’t know. You just think everyone thinks this way and lives this way and has the same experience as you, and that’s the female experience where men demand equal representation in a movie that isn’t even intended for them, but is aimed at an audience of teenage girls. [32:05.1]
So, this point about centering and the challenge of entering a foreign point of view was actually my first point, and, luckily, I think it was the most important point, so I led with that and ended up getting to the 30-minute mark on this one point. As I promised, though, I will mention the other points, though I won’t be able to go as in depth on each of them as I would like.
The second point is on the fact that we’re all going through various developmental stages. There are various stages of maturity and growth. Something I’ve noticed in the attacks on recent, in the past couple of years, feminist movies and TV shows is this male-centric demand for the female characters to be at the highest maturity level. [32:51.7]
With hindsight, I’m sure we’ll be looking back at this period as a time when what I’ve been calling the chauvinist male audience is still grappling with, coming to terms with, the female point of view, which includes grace, which includes the openness to appreciate early developmental stages of maturity of women, and in the case of Barbie, of teenage girls.
In fact, the Barbie character, in terms of psychological maturity and developmental psychology, is about the maturity level of a 10- to 11-year-old girl. In Barbie Land, their understanding of sexuality is basically pre-pubescent. They’re just beginning to ask the big questions, like questions about death and mortality, and in that sense, she’s got about the maturity level of a seven-, eight-, nine-year-old girl, and that’s to be expected because it’s a movie in which Barbie dolls have come to life. Or rather, in a plot point that was never explained, especially how this board of executives know about this, why there is a Barbie Land and how it’s tied through some interdimensional portal and all of that. But, hey, whatever, it’s a movie about Barbie dolls. [34:05.4]
So, this appreciation of an earlier developmental stage for the woman is similar to the public’s appreciation, or at least in Western audiences, in the ’80s, of action heroes that were supposed to be tough and impervious, and never bleed and hardly show any weaknesses, and they just power through everybody and they’re kind of the cold, silent, type, unapproachable, unrelatable, no vulnerability.
Then it evolves into a much more nuanced and realistic, but also a much more compelling action hero, beginning around the time of Bruce Willis’ depiction of the action hero in that first Die Hard movie, where he is at an earlier developmental stage with lots of character flaws and failings, and messes up plenty of times. [34:53.4]
It’s like we had to go through two decades of impervious, kind of almost inhuman—I’m thinking about Terminator—inhuman action heroes, especially in the ’80s, until the public was ready to fully embrace this sort of imperfect action hero who is immature and is growing through the process of the movie, and in the sequels and so on, and we’re growing along with him and we’re watching that.
I saw this especially in the male-centric reviews of the She-Hulk TV series where they attacked the moral character of the heroine, not allowing her the room to grow and develop and become more mature. Of course, one of the main reasons for this, other than the fact that they can’t enter into this very foreign point of view of the woman, the other major reason is their fear, their fear of the unbridled, feminine, chaotic power that will run roughshod over their emotions, just as Barbie did over Ken, at the beginning of the movie. [35:55.2]
I know that a lot of the guys watching it, who are what I call a White Knights, other people call these nice guys, codependent—they’re actually compensatory narcissists, but narcissists might sound too harsh. They’re well-meaning. They’re just immature—the codependent White Knights see that time that they were stuck in the friend zone and that attractive girl that they were pining after, who kept treating them like they were just friends, thereby breaking his heart despite all he’s done for her—basically, the red pill is full of codependent White Knights—they see that depiction and they freak out, because “Oh, no, this movie is actually reinforcing our conditioning,” the very evil that has hurt them the most and has upended their lives, and now they’re so angry and seething with so much resentment that they go on the internet and spend hours just rage writing about the evils of the feminine nature.
