Barbie, Oppenheimer and the Gender Conundrum

The two most awaited movies of the year- Oppenheimer and Barbie hit theatres a few days ago. As millions waited for their release and marketing aficionados went gaga, a particular section of the internet was divided. This section took to social media to mock and claim that real fans (read ‘real men’) should not watch the Greta Gerwig directorial.. A colleague posted a WhatsApp story mocking the ‘feminine’ traits of the movie and how Oppenheimer fans are somehow superior to those of Barbie. The hot pink aesthetic of the movie and male characters who don’t conform to the macho idea of being the bulked up wooer of women is what bugged this section of critics. The mere idea that a person can like both Oppenheimer and Barbie was strangely abhorrent to them.

It is ironic that these ‘real’ Oppenheimer fans couldn’t help but notice that by reducing the Nolan masterpiece to just a veneer of masculinity took a lot away from the homage to the perils and opportunities of science that the movie was. It was a disservice to the dreamers who imagined a different world from the one in which they live. Some of the greatest scientists in the world were from historically marginalised communities. Science like all other fields would have been left bereft if only straight white cisgendered men contributed to it.

Will these ‘Chads’ (internet term for a hypermasculine man) also mock Marie Curie for being a woman and Alan Turing for being gay? If the answer is yes, they are in for a rude shock, since without Curie the world may not have had x-rays or even the most rudimentary treatment for cancer. In the case of Turing, the irony is even richer, since the very smartphones on which they spell out hate would not exist without him.

If their answer is no, why did they then mock the legions of fans who liked or wanted to go into the dream-like and escapist world shown in Barbie? Tolerance and curiosity or scientific temper, in short, does not judge people for their choices but boldly questions the unquestioned.

The traditionally feminine aesthetic shown in Barbie goes against everything that these champions of patriarchy believe in. The hot pink worn by celebrities around the world to promote the movie would imaginably have been an eye sore for them.

The purpose of this piece is not to take anything away from Oppenheimer or ridicule it, but to try and show that this spew of male or female, right or wrong, grey or white criticism is just that, criticism, not a constructive one, but one aimed at mocking & shaming.

Mattel(the company behind the iconic doll) had in an effort to make the toy industry more inclusive (and make more money) released a line of dolls which represent non-white and non-conforming people Images of the rather reductively termed ‘down syndrome Barbie doll’ symbolises the company’s efforts to make a more inclusive environment for young children.

The larger picture is that movies like Oppenheimer and Barbie will come and go but the two coinciding presented a unique opportunity for us to rethink gender norms, widen fandoms and try to shed our innate prejudices. While a lot of us celebrated and enjoyed both with equal fervour, some of us sadly still thought that boys play with bombs and girls play with dolls.

Akul Baiju