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‘Barbie’ is becoming a new litmus test for dating men

“It’s like the new question on a first date or your dating profile: ‘What are your thoughts on the ‘Barbie’ movie?’” said one TikTok user, who posted about her boyfriend’s reaction to the film.
/ Source: NBC News

Women around the world are taking their boyfriends to see “Barbie” in hope of answering one fundamental question: Is he “Kenough”?

Across social media, many women have been encouraging one another to use the movie as a litmus test to gauge whether their male dates can understand, or are at least receptive to, its feminist messaging. 

Nicole Hoefler, a 32-year-old woman from Cologne, Germany, said she calls it the “Barbie test.”

“It’s like the new question on a first date or your dating profile: ‘What are your thoughts on the Barbie movie?’” she said. “Because if a guy really doesn’t want to see it or he’s not open to talking about it or, what’s even worse yet, if he’s seen it and he thinks it’s not a good movie or he doesn’t get the point, I think it’s kind of a no-go.”

To her pleasant surprise, her boyfriend passed with flying colors. Hoefler, who shared her boyfriend’s reaction to the film on TikTok, said she had originally planned to glam up in a pink dress and enjoy the movie alone because she didn’t expect him to be interested in “Barbie” — until he asked to join her, digging up a baby pink shirt to match her outfit.

She and several other women who spoke with NBC News said watching “Barbie” felt like seeing their everyday experiences showcased on the big screen. But Hoefler said that after having heard so many men react to the movie defensively, she felt lucky to have a partner who actively wanted to discuss the impacts of patriarchy afterward.

“He just confirmed many things I always knew, like his empathy and how emotionally intelligent he is,” Hoefler said. “I think it’s easy for a woman to understand the movie, but I never expected him to get everything at this level.”

Part of the shock, these women say, comes from the assumption that men who are willing to engage in supportive conversations about feminism are hard to come by. 

Catie Alvarez, 21, of Vancouver, British Columbia, posted in a viral TikTok video this week that she “can’t relate” to all the women lamenting that their boyfriends didn’t understand the movie.

Alvarez said her boyfriend suggested and planned the whole outing, including finding a Barbie-themed outfit for himself that specifically matched hers. After the movie, she said, he listened to and validated the thoughts she shared about navigating the world as a woman.

“I have a lot of friends who had boyfriends who were like, ‘That has nothing to do with me,’ or like, ‘I’m not interested in that, so I don’t want to go watch it,’” Alvarez said. “A lot of men just see ‘Barbie’ and are like, no, but I think I’m just surprised to have a man who let me have my opinion and not try to put his own spin on it.”

Hasna Bouderra, 18, of Dunkirk, France, said in a TikTok video that she thinks discussions of “Barbie” will serve as a new test of compatibility when she goes on future dates with men: If they don’t get the point, they’re probably not a good match.

“I think it would be great if men could all watch it,” Bouderra said in an interview. “I’d like them to understand. It’s like taking a new point of view. They get to see how they make women feel.”

Raissa Az Zahra, 21, of Jakarta, Indonesia, shares that sentiment. She found the movie’s themes to be personally relatable, and she said she believes it can help audiences who haven’t experienced womanhood, such as men or young children, better understand women’s perspectives.

After she watched “Barbie” with her boyfriend, she said, he was eager to learn more about how she related to Barbie’s experiences.

“I remember him saying that he realized how hard it was to be a woman,” said Az Zahra, who posted a TikTok video about the moviegoing experience with her boyfriend. “He has been a walking green flag already, but he told me that after watching the Barbie movie, he acknowledged a lot of things that at first he might not have seen.”

That dynamic seems to be rare among other couples, she said, based on the stories she has heard from friends and seen on social media. Because of the movie’s direct approach to feminism, Az Zahra said, she believes how men respond to seeing “Barbie” could be an effective gauge of their respect for women.

“Maybe there are men who hate the Barbie movie but would still respect their girlfriend to the extent that their girlfriend feels safe and all right with them,” she said. “But in my personal opinion, it’s a pretty good test to see the point of view of your boyfriend towards things.”

For some, seeing “Barbie” also acted as a catalyst for breaking up with incompatible partners.

Theresa Arzate, 27, of Dallas, said her ex-boyfriend’s reaction in the theater was a “wakeup call.” Now, she’s looking for apartments as she prepares to move out next month.

“There were certain parts where he was like, ‘Oh, are you crying?’ in dislike and total shock, and it just really upset me,” Arzate, who opened up about her break up on Twitter, said. “His reaction to ‘Barbie’ just really took me aback. … This isn’t the kind of partner that I want to have.”

As a former military service member, she said that being a woman in a male-dominated space took a significant mental and emotional toll. It was part of why many of the movie’s themes felt validating to her experience.

“It just was really moving for me, and it really made me sad to feel that I am doing everything that I can to really step into who I am as a woman,” she said. “And then I’m having to leave my partner behind, not because I want to, but because he just doesn’t have the bandwidth to follow me.”

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