The problem with Shakira’s “Barbie” comments

Shakira may not have seen the same “Barbie” movie as the rest of us.

In a recent interview with Allure, during a discussion about female empowerment, the Colombian singer-songwriter shared that her two young sons — whom she shares with her ex, Spanish soccer player Gerard Piqué — were not fans of Great Gerwig‘s unabashedly feminist film, “Barbie.” “My sons absolutely hated it,” Shakira said of her boys: Milan, 11, and Sasha, 9. “They felt that it was emasculating. And I agree, to a certain extent.”

“Barbie” proves to be something of a litmus test for how people blueprint their own feelings, opinions and ideas.

“I’m raising two boys. I want ’em to feel powerful too [while] respecting women,” she added. “I like pop culture when it attempts to empower women without robbing men of their possibility to be men, to also protect and provide. I believe in giving women all the tools and the trust that we can do it all without losing our essence, without losing our femininity. I think that men have a purpose in society, and women have another purpose as well. We complement each other, and that complement should not be lost.”

“Just because a woman can do it all doesn’t mean she should?” Allure’s reporter asked. 

“Why not share the load with people who deserve to carry it, who have a duty to carry it as well?” the singer replied.

Braided with shades of a misconstrued notion of feminism, Shakira’s statement is problematic, not for the personal views she lays out, but for how she projects them onto “Barbie”‘s agenda.

For starters, Shakira’s take on the Oscar-winning blockbuster falls uncomfortably in line with conservative critics, who panned the film as “propaganda” and an example of “toxic femininity.” 

Ginger Gaetz, wife of far-right Rep. Matt Gaetz, Fla., shared a tweet over the summer detailing a pros and cons list after watching the film, advising people to skip it because, “The 2023 Barbie movie, unfortunately, neglects to address any notion of faith or family, and tries to normalize the idea that men and women can’t collaborate positively (yuck).”  Fox News contributor Leslie Marshall shared on a panel that women “don’t need to put men down to lift yourself up as a woman.” And Rep. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, in perhaps the most ludicrous of all the “Barbie” backlash, peddled a conspiracy theory that claimed the movie was advancing “communist propaganda” for its depiction of a map that shows contested territory in the South China Sea. 

In “Barbie” and the broader cultural history, Barbie and Ken have never been formally coupled.

Then comes Shakira’s comment about “duty,” in which she implies that Barbie didn’t allow Ryan Gosling‘s Ken to shoulder enough of the hypothetical burden she seems to believe should be more equitably distributed between men and women. While there’s nothing objectively wrong with a fair distribution of labor in any relationship, Shakira’s sentiment misses the mark, contextually speaking. Her reading of traditional gender roles seems to posit that Gerwig did not allow Gosling’s character to engage in a distinct level of machismo that is not only worthy of such an iconic male character but also proportionate to his role as Barbie’s given counterpart.

However, in “Barbie” and the broader cultural history, Barbie and Ken have never been formally coupled, which is to say that while they may be romantically attached, they are not married. It’s not lost on me that we are talking about plastic dolls.

In the film especially, Barbie (Margot Robbie), while always kind to Ken, never demonstrates a preference for being romantically interested in him. While Ken spends a significant portion of the movie pining after her and feeling like “I’m Just Ken,” he — and droves of other Kens — ultimately gains the confidence to exist happily as himself, without relying on Barbie to simply be Ken. 

“Did she not watch the ending of the movie where the Ken’s [sic] finally got their respect and their purpose was showcased?” one X/Twitter user asked. 

On perhaps a more obvious level, if Shakira subscribes to traditional gender roles — and thereby transmits that ideology to her children — why would they enjoy “Barbie”? It’s a campy comedy that is known, in part, for its depiction and championing of feminism (which, as a reminder, is not synonymous with hating men.) “Barbie” is not made for Shakira and her pre-adolescent sons, insofar as she presents her family in the Allure piece: it’s a story about women coming into power autonomously, independent of the patriarchy and all its trappings; Shakira seems to have taught her sons that this balance is a deviation from the “norm.”

“So she took 2 YOUNG BOYS (no older than 12) to a movie based on a popular doll aimed and targeted towards young girls and women, and was surprised when said young boys felt emasculated, on top of HER not understanding the message?” another X/Twitter user posted. “Oh she tanked.”

Another tweeted, “People DO realize not every movie, song, game or book are specifically made for them right?” 

Time and time again, “Barbie” proves to be something of a litmus test for how people blueprint their own feelings, opinions and ideas. But given that Shakira herself is an incredibly strong and successful woman and musician, her thoughts on “Barbie” feel all the more strange. Perhaps we can look to Shakira’s public 2022 breakup with Piqué, who allegedly cheated on her numerous times during the 11 years they were together, as a metric by which we can measure her remarks. In the wake of suffering such abysmal treatment by a man, Shakira has every right to firmly lay out the kind of man she wants: a man who won’t be guilty of infidelity and will adhere to traditional gender values. 

And that’s fine — it’s what Shakira wants. But it’s sure as hell not what Barbie wants.

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