Originally Posted on DW/LJ in 7/12, but still very relevant.
Some of you may know, I have done a 180 on my before-I-was-a-parent anti Barbie stance. There may still be issues, but I have come to believe that Barbie is a great role model, especially in her movies (Life In The Dreamhouse excepted, although I still enjoy it a great deal). If you’re a mom frustrated by the lack of movies about girls and women, Barbie is your girl. She may play princesses or long lost princesses ¾ of the time, and wear clothes that look like they belong in the 80;’, but her characters are movers and shakers, girls who long for adventure and don’t end up settling down with a prince or a pauper instead. They’re princesses who save the kingdom, who sacrifice to do what’s right, who are aided (or opposed) by other girls and women who also have agency and goals beyond marriage or boyfriends. Every movie passes the Bechdel Test with flair. If anything, there is a startling lack of men and boys, and those that are there are often perfunctory, there as background or as potential (often unrealized) for romance.
Ladies and gentlemen, Barbie is the anti-Pixar, which I think is demonstrated in this essay:
Matriarchies, Princesses, and Politics: The World of Princess Charm School.
Help me, folks. I think I’ve finally cracked. I find myself wanting to write a deep feminist analysis of Barbie: Princess Charm School.
Because really, I just cannot sort this out.
I mean, besides the weird politics (there’s a princess of Philadelphia. And you’re born a prince or princess but aren’t really one until you complete this course. It’s seriously weird.), there’s the usual near total absence of male characters – seriously, there are three male characters with speaking roles, and I think they have a dozen lines between them. Barbie movies are seriously like opposite planet.
And the country it’s set in seems to be a matriarchy, I think. Blair (Barbie’s character) is of course the long-lost daughter of the late Queen, and because she’s believed to be dead, the crown is passing to her cousin, Delancy. Who’s becoming a princess, not a Queen (although I think Delancy might become Queen later, if her aunt is any indication? Don’t ask me to explain this stuff.) Delancy’s mother, Dame Devon, is the villain of the piece, who not only recognizes Blair as the spitting image of the late queen, but who engineered the car crash that killed the royal family.
Again, in all of this, there is pretty much NO MENTION of men. There are no fathers anywhere. Blair’s adoptive mother is a single mother who adopted (in Blair’s case, found on the doorstep) two daughters. Her biological father is dead, but he’s really not talked about.) There’s no mention of Delancy’s father, even though I would assume he’s the reason she’s the heir, although Dame Devon could be the late king’s sister, which again makes it odd that he is mentioned all of once.
Because (and this is what set me off at 5:30AM) it’s made clear that her mother is only “special” because of Delancy’s status, not her own – she went to the school but failed to earn a spot after her own graduation from the school. This is said to make Blair feel better about Dame Devin always cutting her down. And they’re not outright saying that marrying into status is inferior than earning it through character as Blair (along with her royal lineage; character is mentioned a lot in this movie) and eventually Delancy do, but you know, it’s kind of implied whether they meant it or not.
See? I told you to talk me down. And did you? No.