Psychologist examines the emotional growth of Barbie’s boyfriend – Boston Herald


Spoiler alert: The following interview discusses several plot elements of the film “Barbie.”

Before psychologist Eric FitzMedrud donned a pink tie and joined his wife for a date night to see the summer blockbuster movie “Barbie,” he was all too familiar with the anxiety that the character of Ken feels about his place in the world and in Barbie’s life.

FitzMedrud specializes in counseling individuals and couples on relationships and sexual issues and is set to publish a book, “The Better Man: A Guide to Consent, Stronger Relationships, and Hotter Sex” (Wonderwell, 2023), in September. The book offers men advice on how to get past the conflicting messages they receive about how to be “enough.” On one hand, he writes, men are told that they can’t be masculine enough unless they reject feminism and embrace the “abject misogyny” of certain cultural figures. Or, they worry about how to enter into relationships and sex, with a post-#MeToo awareness about consent.

All along, FitzMedrud says they’ve grown up in a patriarchal society that pushes entitlement, control and performance but hurts them emotionally by not allowing them to show vulnerability. “You want to be a good man, but what does that even mean, when the definition of ‘good man’ keeps changing,” FitzMedrud asks in his book.

FitzMedrud agrees that Ken, winningly played by Ryan Gosling in Greta Gerwig’s “Barbie,” struggles with his what it means to be “a good man.” Sure, Ken isn’t human, but a fictional doll who doesn’t have genitals or testosterone. Still, there’s a reason that Ken’s plight with “blonde fragility” has resonated with audiences and sparked national conversation. FitzMedrud offers some reasons why.

Q: What do you think of pundits who have taken offense at “Barbie” and call it “anti-men?”  

A: Any pundit who thinks it is anti-men has confused pro-women for anti-men. I never felt threatened watching it. The closest to that was when Ken said, “Men run the world.” I know that a lot of men on the bottom side of our economic system will feel their experience is not reflected in the absolute statement. Then I remembered this is a movie about Barbie and women, not a movie about men’s liberation. The twinge lasted about 1 second.

Q: Why do you think the film has become such a phenomenon?  

A: One thing making this movie so powerful is the skillful blend of feminist perspectives and accessible humor. I imagine that it is tapping into a sense among women and genderqueer folk that despite generational gains, the victory of feminism is not complete, as evidenced by the need for a #MeToo movement, the rise of misogyny and the fall of abortion rights. The movie also appeals to men who know we need to move forward with feminism.

Q: In your book, you talk about how the patriarchy doesn’t just hurt women, but men as well. Do you want to say more about that? 

A: Some men have a hard time opening up to feminism because the first messages we hear about it are that we are privileged or we are the problem. We are privileged. But we are also damaged and hurt by patriarchy. The patriarchal lie to men is that if we sacrifice our emotions, human connection, and health to work and (to succeed), we will deserve respect, love, and admiration. … Women have articulated many new ways to be a woman. Men have yet to embrace a multifaceted model of manhood.

Q: In the movie, Ken accompanies Barbie to “the real world” and discovers a place where men are in charge. But after Ken brings the patriarchy back to Barbie Land, do you think he’s really happy? 

A: As a man, the most important thing about this part of the movie is that Ken was still unhappy. He still wanted Stereotypical Barbie to want him. When she didn’t, he tried to hurt her feelings and even rubbed it in contemptuously, “Now, how does that feel?” But it is all a sham. When he sees how hurt she feels, we see a flicker in his chauvinistic façade. It hurt him to hurt her this way.

Q: In putting Ken and his journey in the context of your book, I was thinking that the Ken we meet at the start of the movie is wounded. He’s been programmed to believe that he has no purpose other than to serve Barbie.  

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