Opinion: Now that Barbie is real, whom will she vote for?

Will Barbie make an out of the box choice in the presidential race?
The original Barbie doll, released by Mattel in 1959. She's out of the box and facing the real world. Whmo will she vote for in November?

Credit: Handout photo

Credit: Handout photo

The original Barbie doll, released by Mattel in 1959. She's out of the box and facing the real world. Whmo will she vote for in November?

I hope you’ll forgive me for saying that unlike millions of moviegoers who made it one of the 20 top-grossing films of all time, I didn’t like “Barbie.” And judging by the few Oscar nominations “Barbie” received this week, many members of the Motion Picture Academy agree with me. (Although I admit it’s true that Academy members often are churlish when it comes to recognizing films that are enormous box office hits.)

I’m a huge fan of almost everything that Greta Gerwig and her life partner Noah Baumbach have written together and that she’s directed and often acted in. Gerwig’s version of Little Women is high on my list of favorite films.

But “Barbie,” not so much. As the movie began, it started out as Barbie’s story, but midway in, the plot is commandeered by Ken and his juvenile, patriarchal gang of bros. There was something unseemly about the way that Ryan Gosling’s strutting, scene-stealing performance as Ken — which ironically did win an Oscar nomination — overwhelmed the touching story of the doll’s awakening to the wonders and pitfalls of the real world.

Maybe I’m just being sentimental. I was 11 years old when Mattel introduced the first Barbie doll in 1959. It was an immediate sensation among the girls in my neighborhood, despite the outrage of some frumps who were appalled by a doll that had real curves under her original outfit — a black and white zebra-striped swimsuit. In 1961, when Mattel introduced Ken with his molded plastic hair (blond or brown, buyer’s choice) he seemed to be an afterthought, an attempt to give Barbie some male companionship.

When the story does focus on Barbie, Gerwig and Baumbach’s intention is to show her wide-eyed transition from the pink, fantasy world of Barbie Land into the real world. But they miss key opportunities to make strong statements about the reality of the world Barbie is entering. They play for laughs a moment when Barbie, in her new life, sees a billboard filled with women and thinks it’s a depiction of the Supreme Court. As the New York Times film critic Manohla Dargis pointed out in her review of the film, given the Court’s overturning of Roe, “The gag is an unpleasant reminder of all the profoundly unfunny ways this world with its visible and invisible hands tries to control women, putting them in little boxes.”

“Barbie” landed in theaters last July, just as 2024 presidential campaigns were ramping up. And now that she’s become a real woman, Barbie, like the rest of us, has to decide who she’ll vote for.

By the time Election Day rolls around in November, I imagine she and a chastened Ken will have settled down together in a little suburban bungalow where they watch their budget carefully, worrying about the price of gas and groceries and wondering if they’ll have the money to pay the rent each month.

To win her vote, the Biden campaign might take a cue from the last — and very best — line of the film in which Barbie (spoiler alert) arrives at an office and announces she’s there to see her gynecologist. The campaign will try to persuade her that only President Biden is committed to putting reproductive rights in the hands of women and their doctors, not politicians and the courts.

Meanwhile, Republicans will argue that if Barbie and Ken are struggling financially, it’s Biden’s economic policies that are to blame.

As they go to the polls it’s not hard to picture Ken casting his ballot for the bro-supreme, Donald Trump. It is precisely white men like Ken who Trump is counting on to help put him back in the White House.

But we can’t be certain about Barbie. Will reproductive rights be the key to her vote? The president’s success in passing a massive bipartisan infrastructure bill? His commitment to voting rights and racial justice? Or will she agree with Donald Trump and fear the country is off course on issues like immigration, the economy, government spending, and entanglements in foreign wars?

In my imagining, Barbie will become one of the legions of suburban women who both the Biden and Trump campaigns will court aggressively and who could very well determine the outcome of the election. And that’s not far from the intention that Barbie’s creator Ruth Handler had in mind when she invented the Barbie doll. Handler wanted little girls to have an adult doll that could inspire them to think about what they could become in the future — a doctor, an airline pilot, and more. And now that Greta Gerwig has made Barbie “real” she will soon play a crucial role — as a voter in what many see as one of the most crucial presidential elections in American history