Op-Ed: Shakira’s ‘Barbie’ Comments Showcase an Outdated Idea of Feminism

Art by Stephany Torres for Remezcla

Growing up, Shakira was not just a singer. She was, in many ways, a feminist icon. I was never sure if she wanted to be one in those earlier days or if she fell into that role because of where she was and the barriers she was knocking down just by virtue of her success. But there’s no doubt that Shakira has tried to be just that type of role model in the last few years. 

The She-Wolf. The woman who no longer cries, she just dusts herself off after a disappointment and takes what’s hers.

There’s also no arguing against how effective this branding has been — not just for someone like me, who has grown up listening to Shakira, but for anyone rooting for women in general. Perhaps that’s why Shakira’s comments about the movie Barbie were so shocking for everyone.

To be clear, this isn’t about liking or disliking Barbie. Liking or disliking a movie isn’t a feminist litmus test. There are valid criticisms to make about the movie, like ironically, the fact that it gives Ken an arguably better arc than Barbie, as well as a redemption arc he does absolutely nothing to earn. The problem isn’t that Shakira (or her sons) didn’t like the movie, it’s the reasoning behind it. 

“I like pop culture when it attempts to empower women without robbing men of their possibility to be men, to also protect and provide,” Shakira said, as she was trying to explain her issues with the movie. But even just this comment supports a very outdated idea of the roles women and men are supposed to uphold within society, one that is seemingly at odds with the very lyrics Shakira has been writing lately. Can women not have it all? Can they not be the protectors and providers, without a man? Listening to her music, I thought they could, and that her brand of feminism was in line with that.

That’s not all the singer said. “I believe in giving women all the tools and the trust that we can do it all without losing our essence, without losing our femininity.” This is yet another antiquated idea because it implies a woman’s essence is tied to a vague idea of femininity. That’s troubling due to there being no singular definition of “what femininity is.” And so very often, particularly in our communities, women are tied down by an idea of what femininity is by generations of “well, that’s how it’s always been” instead of letting us choose who we want to be.

Keeping all of this in mind, hearing Shakira speak, the cultural disconnect seems obvious. She grew up in Colombia. She spent a significant amount of time in Spain. Barbie is a movie made for the U.S. cultural moment, steeped in the cultural conversations happening right now in Hollywood. This is not me excusing her, as much as providing context. My first reaction to her comments was one of disappointment. And yet, in that very same interview where she talks about her sons finding Barbie, of all things, emasculating, she discusses how the tale of Eve is a story created by misogynists.

Is this the same Shakira? It is. People are made of contradictions. Shakira is. So am I. I will probably still enjoy her music, but I will now forever wonder about this woman whom I grew up admiring but who doesn’t seem to understand the basic tenet of feminism is equality, and that if that equality we’re asking for seems like oppression to her sons, well…that’s the problem in a nutshell, isn’t it?