Watching Barbie for the first time, grinning like a muppet as Greta Gerwig’s neon pink dreamscape washed over me and my inner five-year-old, I cried from laughing and then just cried, and felt very happy to see Ryan Gosling use his Mickey Mouse Club dancing skills in a late-breaking fantasy ballet that, for me, put this movie over the edge from good to great. (Sorry if you thought it was boring! I guess you missed the All That Jazz references, too!) But underlying all of this was another feeling altogether: The world of this movie about talking dolls, with its deranged midcentury homes and Mattel-approved sponcon, seemed oddly grounded in a reality I know very well: It reminded me of being in college.

That’s because I went to a women's college, a universe unto itself that, though significantly less pink, mirrors Barbie Land in some striking ways. At Smith, all high-level positions were held by women, trans, and nonbinary students; cisgender men were considered deeply secondary or almost as anomalies when we (occasionally) encountered them in our classes. When one showed up in my art history survey my first year, he was greeted by 100 Smith students turning around in their lecture-hall seats to glare at him in unison; I will never forget the sound of it.

I realize this seems like a nightmare fabrication of The Future Liberals Want, or the subject of a New York Times story on how Liberal Arts Wokeness Is Going Too Far. But I’m sure that guy was fine—Smith has an excellent art history department—and in communities like women’s colleges, this dynamic is real, which is why certain fragile men find them so threatening. My college town has been derisively referred to as "Lesbianville, USA," but we didn't mind at all. We knew that our community was special, subversive, and exactly what we deserved. Being there was a feeling I don't experience much in my day-to-day adult life, but I felt it again for the first time in years when I went to see Barbie.

From the Birkenstocks to the all-Barbie Supreme Court to the real reason Weird Barbie is always in the splits, every detail fits—including the music. I'm a millennial, but we listened to the Indigo Girls constantly in college, unless we were playing "Closer to Fine" on our own guitars in dorm hallways and theater classes. (And in general we just really liked middle-aged mom music: I remember once putting on a Loreena McKennitt album in my room and hearing someone else playing the same one down the hallway. Such was the collective desire for mid-’90s adult contemporary with medieval storytelling undertones.)

There may be a textual explanation for all of this: Greta Gerwig is a graduate of Barnard, Columbia’s sister school, and all of her movies, from Lady Bird, a movie I find so relatable as to be almost unwatchable, to Little Women, an unnecessary but enjoyable remake, seem shot through with Big Women’s College energy—even in their shortcomings.

Though I find it a near-perfect film, Barbie is, unavoidably, also sponsored content for Mattel. When the company’s logo fills the screen before the movie, a circle of droplets in Lisa Frank hues, it gives me the same unsettled feeling I have during the Amazon Studios sequence that precedes every piece of streaming content our everything-store overlords have greenlit. It’s giving corporate feminism, even if it’s also really fun, way existential corporate feminism.

It’s also really hard to get away from the gender binary with Barbie, an issue Emily St. James has taken on at the New York Times. St. James applauds the film’s inclusion of trans actor Hari Nef (who honestly should be in everything, we love Rabbi Jen) in the role of Dr. Barbie, who is about as substantial as any of the Barbies in the movie, but critiques the film’s overall handling of gender, writing that “its politics set up a kind of pure distillation of womanhood that seems specifically rooted in the cisgender experience and affords little room for anything outside a rigid understanding of gender.”

What’s interesting is that this critique also applies to how women’s colleges have long operated. Nancy Reagan and Barbara Bush are, embarrassingly, both Smith alums, and there is often a sense of disconnect between graduates from their era and ilk and those from mine. When given opportunities to move away from the gender binary, women’s colleges have often failed. Trans men commonly attended back when I was a student at Smith, but the college didn’t formally begin admitting trans women until 2015. This, despite the fact that Smith was where I first read Judith Butler and learned to see gender as a social construct and not a fact of biology, a lesson I am grateful I encountered at 19 and not any later.

This is all to say, if Barbie Land has a narrow understanding of gender, it’s also reflective of women-focused spaces in the real world. A gender-flipped spin on the patriarchy is still a spin on the patriarchy.

What wasn’t, though, was the feeling I had watching Barbie in a completely packed theater, the imaginary community on screen fostering a real community in the rows of filled seats. People cried and laughed and shouted their agreement with America Ferrera's “You have to never get old” speech. We all stayed for the credits.

There was a sensation in that darkened theater that I don’t remember feeling outside of election night in 2008, when Obama won the presidency and I was surrounded by crying, screaming Smith students, as we sank into the deep, communal relief that came with surviving the Bush II presidency.

And perhaps that’s where the similarities end. Because nobody cries in Barbie Land. Maybe the real parallel here is the Island of Lost Toys that is Weird Barbie’s house, where all of the deviant, misunderstood, mistreated little Barbies and Kens and Allans can be open about their bad moods, their brokenness, and their existential despair, and with their combined powers, keep the world from ending.

See Barbie at Pacific Science Center's IMAX theater for a limited time beginning Thursday, September 21.