Brown Barbie and Genocide… have we had “Kenough” yet?

Lina AbiRafeh
7 min readJan 30, 2024
Palestinian Barbie” photo credit goes to AmongDreams on Licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0 Deed. All rights reserved to the creator. The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the view of the content creator. The photo has been cropped.

It’s been a busy week! In the span of five days, several events collided.

Nominations for the 96th Academy Awards — the Oscars — were announced on January 23. That’s the biggest annual event in the film industry. This year, there was a feminist uproar because Barbie, the highest grossing film of 2023 was nominated for only (?!) eight awards — and did not include director Greta Gerwig or producer and lead Margot Robbie. At the same time, America Ferrera was nominated for best supporting actress — her first nomination.

Still, western feminists flooded social media with criticisms. And feminists in the rest of the world were quick to counter their commentary with reminders that no, the greatest feminist tragedy of our time is not the Oscar nominations but rather the continued suffering — and killing — of Palestinian women.

For instance, Aisha A summed it up, arguing that: “We live in a world where “women using tents as pads during genocide” was less of a feminist issue than “white lady pretending to be doll not considered great actress this year”.”

At the same time, the question of genocide itself is very much on the table. South Africa brought a case to the International Court of Justice against Israel because of the genocide they continue to perpetrate against Palestinians in Gaza. On January 26, the International Court of Justice announced its verdict: Israel must take measures to prevent acts of genocide — acts it is already clearly committing. The ruling fell short of calling for a ceasefire, but still represents a political victory and a reminder to Israel and its accomplices that we are all bound by international law. And genocide has been a crime under international law since at least the 1948 Genocide Convention. Because — in principle — we’ve learned from history. Or have we?!

And then the next day, January 27, was Holocaust Remembrance Day, commemorating the victims of this horrible crime — six million Jews and many other minorities. This genocide of the Jewish people has not been forgotten. And we learned to say “never again” as a result… or so we’d hoped.

That’s a lot of Big Things in a very small space. How are they connected?!

Let’s be clear, with millions of women in Gaza under siege and bombardment with little-to-no access to sanitary hygiene products, anesthesia, or emergency obstetric services the occupation of Palestine is a feminist issue. Yet, mainstream media would have you believe that only one of these moments this past week is worth your attention. And it’s not Palestine.

It’s worth imagining how the Oscars and other events might have been different if Barbie were Brown. Palestinian, even! Just for fun, I asked our artificial intelligence “friends” to create a Brown Barbie. They gave me Layla. This isn’t the first time AI has generated Brown Barbies. BuzzFeed created, published, and then deleted this very thing, pummeling us with cultural stereotypes and unsurprising representational bias.

For fun, let’s play with this doll for a second…

“In a world where Barbie wasn’t just a blonde, blue-eyed doll with an unattainable body, lived Layla… a proud Arab woman with dark, flowing hair, almond-shaped eyes that sparkled with intelligence… skin the color of rich, roasted coffee. Instead of the revealing swimsuits and glamorous gowns that Barbie favored, Layla’s wardrobe reflected the rich cultural heritage of her people… both stylish and modest, reflecting the values of her community. Layla wasn’t just a pretty face; she was a woman of substance…” Apparently Layla is also an artist, dancer, and an exquisite cook. Aside from all the cultural stereotypes, I kind of like her!

So that’s Layla-Barbie. But in reality, the world is looking at thousands — millions! — of Palestinian women right now. And I’m pretty sure it’s not Layla they see. The world seems split between those who see downtrodden, impoverished, veiled women weighed down by cultural cliches and Western political narratives and those who see strength, resilience, and resistance — women who have survived for decades under brutal Israeli occupation and continue not just to survive but also to organize, advocate, protest, and fight back against the forces that hold them down.

It is very easy (read: lazy) for the world to see the former. And it enables too many countries to continue to excuse what is happening to them as their own “fault.” The world is overwhelmingly simple in how it categorizes its inhabitants. And it is far easier to justify the crimes that we witness when we view Palestinian women as “victims” of patriarchal norms, “victims” of Hamas. Worse, it is used to legitimize the brutal killing of Palestinians as if we’re doing these women “a favor” — setting them free from their own oppressive forces.

