Watch out! This post contains spoilers.
Greta Gerwig's "Barbie" movie is already a smash hit worldwide, breaking box office records and becoming a huge cultural phenomenon. While Margot Robbie's Barbie and Ryan Gosling's Ken have got the most attention, it's America Ferrera who gets the movie's biggest moment: an intensely emotional monologue that brings the whole movie and its themes together.
Near the end of the movie, all the Barbies (except for "Stereotypical" Barbie, played by Robbie) are essentially brainwashed when the Kens bring the patriarchy to Barbieland. Robbie's version of Barbie is the only one who knows the truth about how things used to be — and what the outside "real" world is like — but at first, she can't convince the other Barbies. It's left to Ferrera's character, Gloria — a Mattel employee (and the mother of the little girl whose Barbie doll is linked to Stereotypical Barbie) — to try to rouse Barbie with words of wisdom that wind up summing up so much of the experience of being a woman in the real world.
"It is literally impossible to be a woman."
Ferrera reflects on the terrible double standards that women face in order to meet societal expectations. She lists off just a few of those things: being thin (but "not too thin"), being a leader without being perceived as too harsh, being a good mother without talking about your kids all the time, standing up for yourself without being accused of making trouble, being pretty but not in a "threatening" way, being strong but not selfish, and so on. It's a laundry list of all the stresses and impossible contradictions that encompass being a woman — which are, of course, even further exacerbated for women of colour, queer women, women with body types outside of the "norm," and others who hold intersectional identities.
Most emotionally, Gloria highlights just how much of a toll it takes to live up to all those impossible standards in a world rigged against us. "It is literally impossible to be a woman," she tells Barbie. "You are so beautiful, and so smart, and it kills me that you don't think you're good enough. Like, we have to always be extraordinary, but somehow we're always doing it wrong."
Gloria eventually ends her powerful speech by saying, "I'm just so tired of watching myself and every single other woman tie herself into knots so that people will like us. And if all of that is also true for a doll just representing women, then I don't even know."
That's the core of the movie as a whole, when we really think about it. "Barbie" isn't just some girl-boss, smash-the-patriarchy-in-high-heels movie. It's about how gendered pressures and expectations hurt all of us. After all, the Kens also suffer from feeling like they lack identity, both in the status-quo, women-ruled Barbieland and in the Ken-ruled patriarchy.
Yes, "Barbie" puts into words that harsh, sexist reality so many women experience on a daily basis. But more importantly, it also presents a way forward: a gleefully, joyously equitable society where we're not bound by being Barbies or Kens (or Midges, or Allans, for that matter), one in which we are instead each free to discover who we really are.
Read America Ferrera's Full Monologue From "Barbie"
It is literally impossible to be a woman. You are so beautiful, and so smart, and it kills me that you don't think you're good enough. Like, we have to always be extraordinary, but somehow we're always doing it wrong.
You have to be thin, but not too thin. And you can never say you want to be thin. You have to say you want to be healthy, but also you have to be thin. You have to have money, but you can't ask for money because that's crass. You have to be a boss, but you can't be mean. You have to lead, but you can't squash other people's ideas. You're supposed to love being a mother, but don't talk about your kids all the damn time. You have to be a career woman but also always be looking out for other people. You have to answer for men's bad behaviour, which is insane, but if you point that out, you're accused of complaining. You're supposed to stay pretty for men, but not so pretty that you tempt them too much or that you threaten other women because you're supposed to be a part of the sisterhood.
But always stand out and always be grateful. But never forget that the system is rigged. So find a way to acknowledge that but also always be grateful. You have to never get old, never be rude, never show off, never be selfish, never fall down, never fail, never show fear, never get out of line.
It's too hard! It's too contradictory and nobody gives you a medal or says thank you! And it turns out in fact that not only are you doing everything wrong, but also everything is your fault.
I'm just so tired of watching myself and every single other woman tie herself into knots so that people will like us. And if all of that is also true for a doll just representing women, then I don't even know.