They’re not watching this movie in any kind of detached way, like, Hmm, this is a movie aimed at teenage girls and look at this depiction. What does that say? Hmm. No, they’re freaking out because they see themselves in the treatment of Ken by Barbie and they relive this trauma that they went through, and that’s why there’s so much anger and emotion against, this rage against the immature feminine. [37:14.5]
Now, that first point responding to their complaint that there were no mature male characters, I would say that there are no mature characters except maybe the Ruth Handler ghost at the end, but that was a ghost and it wasn’t fleshed out, and she didn’t have a whole lot of lines. But what she did show seemed pretty mature and that was a wise perspective, the sort of thing you might expect in a male-centric movie to be played by Morgan Freeman as a kind of god figure or a wise fatherly figure. With the Barbies, they were basically like prepubescent girls and that’s totally to be expected, and that’s part of the humor of it. They are Barbie figures. They’re like preteen girls in the bodies of adult women. [37:55.5]
Now, when these guys watch movies that depict immature, still growing, still in an early developmental stage, male character, they don’t have any issues with granting these male characters that leeway to grow. They’re not demanding that these teenage boys should have a 70-year-old’s maturity level. But the chauvinistic, male-centric viewpoint demands that all of the female main characters must be at the maturity level that allows the women to appreciate immediately, right from the get, all maleness up and down the developmental stages.
Now, at the end, big time spoiler alert, Barbie helps Ken to own his own identity. Just before I get to that, I want to mention I would like to go in a lot more depth on what a codependent White Knight is, but I’ve done plenty of hours’ worth of material explaining this. I did an almost one-hour Man Up episode on the White Knight syndrome. [39:00.6]
I’ve also done plenty of episodes in this podcast on compensatory narcissism, and in my course, Rock Solid Relationships, I devote about four to five hours going in depth on what the White Knight syndrome is and what codependent narcissism or compensatory narcissism is, and not only do I explain how to get out of it, I actually guide our Rock Solid Relationship members through processes that help anyone grow out of those early developmental stages of being stuck at that codependent level—and one thing I was just about to point out there is the importance of identity, where Ken’s identity was wrapped up in whether Barbie liked him and treated him well. [39:43.4]
Basically, he only felt significant when she lavished approval and attention on him, and, finally, Barbie recognizes that, so this is a developmental stage of hers. She’s still quite immature. I mean, you’ve got to cut her some slack, she was basically living an adult’s life as a prepubescent girl trapped in an adult’s body, and she had a big wake-up call and a kind of awakening and now she’s actually skipped some stages and is mature enough to recognize that Ryan Gosling’s Ken needs to find his own identity apart from her in order for him to find his happiness and fulfillment, and she actually encourages him to do that. [40:23.1]
Now, there’s so much more to be said. I was just going to track throughout the movie, each stage that the Ken figures went through, especially in that fight, the battle at the end that transitioned into a dance off, that transitioned into a kind of solidarity, and for me, that was actually the highlight of the movie, that dance number. It was hilarious.
I want to point out that even the human characters, the teenage daughter and then the adult Mother, are also still in these middle developmental stages, not where Ruth Handler’s character seemed to be anyway, based on the little that we saw of her. But those human characters were also coming into their own and grappling with the various identity challenges in their lives. [41:09.1]
They’re all on their own character arc, their own hero’s journey, and we’re just seeing the middle of it, and that’s okay. It’s definitely okay when it comes to other great movies depicting a flawed male character who undergoes some growth, but certainly isn’t perfect or all compassionate, or all wise or all moral at the end of the movie. And, of course, this leaves the door open for sequels.
So, I want to make that second point there about maturity, developmental stages, the grace, to have the openness to allow female characters to still be in process in development, and noticing how the Ken figures are a perfect, hilarious and entertaining depiction of a codependent White Knight who is growing out of that, but just at the very early stages.
