The Barbie Method

In her video Damsel in Distress (Part 1) Tropes vs Women in Video Games, Anita Sarkeesian brings up a lot of interesting points about the classic female tropes we have been conditioned to see as the norm. It was very interesting to note has these tropes permeate even the most “harmless” games and tap into the male ego and motivation.

While watching this video, I immediately thought about the Barbie move released this summer and its impact on media, culture, and both male and female stereotypes. I am not familiar enough with the world of gaming to make an adequate parallel to a game that accomplishes similar objectives, but I think that certain elements of the Barbie provide direct responses to the issues that Sarkeesian thoroughly explains.

For example, she notes that “in a game of patriarchy, women are not the opposing team, they are the ball.” When Ken discovers the patriarchy he aims to make all of the Barbies pawns in a Ken’s world as one might argue he and the other Kens were before. The movie shifts from disempowering men to empowering women (in the original Barbie Land) to, as Sarkeesian notes occurs in most video games, the “disempowerment of female characters for the empowerment of male characters” in order to benefit the character arch of a male character. Both of these power dynamics are problematic for a myriad of reasons. This is where the entire movie shifts and creates a pattern that could be imitated in games in an effort to move past the damsel in distress trope. In the movie, it becomes evident that the patriarchy serves no one. It definitely doesn’t serve Barbie, but it doesn’t serve Ken either. On the flip side, neither did the scenario in which the Barbies were superior. Both needed to have individual ideas, talents, and contributions in order for them to thrive individually and as a society.

How could this be applied to video games? Featuring characters of both genders, with individual gifts and powers that are essential to winning the game could be a good place to start. Some type of rescue is essential to the chase of most games, but showing both men and women in perilous situations and giving both the opportunity to think critically for escape could help overcome stereotypes.

Why does it matter now? We are at a critical time in entertainment. We aware of harmful stereotypes and the damage they can cause to young male and female minds- the exact target for many games. Kids and teenagers are using media to discover the world and create opinions. Video games are a large part of that development for many children. Making changes to video games to overcome the damsel in distress trope will benefit both male and female players and help in the effort to disband harmful stereotypes for both genders.

AI Blog Post:

Prompt: Write a 250 word essay about the video Damsel in Distress (Part 1) Tropes vs Women in Video Games by Anita Sarkeesian and the damsel in distress trope in video games. If relevant, include information about the Barbie movie.

In Anita Sarkeesian’s video series, “Damsel in Distress (Part 1),” she conducts a critical examination of the pervasive trope of the “damsel in distress” in video games. This trope typically involves a female character being portrayed as helpless, often serving as the central motivation for a male protagonist. Sarkeesian’s analysis sheds light on the harmful implications of this trope in gaming and its broader societal impact.

The damsel in distress trope tends to reinforce gender stereotypes by portraying women as weak, passive, and in need of male rescue. This not only limits the representation of women in video games but also perpetuates harmful ideas about their capabilities and worth. Moreover, it can send a message to players that women exist primarily as plot devices, rather than as fully developed characters with agency and depth.

Sarkeesian’s examination also highlights how this trope has been a recurring theme in gaming history, from classic titles like “Donkey Kong” to more recent games. She discusses the ways in which the trope is sometimes used to create artificial stakes and drive the male protagonist’s storyline forward, often at the expense of meaningful female representation.

Sarkeesian’s analysis extends to other media, including the Barbie movies, which are not video games but share similar storytelling elements. These films have been criticized for perpetuating traditional gender roles, with Barbie frequently cast as a character in need of rescue or a passive figure.

In conclusion, Sarkeesian’s “Damsel in Distress (Part 1)” provides a thought-provoking examination of the damsel in distress trope in video games and its broader implications. By calling attention to the ways in which this trope reinforces gender stereotypes and limits the portrayal of women in media, Sarkeesian encourages both players and creators to be more critical of the narratives they engage with and create. Her work serves as a vital contribution to the ongoing conversation about diversity and representation in the gaming industry and in media as a whole.

Note: I remembered after writing this prompt that AI is not current enough to provide information on the Barbie movie, making my prompt ineffective.

Image Credits:

Princess Peach: Wikipedia

Barbie: Warner Bros. Entertainment

4 responses to “The Barbie Method”

  1. Sarah Bettinger Avatar
    Sarah Bettinger

    Super interesting how despite not having any information about the Barbie Movie, ChatGPT makes the claim that Anita Sarkeesian mentioned Barbie movies in her analysis (which she didn’t). I think you made some really interesting comparisons in your analysis though.

  2. Catherine Eyre Avatar
    Catherine Eyre

    A bit tangential to the Damsel in Distress, but I like how you brought up that media (including video games) can be really formational for children, especially with how they engage with gender stereotypes. I didn’t play a lot of games growing up, but I did watch a lot of TV, both shows clearly targeted towards young girls and shows targeted towards young boys. The female-oriented shows did have a lot of active female characters, but they were almost always also preoccupied with fashion, boys, pink glitter, etc. Which, to be fair, can be really fun, but it was to a level where I just naturally accepted that ANY shows targeted towards girls would be like that, and if I wanted something else I should find shows targeted mainly at boys.

  3. Shaylyn Lawyer Avatar
    Shaylyn Lawyer

    I love your comparison to the Barbie movie. I think it will be interesting to see how video games change in the future as more attention is brought to these gender stereotypes. I feel like we’re already seeing a lot of media, like the Barbie movie, that are starting to turn away from or pointing out these stereotypes. I also like your comments on why this matters. I feel that a lot of the perceptions I formed growing up were influenced by the media I watched. So its interesting to think about the extent to which a lot of the stereotypical “female” things (i.e., pink, dresses, damsel roles) might be perpetuated more by the influence of media portrayals and how these stereotypes would diminish if there was less of a stark contrast in some of the portrayals and roles of males and females.

  4. Brian Croxall Avatar

    I find ChatGPT’s claim that the Barbie movies (not the 2023 version) show Barbie as a damsel in distress. My memory of my daughter watching any number of different animated Barbie shows was that Barbie was the hero and generally the one doing all the work. The work didn’t always involve rescuing someone, but she was anything but a passive character.

    I haven’t seen this year’s Barbie movie yet (surprise!), but I appreciate you making the connection to something new in our culture that is clearly wrestling with these same ideas.

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