I wrote last week about the selective feminist outrage of western feminists, eager to condemn Hamas — or any violence perpetrated by Palestinians — while conveniently ignoring the extreme violence perpetrated by Israel.

This feminist blind spot is a reflection of western feminists hierarchy of concern, as Maryam Aldossari perfectly stated. Feminist silence on the crimes committed against Palestinian women amounts to feminist endorsement of these crimes.

So what are feminists not-silent about this week? Barbie. White Barbie, that is.

Yes, the film was viewed — by some — as groundbreaking in its feminist representation on the big screen, challenging the gender stereotypes of a doll that has long been criticized by feminists. The film’s feminist strength is perfectly captured in America Ferrera’s now-legendary speech “It is literally impossible to be a woman…”

Why the snub? Why the anger? A lot has been said about this but in summary the Academy is mostly men — nearly 70% — and isn’t particularly known for its diversity on any front. And the case has been made time and again that the Oscars fail to take female-driven, female-led, female-focused films seriously.

I’m not saying this isn’t valid. If we lived in a bubble with nothing but the Oscars to worry about, I’d be angry too. But we don’t. Layla — our Brown Barbie — would not have made it to the big screen in the first place. Her story is live streamed to us while we continue to be complicit. And the murder of just one of her sisters would have been “Kenough.” Instead, we’re wondering when enough really is enough? How many more?! Her playhouse is destroyed, Barbieland is relentlessly bombed, and her pleas for a ceasefire fall on deaf ears. This “Kenvasion” has lasted 75 years.

Here’s the truth: the majority of the world is Brown Barbie. The Global South is the Global Majority.

And yet, Hillary Clinton and others keep ignoring her pleas for help. Bringing that point home, @wokestethoscope tweeted the following:

“Last month, Israeli soldiers in Gaza shot 4 pregnant Palestinian women, then ran over their bodies with bulldozers. Hillary said nothing and kept opposing ceasefire. Now she’s giving sanctimonious speeches about women’s erasure as if she’s not helping erase Palestinian women.”

Our Barbie has been watching her friends and family die for 115 days while the world debates on whether or not her life has value.

And now we see that Holocaust “Remembrance” shows that we’ve all but forgotten the critical lesson this stain on humanity should have taught us. Never again… for some. And we see a verdict from the International Court of Justice that tells Israel to “genocide gently” (!) and to monitor itself for a month. And we see the deliberate destruction of UNRWA, the UN agency dedicated to supporting Palestinians. Besides, isn’t the deliberate starving of a population considered an act of genocide?

Unsurprisingly, Netanyahu’s loyal genocide supporters — US, UK, Germany, Canada, Australia, and others — cut off funding to UNRWA based on accusations that a few of its staff members participated in attacks against Israel. These staff members were removed and are being investigated — no verdict has been reached. Meanwhile, Israeli war crimes continue. Collective punishment on this scale, especially given the dire humanitarian catastrophe that has been underway in Gaza, is not just complicity in genocide. It is an active war crime and a crime against humanity.

The defunding of UNRWA means endorsing the killing of even more Palestinians. UNRWA Commissioner General Philippe Lazzarini had this to say:

“It would be immensely irresponsible to sanction an Agency and an entire community it serves because of allegations of criminal acts against some individuals, especially at a time of war, displacement and political crises in the region.”

And yet we allow it. We endorse it. And we applaud. Just like we’re watching a movie.

In Barbie, America Ferrera’s character starts her speech this way: “It is literally impossible to be a woman. You are so beautiful, and so smart, and it kills me that you don’t think you’re good enough…”

Let’s bring Layla back into the story because, right now, it is literally impossible to be a Palestinian woman… it is quite literally killing her that we don’t think she’s good enough. Israel, the US, the UK, and other countries have demonstrated the low value they place on the lives of Palestinian women. So while their world goes batshit over Barbie, in the real world, women are dying and we remain silent.

Layla is dying. We’re watching this massacre as if it is a film we can walk away from at any time. And the only award it will win is the greatest crime of our time…



Lina AbiRafeh

Global women's rights expert, author, speaker, aid worker, feminist activist with 25 years of experience in 20 countries worldwide - and lots of stories!