Why the patriarchy is hyperventilating over Barbie

This article originally appeared at Baptist News Global on July 28, 2023.

I wasn’t allowed to watch Toy Story 2 when I was 21 years old because the trailer depicted a group of Barbies in bikinis led by Tour Guide Barbie. So when I found out some influential conservatives were having a conniption fit over the Warner Bros new Barbie movie, I had to see for myself what the patriarchy was so riled up about.

Kent Christmas

“And I curse in the name of the Lord this new Barbie movie that has been released full of transexual and transgender and homosexuality in the name of the Lord,” declared Regeneration Nashville pastor Kent Christmas. “May God loose a holy judgment. Hallelujah! Go ahead and write in all that you want. What’s happened is the church has been so intimidated and so silent that we’re afraid to stand up and declare, ‘Thus saith the Lord!’”

In a scene reminiscent of Toy Story’s violent neighbor Sid, conservative political commentator Ben Shapiro threw Barbie toys into a trash can, lit them on fire, and showed them melting to screaming sounds to kick off his 43-minute review. He called Barbie “not just a piece of s**t. This movie is a flaming piece of dog s**t piled atop an entire dumpster on fire piled atop a landfill filled with dog s**t.” Then he predicted, “It’s just going to die in China. … Good luck with the Chinese communist government putting their kids in front of this sort of stuff.” His final rating? “Negative all the Barbies! Negative all of them! … Negative infinity Barbies … This is Barbie head atop the robot body made by the weird kid from Toy Story 1.”

Ben Shapiro

Focus on the Family’s PluggedIn movie review site warns that Barbie shows women wearing “swimsuits and other outfits that bare some skin (including cleavage)” and that “many Kens like to walk around sans shirt.” They also warn that “some Barbies and Kens are portrayed by members of the LGBT community, and this occasionally comes through in their portrayals.” Regarding one scene where two men are laughing on a park bench, PluggedIn warns, “We see a same-sex couple flirting in the real world.” Among the many negative elements, they list “a plastic Barbie dog” that “‘poops’ plastic turds.” So they recommend parents accompany their teens in order to protect them from indoctrination.

Movieguide warned, “Don’t Take Your Daughter to Barbie.” They claimed Barbie is “pushing transgender character stories” and paired the Warner Bros. production with Pixar and Disney who “recently suffered severe losses with Elemental, which also promoted LGBT characters.”

But the public isn’t buying what these conservative influencers are selling. Greta Gerwig’s film broke the box office record for opening weekends in 2023 and broke the record for opening weekend for any film directed by a woman.

“It’s about exposing the absurdity of patriarchy and discovering what it means to be human.”

While many are claiming Barbie is about promoting gay people, the reality is that it’s about exposing the absurdity of patriarchy and discovering what it means to be human.

Warning: Major spoilers ahead.

Women in boxes

Barbie opens with a group of young girls playing with baby dolls, pointing to how they are being formed to play at being mothers. When conservatives decry this opening scene as indoctrination against motherhood, they’re revealing their own lack of self-awareness of how far-reaching patriarchy has permeated our society and boxed women in. And lest they say Gerwig is on a campaign against motherhood, later the film lists motherhood as a legitimate and good pursuit women can choose.

But then Barbie is released.

Greta Gerwig (center) with cast members of Barbie.

“She has her own money, her own house, her own car, her own career,” the narrator describes. “Because Barbie can be anything, women can be anything. And this has been reflected back onto the little girls of today in the real world. Girls can grow into women who can achieve everything and anything they set their mind to.”

Megachurch pastor Mark Driscoll, who has been exposed for misogyny and spiritual abuse, announced to his email subscribers on Tuesday that he is “rereleasing almost 1,500 pieces of content from the vault on YouTube.”

In one of his first rereleased videos, he begins by almost gagging while reading a question about whether men can be stay-at-home dads. Grace Driscoll, his wife, begins by saying you can’t respect men who are stay-at-home dads. “We’re built, as women, we’re built to be home with our kids and the Titus 2 woman, we’re supposed to be loving our husband and children, busy at home, homeward focused, pure, kind, self-controlled, so that we don’t malign the word of God.”

Mark Driscoll then says stay-at-home dads are worse than unbelievers, are acting like Peter Pan, are boys who can shave, are not men, and should be disciplined out of the church. He adds that stay-at-home dads aren’t mentioned in the Bible. Never mind that there are many things never mentioned in the Bible.

While many conservatives in the pews today would disagree with Driscoll’s condemnation of stay-at-home dads, their complementarian theology of gender roles creates the world that boxes women in and empowers Driscoll’s rant.

An expanding reality inextricably intertwined

Barbie’s opening monologue closes with a moment of obvious sarcasm. The narrator jokes, “Thanks to Barbie, all problems of feminism and equal rights have been solved. At least that’s what the Barbies think.”

The film reveals a parallel between Barbieland and the real world so that how a child plays with their Barbie in the real world affects how the Barbies feel and experience life in Barbieland. It’s a vision of reality where two seemingly different worlds are “inextricably intertwined.”

Gerwig’s intertwined vision of reality is similar to the web of relationality spoken of in quantum physics and liberation theologies.

Continue reading at Baptist News Global.

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