5 Minute Read

Calling for a Sequel: Barbie & Ken Foster Gender Parity

By Susan MacKenty Brady
August 15, 2023
ken and barbie dolls sitting in a chair

I loved the Barbie movie, but instead of raising my fist inspired to rule the world in hot pink with fellow women, I found myself worried about the plight of men like Ken. 

Spoiler alert for those who haven’t yet seen the movie or don’t intend to: Barbie wins in the end. But Ken (all the Ken’s — e.g. men) didn’t fare so well after an attempted takeover of Barbie Land once they understood the rules of patriarchy. 

The movie left only women in charge, and men as the second-class citizens with less opportunity, power, and self-confidence.

I asked myself, would a shift of power in the world from one dominant gender to another in equal levels of inequity be the right outcome for the crusade for inclusion, equal rights for women, and gender parity in leadership?

I think – not.

The Future Is Inclusive

Without men, we will not reach parity (gender or other) in the ranks of all that matters (namely leadership, where there is the power to create impact and wealth, and equity.) Why? Because it’s a losing strategy when some women make the very people that are dominantly in power (men) feel like they will be suckers and second-class citizens if they help right the ship.

Already, men are backing off of mentoring and advocating for women. There are more women in the workforce than ever before, graduating at higher rates because women outnumber men in college. Women thriving in society will only continue. We aren’t going anywhere. But do we need to be the ONLY ruling class?

A bad outcome of elevating half of the world’s population (women) when we have been and continue to still be treated unequally would be alienating the other half. The future is inclusive. It is feminine AND masculine. Gender equality is good for society — and our economic growth.

So, while I laughed at Ken’s “I am Kenough” sweatshirt, I wished this wasn’t funny because so many women — myself included — have struggled with feeling NOT good enough. I don’t rejoice in anyone or any group feeling less than another. Not even Ken. 

Power Sharing in BarKen Land?

Maybe the NEXT Barbie movie has a shared power structure — where there is representation of identity and genders in power. There is effectiveness in working together. In this sequel, we watch as the characters seek to understand and problem-solve with intellectual humility, knowing that every situation is more complicated than any one person can see. They stay curious and look to better understand one another’s perspectives. They know that what they think and feel drives what they say and do, so they pay attention to moments when they might be triggered — moments when they are at risk of saying or doing something they might regret. When they mess up, they clean up by taking responsibility for the gap between their intention and their impact (apologizing is a lost art.) 

A World Where There Is Margin for Error (AKA: Learning & Growth)

If you’re yawning at the thought of a next Barbie movie with all of this skillful collaboration, worry not. We humans (and therefore human-programmed dolls) are terrible at this. Where there are relationships, there will be misunderstanding and conflict. Where there is conflict, there is room for humor and drama and growth. This is where the movie will still be entertaining. 

Misunderstandings abound. Assumptions are made even when we try to assume best intent. This is what makes life and love and relationships and organizational cultures…nuanced, tricky, and wrought with conflict. Biases impact judgment and ways we communicate. All this crazy human behavior is rich for…well, nearly every movie ever made. Every love story ever told. Every workplace dramedy.

Imagine a world where there is margin for error when we make genuine mistakes? Imagine that when we say or do something that unintentionally caused another to feel slighted, hurt, angry or resentful we skillfully apologize? Imagine a world where each human owned the job of being in respect to themselves and didn’t rely on others to make them feel worthy? Imagine feeling good enough (not less than or better than another) — and walking through life in a place of warm regard for your gifts, strengths and value — and in warm regard for the gifts strengths and value of others? 

Ken and Barbie get to be powerful, respected and fabulous at the same time? Yep.

In my next-gen Barbie movie, however, the joke is on those who are inauthentically politically correct and the he-roes and she-roes are those who have the courage to stumble and repair — even at work. We watch as Ken and Barbie learn to speak with respect from a place of honoring oneself and others.

The miss of the current Barbie movie? It perpetuates a men-are-less refrain. Why would ANY group lead the way to inclusion if we sell to them a life of feeling useless and not good enough once we arrive there? Humility? Yes. Awareness? Yes. But a world where men are fundamentally LESS THAN women? Nope. That’s not my dream, anyway.

Am I offering too much empathy to the Kens of the world? Perhaps. But I don’t have 132 years to help right the ship — so how about: Barbie & Ken Foster Gender Parity: The Sequel – anyone wanna go with me? I’ll be the one handing out the popcorn!