Previous Editions of The Bruin's Eye » Ken in The Barbie Movie

Ken in The Barbie Movie

We are All Ken

By: Alexis Lomeli  


Have you ever been blind to how others have treated you? Many of us are ignorant of being exposed to neglect. The movie Barbie was a big hit since audiences made up of both genders related to it. The character that the audience has a big connection to is Ken. They know how it feels to be ignored and not have someone fill their desired needs. “I’m just Ken” is a song that has blown social media away because it resembles what people truly feel on the inside. People have different reactions to the type of treatment that Ken endured. The way Ken feels throughout the movie is what the audience relates to the most. The main thing people ask themselves is if Ken's actions are the correct way to retaliate for the neglect he experiences.

How Barbie Treats Her “Boyfriend” Ken 

   Ken dismisses how Barbie treats him. In an early scene of the movie, Ken leans to kiss Barbie. When Barbie does not return the kiss, he does not acknowledge her rejection. Next Ken asks Barbie if he can stay over at her house and do “boyfriend and girlfriend” things. Barbie shuts down his offer to spend time together, deciding instead that she would rather spend time with her girlfriends. While Barbie does not have to accept his offer, as his girlfriend, it is reasonable for Ken to expect her to spend some time with him. The expectation of a relationship is to spend quality time together, there should be a couple of days that partners dedicate to themselves. However, Ken observes that every night is girls' night, meaning that Barbie never spends time with him in the evenings, and always turns him down.

    Anyone watching Barbie: The Movie, can see how differently Barbie treats Ken than she treats her friends. Ken craves the love and affection of Barbie and spends every single second of the day with her, but she continuously shoots him down. Barbie does not realize the toll that her repeated rejection takes on Ken. He continuously ignores and piles it on which leads to the downfall of Barbie land. In her head, she sees nothing wrong with what she is doing, so the rejection, slowly or harshly turning him do, is unintentional. Ken brought everything that he offered to her feet. Mattel created Ken with one sole purpose—to be obsessed with Barbie and stand there as her arm candy. This portrays the reality of how men view their partners, it can also signify what females want in a partner.   

    Even though Ken brings everything to her feet, and always makes sure she is satisfied, she still neglects him. When asked if Ken was treated fairly in the movie, G.H.S. junior Itzel Jimenez says, “No, Barbie did not take his opinion into consideration.” One commonly expressed opinion about the characters in this movie is that Barbie does not value Ken. Later in the movie, Ken disrupts Barbie's journey and he is lashed out at for his actions. True, Ken might have been in the wrong for sneaking into Barbie's car without notifying her, but Barbie ought to consider that all he wanted to do was give moral support and help her. In accompanying Barbie on the journey, Ken makes a discovery that changes the course of their relationship and the movie itself. 

Ken’s Realization: Men Can Have Power Too 

Once they enter the real world, Barbie and Ken can see that the gender and power dynamics are the opposite of Barbie Land. Barbie is confronted with toxic masculinity and misogyny, while Ken is living the dream. He travels across our “mysterious” land (specifically Los Angeles, California) and gets the idea that the only people with power are men. After discovering this new empowering gender dynamic, Ken marches into a hospital and other places demanding to speak with someone in charge expecting it to be a man, and completely refusing help from women. Next, he reads a book about the history of Patriarchy and produces a plan to bring it to Barbie Land. This plan is not only done out of innovation and curiosity but also in anger. Taking over the government that the Barbies built is an act of retaliation for the treatment the Kens went through, filling the fantasies they have always dreamed of having, not Barbie and Ken just Ken. 

   The audience relates to Ken's storm of rage as a reaction to being disempowered and ignored for too long. Ken obviously did not know what patriarchy was, he just grabbed the first book off the library shelf that described the gender and power dynamics that he had seen in the real world. G.H.S. Drama teacher and a huge fan of the Barbie movie, Ms. Frase summarizes Ken's retaliation against the Barbie Land Matriarchy this way: “[Ken] had been disempowered for such a long time and [Patriarchy] was the only system of power that was available to him. Patriarchy was the only resource that was in front of him. He chose it because it was available.” Ken wanted to feel in control for once and wanted the other Kens to know that they too could have a say for once as well.

   When Ken returns to Barbie Land, he immediately treats the Barbies in the same disempowering way that he has experienced them in the past. Then Barbie waltzes into Barbie Land and sees how her fellow Barbies have been turned into servants to the Kens, a reversal of the power dynamic at the start of the movie. Now it is the Barbies who kiss the ground the Kens walk on, serving every need that they have and paying constant attention to them while fulfilling the “girlfriend” roles that the Kens expect them to fulfill. The Barbies become obsessed with the Kens and brainwashed by Patriarchy. The only change that Ken made to Barbie Land was to reverse the roles that men and women have in relation to each other. Now it is the Barbies must change their personalities to meet the Kens’ needs. 

Ken’s Motivations and Identity are Revealed Photo by Warner Bros

   Ken fully expresses his feelings about all the feelings he was hiding from Barbie in the song “I’m Just Ken.” This song hits the spot in many people's hearts because of how relatable Ken’s feelings are to us. One line from the song “I have feelings that I can't explain. Drivin' me insane. All my life, been so polite. But I’ll sleep alone tonight.” This line sums up the emotions of Ken throughout the movie because what he desires most is Barbie’s love. Even if he continues to be the “perfect boyfriend” for her, that will never be enough.

   He has so many mixed emotions that he cannot fully express them. For the first portion of the movie – before the retaliation – Ken admits that he has always been the nice one, always putting Barbie before himself. Even though he has always been polite to Barbie, he knows at a core level there is not anything he can do to win her affection. The whole meaning behind the song “I’m just Ken,” is to show that Ken genuinely wants Barbie to “see the man behind the tan and fight for [him].” 

   The Barbie movie’s audience observes that Ken’s emotions are not stationary. G.H.S. senior Laysha Garcia observes that Ken experiences emotional growth. Garcia explains that Ken “was a bit clueless in the beginning. He went from focusing on Barbie and everything about her, [to feeling] unwanted by Barbie which made him turn on all the Barbies." Throughout his entire life, Ken was so fixated on Barbie that he never truly figured out who he really was. Towards the end of the movie, Ken has a breaking point and finally expresses his feelings to Barbie. He tells her that he cannot exist without her. Specifically, he tells her what Mattel has established: that it is Barbie and Ken. In other words, Ken has no agency to act on his own apart from Barbie.  Ken feels lost without Barbie and feels that she was his only purpose in life, he was specifically created for Barbie. Ken wants Barbie to exist the same way he did, to have no power of any kind, and only be made for one person. But this kind of relationship can no longer work for Barbie since she finds her purpose in the real world.
Barbie has a talk with Ken telling him, “Maybe it’s just Ken" (as opposed to Barbie AND Ken). This made Ken realize that he no longer must be so fixated on her, that he is "Kenough" (see photo of the hoodie he wears). Garcia adds that at the end of the movie, Ken “understood and figured out that he needed to find himself and not revolve his feelings around Barbie all the time.” 

   Viewers relate to how lost Ken feels. In individual experiences people know how it feels to be shut down, ignored, and rejected. Ken is a character loved by the audience because they have been in his shoes. We know how doing whatever we can for a person can turn out to never be enough. We know how making mistakes can lead to the end of a relationship. Ken is a touchstone for relationship problems, and his journey demonstrates what most males or females go through because of their romantic feelings for someone. Ken is relatable because we have all, at least once, been Ken.