At the end of the movie, he’s moving into the realization that he’s so, but then when Barbie, at the end, lets him off sort of gently, he goes immediately to try to kiss her, because he thinks, Oh, now we’re good. So, he still doesn’t get it, but he’s starting to get it. [42:11.0]
Then the movie ends, and unless you want a five-hour movie, in a two-hour movie, that’s okay, as far as I’m concerned. I think they could have made it two and a half hours so that they could explain how these executives know about these interdimensional portals and then maybe the metaphysics of that, but that’s just me being a nerd.
I also wanted to mention that there’s this beautiful depiction in the movie of the theme of becoming real, and this is found in the classic book, The Velveteen Rabbit, which I recommend everybody read. I might one day do a book analysis on The Velveteen Rabbit, but also of Pinocchio, and you see this theme of, this journey of becoming real, in, of course, Margot Robbie’s Barbie, but also in Gosling’s Ken figure. [42:54.1]
Then the huge theme of death anxiety that they start with and that they never really explore in the rest of the movie in any kind of depth. But I really appreciated using that theme of grappling with death anxiety, as an opening device, and they touch on it in various parts of the rest of the movie, but they don’t really resolve it, in my opinion.
There’s actually so much more to cover. I also had here a note on the feminist monologues and to go through some of those points. But I’m going to try to keep this to a reasonable length and I’m glad I spent most of the time on that first point.
To recap, that first main point was responding to the complaint that there were no mature male characters. I pointed out to the main intended audience and the centering issue, and how challenging it is, acknowledging how challenging it is to enter a very foreign point of view. I wanted to point out that for most men, the female point of view is even more foreign than any other kind of male point of view. [43:53.6]
Then I also very briefly touched on the issue of developmental stages and the importance of grace for allowing female characters to be going through various early developmental stages, as well as an early developmental stage. It’s not necessarily a developmental stage of anybody, but it is an immature stage of the codependent White Knight, which has a perfect depiction in Gosling’s Ken, and actually in all of the Kens, in a way. Then the importance of identity and where you draw your significance from, and then I also just mentioned the themes of becoming real and of death anxiety that I didn’t have any time to get into.
So, if you haven’t yet watched the Barbie movie, I highly recommend that you do that. It’s going to surpass a billion dollars, it’s projected anyway, in the box office globally. If you haven’t purposely gone out to learn and immerse yourself in trying to understand better the young woman’s point of view, watching what is popular for that audience or consuming that literature or those videos to try to get inside their heads to understand their world and what it’s like to live through that experience, let alone a teenage girl’s lived experience or an earlier stage, I highly recommend you do so, especially if you plan on becoming or if you are a dad of a daughter, or if you just want to understand women and connect with them better. And if you want to make the world a better place and have more harmony and connection in it. [45:17.0]
Don’t get stuck like so many of these men are in this place of fear, which will, of course, lead to overcompensating, as you can see in the Ken, what Ken does in the movie, and leads to this anger and just staying in that fear and anger, oscillating between fear and anger. Underneath all of that is, of course, shame, and if that’s never addressed directly, you’re going to get stuck at that stage of just being angry, not getting what you want and blaming the world for your unhappiness. The world has already changed and it’s not going back, thankfully. [45:49.6]
I encourage you to take this opportunity or as many opportunities as you can to decenter your perspective from a male-centric perspective, which, of course, you would and necessarily would have, a male-centric perspective, if you are a man, and you’d have to take extra effort to be able to come out of that perspective and enter into a very foreign point of view and truly understand it from the inside, and then to see your reality from that other point of view. It’s already so difficult to even do that across racial lines, let alone across gender or sexual lines. But if you want to connect with a modern girl or modern woman, you’re going to need to do that.
Thank you so much for listening. If you liked this in any way, subscribe on whatever platform you’re listening to this on. Leave a comment. Give me feedback. I’d love to get feedback. As I mentioned, this episode was prompted by feedback, and if you liked this in any way, if it’s helped you in any way, please share it with anyone else that you think could benefit from it.
Thank you so much for listening. I look forward to welcoming you to the next episode. David Tian, signing out. [46:57.1]
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