Last Sunday was Father’s Day in Australia, and I got spoiled by two of my daughters. (The third one is away with her mum at present). Paris took me out for dinner on Friday night, and we watched the Barbie movie.

I’m Not Watching It!

When Barbie first came out, I wasn’t particularly interested in seeing it, but a few things changed my mind. I thought it was a kids’ movie. But it is very much aimed at adults. My girls saw it and raved about it. So did everyone else I spoke to.

Then, I heard some conservative commentators and preachers foaming about how the movie attacks men. My response? I have to see this. And so, I did.

The Story

There are no spoiler alerts here. If you have not seen Barbie, this blog won’t ruin it for you. So far, the film has earned over US$1.3 billion (over two billion AUD) and is the highest-grossing film of 2023. After seeing the movie, I can see why. It’s clever, very clever, in the way it depicts the struggle women have had for centuries to gain the same rights as men. A struggle that sadly continues to this day.

The first scene depicts the perfect Barbie world where women rule and every night is girls’ night (as she tells Ken). Meanwhile, Ken’s entire existence is bound up in Barbie’s approval. But the thoughts of the person in the real world playing “Barbie” start to influence Barbie’s thinking. She starts thinking about death and dying, which goes down like a pink balloon in Barbie World.

And so, Barbie escapes to the Real World, and Ken sneaks into the back seat to tag along, complete with rollerblades.

Scenes Two & Three

The Real World is the opposite of Barbie World, and Ken takes notes. He learns about patriarchy, where things favour men, and he likes what he sees. The final scene depicts the struggle to turn Barbie’s world to prefer men and back again.

The film also takes a massive swipe at the Barbie doll for making women feel bad about themselves. The toy represents outdated and harmful stereotypes, from physical appearance to personality traits.

The Show Stealer

As much as Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling are brilliant in their roles, the real show stealer is America Ferrera, who plays Gloria. As Barbie wrestles with feelings of inadequacy, Gloria launches into an inspiring speech as she outlines the maddening and contradictory expectations women must negotiate:

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. Like, we have to always be extraordinary, but somehow, we’re always doing it wrong.

You have to be thin but not too thin. And you can never say you want to be thin. You have to say you want to be healthy, but also you have to be thin. You have to have money, but you can’t ask for money because that’s crass. You have to be a boss, but you can’t be mean. You have to lead, but you can’t squash other people’s ideas. You’re supposed to love being a mother but don’t talk about your kids all the damn time. You have to be a career woman but also always be looking out for other people. You have to answer for men’s bad behaviour, which is insane, but if you point that out, you’re accused of complaining. You’re supposed to stay pretty for men but not so pretty that you tempt them too much or that you threaten other women because you’re supposed to be a part of the sisterhood. But always stand out and always be grateful. But never forget that the system is rigged. So, find a way to acknowledge that but also always be grateful. You have to never get old, never be rude, never show off, never be selfish, never fall down, never fail, never show fear, never get out of line. It’s too hard! It’s too contradictory, and nobody gives you a medal or says thank you! And it turns out, in fact, that not only are you doing everything wrong, but also everything is your fault.

I’m just so tired of watching myself and every single other woman tie herself into knots so that people will like us. And if all of that is also true for a doll just representing women, then I don’t even know.

Living in a household with four women, I know the truth of Gloria’s words firsthand. I have witnessed Christie and our girls’ struggles in a world that is still skewed in favour of the Kens. But obviously, some Kens don’t appreciate this.

Maintaining Power and Rage

As mentioned, I started hearing about conservative commentators and preachers boiling mad about the Barbie movie. For example, Pastor Greg Locke apologised in July this year for his past rants and promised to be more mature. His maturity lasted a month because, in August, Locke used duct tape to attach a Bible to a baseball bat and smash up a Barbie Dreamhouse during a sermon. You can hear the 2000-strong crowd cheering him on, seemingly oblivious to their pastor’s desecration of the sacred Scriptures.

Other critics have decried Barbie’s toxic femininity and man-hating agenda. Texas Senator Ted Cruz claimed Barbie was “Chinese communist propaganda” created to have the film played in China. Sky News commentator Piers Morgan called the film “an assault on men.” For the record, I’m a man who didn’t feel assaulted by Barbie. I enjoyed the movie mainly because I got to hang out with one of my daughters. I am comfortable in my masculinity and very aware of my privileged position.

And therein lies the main lesson from Barbie. Straight white men have enjoyed a significant advantage in the world for centuries. But privileges are not a right. Equal rights are a human right, and if I need to lose some of my privileges to give equality to others, then so be it. That is the example Jesus gave us.

