We may earn a commission when you buy through links in our articles. Learn more.

Ken isn’t the Barbie movie’s villain - the patriarchy is

In the Barbie movie's marketing, Ryan Gosling's Ken became the breakout star. But the movie shows that his 'Kenergy' is a lot more complex than we realize.

ryan gosling as ken fur coat in barbie

Throughout the Barbie movie’s elaborate press tour, everyone fell deeper and deeper in love with Ken. Of course, the fact that Ryan Gosling plays Ken helps with this enormously, but as trailers and preview clips play up Ken’s ‘himbo’ mentality, it’s clear that we as a collective have ‘babygirlified’ the Barbie character.

For those of you not chronically online, what I mean by this is that every month, the internet collectively decides to swoon over a high-profile white man to near-pathological levels. From The Last of Us cast member Pedro Pascal to Succession’s Kendall Roy, a new movie or drama series’ marketing isn’t complete until the hive mind of Twitter has decided to put the male lead onto an absurdly high pedestal.

If you need any further proof that Ken has become our white man of the month, a quick scroll on social media tells you everything you need to know. Dozens of tweets and TikToks praising his adoration for Barbie, empty gaze, and ‘golden retriever’ energy have gone viral, and it’s clear that the marketing strategy for the Barbie movie capitalized on this. Why else would ‘Kenergy’ become part of the Barbie cast’s daily lexicon? But in making us fall in love with Ken before even meeting him, the Barbie movie taught us a very important lesson. (Warning: mild spoilers ahead.)

It would be simplistic to refer to Ken as a movie villain — but his surprising character arc in the Barbie movie definitely teaches us a lesson or two about ‘nice guys.’ How often have women, especially, been taken in by a seemingly harmless man’s devotion to them, only to scratch a little beneath the surface and discover that this devotion was actually love bombing? Or, in fact, a man feeling entitled to a relationship with you because he’s nice to you?

In real life, as we learn more about the ‘nice guy,’ we might discover that what we thought were green flags were actually red flags. And similarly, with Ken, we realize that even the most physically perfect man on paper isn’t immune to being corrupted by the flimsy male ego.

This dichotomy between the Ken that was advertised to us versus the Ken we end up getting is key to what I believe is the true message of Barbie: we’re all victims of the patriarchy.

YouTube Thumbnail

When Ken enters the ‘real world,’ witnessing the patriarchy in action strikes a chord with his already-fragile masculinity, and we watch as this ideology slowly corrupts him, the other Kens, and Barbieland as a whole.

The Barbies end up being ‘programmed’ by these ideals. Still, it later transpires that the only antidote to this is actively educating them on the pitfalls of this kind of thinking: calling out these patriarchal attitudes and explaining why they’re harmful. It’s only then that the Barbies are able to realize their worth.

And the same goes for the Kens — once they themselves are free from the constraints of toxic masculinity and patriarchal thought, they’re happier. They feel more able to express their emotions, become more vulnerable, and forge an identity for themselves outside the heteronormative couplings assigned to them by the Mattel overlords.

Barbie movie: Ryan Gosling as Ken surfing in Barbie

Dismantling the patriarchy in the ‘real word’ might be trickier than dismantling a Barbie dreamhouse, but the message is clear. Everyone’s life in Barbieland, male or female, is better once they’re able to free themselves from patriarchal thought.

And if you need any further proof that the same is true of the ‘real world,’ look no further than some of the angry reviews the Barbie movie is already getting. If it’s already rattling a bunch of fragile men’s cages, with cries of “misandry,” “wokeness,” and “anti-man,” then it’s clearly doing something right.

Barbie movie: Ryan Gosling as Ken medical dressing in Barbie

First things first, if you want to know more about our thoughts on the Barbie cast, check out our Barbie review. Then, read our guides on the Barbie ending explained, the Barbie soundtrack, Barbie post-credit scene, and how to watch Barbie.

Finally, if you want to understand this Barbie world a little more, here are our guides asking questions like who is Ruth, is Ken a villain, why does Ken hate Ken, who is the Narrator, is the Barbie movie a musical, and what age rating is the Barbie movie?