Jesus willingly chose to relinquish his privileged position with God to save humanity. The apostle Paul encourages us to have the same mindset as Christ Jesus. He writes, Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility, value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. The chief aim of those who follow Jesus is to choose to imitate him. I see anything but this from the Gregg Locke’s of the world. I see a brash pseudo-masculinity in them that pursues a tough-guy image of dominance over their world and relationships. This image has more in common with John Wayne than Jesus Christ. By the way, Jesus and John Wayne is an excellent book that explores this topic further. Read the book and see the Barbie movie if you want to. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

I love history! It fascinates me – not just because it’s a study of past events but rather because of its insights into human nature. As German author Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel put it back in the 1800s, “We learn from history that we do not learn from history.” I get his point, but one of the things that I’ve learned from history is that you can only oppress a people group for so long. Eventually a champion will arise to be a voice that says, “Enough is enough.” And so the struggle begins. History is littered with examples:

Think of the abolitionist movement in Britain educating the public and rallying against slavery. Champions like William Wilberforce MP, an evangelical Christian with a passion for social reform, and Olaudah Equiano, a freed slave who campaigned for abolition and settled in England. Plus the many slave revolts on the plantations themselves.

Jesus was the ultimate champion who spoke up for the poor, the oppressed, and the outcasts who are often referred to in the Bible as “tax collectors and sinners.” And He got into a lot of trouble for it. He spoke up for lepers, for Samaritans, for prostitutes, for the poor and for women. But it would be many centuries later when women would gradually begin to be emancipated from patriarchal oppression.

Enter Emmeline Pankhurst, founder of the Women’s Social and Political Union in the UK to push for the right to vote, run for public office and work for equal civil rights for women. Britain’s Daily Mail called them the “Suffragettes” – a derogatory term but one the women adopted and wore with pride (much like the word “Christian”). From these humble beginnings in 1903 the Suffrage (or feminist) movement spread all around the world. This was not an issue in Australia which was the first country to give women the right to vote and run for public office in 1895. Women are still not allowed to vote in Saudi Arabia or Vatican City.

The feminist movement has largely been a reaction to male chauvinism – the belittling of women and discriminating against them based on the belief that men are superior. Women then are deserving of less than equal treatment, value or advantage. History gives us many examples of this:

 Greek Philosopher, Aristotle, regarded females as “imperfect males”

 Josephus, the Jewish-Roman historian, believed “the woman is inferior to the man in every way.”

 A Jewish male in morning prayer would thank God that he was not made “a gentile, a slave or a woman”.

 The Islamic Koran states (Quran 4:34): “Men have authority over women because God has made the one superior to the other, and because they spend their wealth to maintain them. Good women are obedient. They guard their unseen parts because God has guarded them. As for those from whom you fear disobedience, admonish them and send them to beds apart and beat them. Then if they obey you, take no further action against them. Surely God is high, supreme.”

 According to Gandhi, “A Hindu husband regards himself as Lord and master of his wife, who must ever dance attendance upon him.”

 John Wesley, founder of Methodist movement, wrote this in a letter to his wife on July 15, 1774: “Do not any longer contend for mastery, for power, money, or praise. Be content to be a private, insignificant person, known and loved by God and me … of what importance is your character to mankind, if you were buried just now or if you had never lived, what loss would it be to the cause of God?” I bet it was a quiet night in the Wesley Household after that .

 As far as Christians go, Martin Luther would have to be the greatest chauvinist of all time: “Even though they grow weary and wear themselves out with child-bearing, it does not matter; let them go on bearing children till they die, that is what they are there for.” 
(Works 20.84). “God created Adam master and lord of living creatures, but Eve spoilt all, when she persuaded him to set himself above God’s will. ‘Tis you women, with your tricks and artifices, that lead men into error.” He goes on to say “We may well lie with what seems to be a woman of flesh and blood, and yet all the time it is only a devil in the shape of a woman.”

History shows us that an extreme is usually corrected by an extreme. There’s no doubt that this is the case with the feminist movement, but it’s an understandable reaction to male chauvinism in an attempt to bring equality between the sexes. There’s obviously still a long way to go, even in Australia, where women are often paid less than men for doing the same job, under represented in politics, business and on boards – and in church leadership.

The Bible teaches that God created men and women equal. Theologian Matthew Henry put it this way, “Eve was not taken out of Adam’s head to top him, neither out of his feet to be trampled on by him, but out of his side to be equal with him, under his arm to be protected by him, and near his heart to be loved by him.” This is neither chauvinism nor feminism but rather a mutual love and respect for one another that leads to the emancipation of both to be all that we were created to be.