“Barbie” Isn’t As Feminist As They Want You To Think

Okay, friends! Let’s get into BARBIE!

There will be spoilers, so if you haven’t seen it and don’t want the plot twists revealed, move along! Although I don’t think it will ruin your experience of the movie if you do know what happens: it might even enhance it. You decide.

“Barbie” is a visual FEAST! I loved the design, I squealed at the costumes and set, hair, makeup, and fun of it all. The dance numbers are bangers and the whole production is good summer fun. Margot Robbie was adorable and funny and perfect (literally), and I honestly think that Ryan Gosling should get an Oscar nomination for his work, although he won’t. Comedic roles are rarely recognized.

But “Barbie” is not the feminist statement the mainstream media and many viewers want to think it is.

I loved the pink Girl Power world of Barbieland, and I appreciated that Gerwig/Baumbach broke open the Barbie-verse to include a diversity of Barbies. Issa Rae was terrific as President Barbie, and it was wonderful to see women characters cheer each other on and to have the one celebrated respond with “thank you, I worked hard and I deserved it!” No false modesty, just big glowing smiles. We can dream, can’t we?

I was thoroughly enjoying myself until my critical radar was activated by a little blip in the screenplay and the appearance of cellulite on Barbie as she became to mesh realities with the Real World. Waitaminute. If Barbie & Co. are really existing outside of patriarchal society and do not exist for the male gaze, she (and the other horrified dolls) wouldn’t give a flip about some bumpy skin, which is associated with age. Imagine a matriarchy. Would a society of women see sagging or dimpled skin as something to be horrified by? Up to that moment in the film, I was delighted by the premise that all of the dolls were, well, dolled up in gorgeous outfits, hair, make-up and overblown aesthetic of traditional femininity because it’s PRETTY. Because we love sparkles and rainbows and pretty dresses, not because these trappings make anyone attractive to Kens/men.

That’s how I was when I played with Barbies. I had no inkling of wanting or needing male attention, I just loved make-up, wigs, puffy princess dresses and shiny shoes.

Suddenly I noticed that that, despite the diversity of Barbies in Gerwig and Baumbach’s vision, there were no old Barbies. Someone on TikTok suggested Jennifer Coolidige for the inevitable sequel, which is a brilliant idea. Why the absence of elder Barbies? Why were old women only allowed representation in the Real World? If there can be fat Barbies, another body that is rejected and reviled under patriarchal beauty standards, why no old Barbies?

They had Helen Mirren RIGHT. THERE.

But I filed that small concern away in my mind and continued to enjoy and appreciate the movie (even though I am not a fan of “Closer To Fine”). America Ferrera did a great job as Gloria, the frustrated mother of a surly tween. I loved Will Ferrell as the CEO of Mattel — his scenes were a wonderful satire of patriarchy, which is what I think Gerwig and Baumbach wanted to accomplish. Did you catch “Tooth Guy” (hilarious Jamie Demetriou) from “Fleabag” as one of his corporate minions? All the Mattel scenes were gold.

Ken’s whole bonkers discovery of patriarchy (horses!) was sly, clever and effective. The audience guffawed at his overwrought conversion but watching the Kens take down Barbieland was genuinely upsetting. I would like to acquire the screenplay and read it because I did not quite follow the plot device of the Barbies being brainwashed into pandering to the guys. I could understand how they were eventually snapped out of their bad enchantment but not at all sure how they were bamboozled into it. The scene where Kens make Barbies listen to them play guitar and sing “Push” by Matchbox 20 brought forth great howls of laughing solidarity from the many women in the audience who have suffered through similar displays of masculine ego by men trying to impress and seduce in insulting ways. It is a brilliant scene, and the movie at its very best.

Close to the end of the film, though, I thought the screenplay committed a serious betrayal of its supposed girl-power message. I have not heard one reviewer — not famous white feminist Susan Faludi — and not any of the Black women I follow on TikTok who had a lot to say about the film’s attempts at intersectionality — mention this moment, let alone hold it up to scrutiny.

Here it is:

When Barbieland has been restored to a woman-centric land and the Constitution has been restored (the Kens had a plan to OVERTHROW THE CONSTUTION, a plot point that hit too close to home for this American woman to be able to find humorous), Barbie finds the deposed Ken and apologizes to HIM.

“I’m sorry I took you for granted.”

She apologizes to the man who destroyed her home, installed a hostile government in her land, and did all of that because she was daring to live in a way that did not center his desires and needs (particularly for a romantic relationship with her).

This film teaches girls to apologize to their male oppressors. Note that. This is not a feminist film. Nor is it an anti-oppressive film. White Barbie apologizing to white Ken for leading a movement that, among other things, illegally removed a Black president from office? Miss me with that, Greta and Noah. You failed at intersectionality.

I will not stop hammering home this point. According to the logic of “Barbie,” when men destroy women’s spaces because they are not centered, not mollified and not granted romantic attention and access to women’s bodies (whether plastic or not!), they’re just doing this because WOMEN WERE TAKING THEM FOR GRANTED. It’s our fault.

You can bet that as soon as the lights came up, I addressed the row of young girls who were in front of me and said, “You guys, you know that if boys get upset and hostile because you decide to focus on yourself and your girlfriends, you don’t need to APOLOGIZE TO THEM, right?” They immediately said, “YEA!! What WAS that? And the women sitting to my right and to my left chimed in, which was very gratifying. Take that, Hollywood.

What I wish Barbie had said to Ken instead of “I’m sorry.”

Ken, you need to get a life.

Ken, if I want to have Girl’s Night every night until the end of time, I will do just that. Go make your own night. I’m not interested.

Final thoughts:

I have a mixed reaction to the last scene in the movie, which was cute but also could be read as a reduction of Barbie to her new reproductive organs. Lots of ways to interpret that. I thought the scene with Rhea Perlman was over-long and took itself far too seriously and overall I think the film suffered from inconsistency of messagea and the involvement of Noah Baumbach, whose work I have always found to simmer with misogynist resentment.

Michael Cera and Simu Liu are national treasures.

Remember that comments like, “it’s JUST a MovIe, RelAx” or “YoU musT Be fUN at ParTies” are will be deleted with maximum scorn. If you don’t understand the cultural importance and influence of the medium of film, that’s not my problem.

And yes, I had a Weird Barbie. My cousins and I also made Ken and G.I. Joe into lovers. It just made sense to us.

(How Are You?) Are You Okay?

[Hello from July 2, 2023. This one sat in my drafts for a long time and I just saw it tonight. I am eminently more “okay” today than I was when I wrote it. We aren’t post-pandemic but I just went to the crowded Market Basket today and while I was masked, I wasn’t anxious. I am living in between the world that has moved on and the world of awareness that there are many for whom “moving on” will never be an option. But personally, I am greatly healed from all of my losses and I can tell that I am by my dreams, by my ability to enter the day without feeling in a soul-fog, and by my sense of wholeness. I hope you are also doing well. I hope this post will encourage to share the story of how the pandemic is/was for you. I feel that I am in a process of integrating it all, and maybe you are too. – PB ]

This blog was locked up for awhile due to tech issues, and that’s not a bad thing. Writing is not something I can not do; it has always been my primary way of making sense of my life and feelings. Even if writing doesn’t explain or resolve anything, it always feels valuable to me to respect my life enough to record some of it. The same goes for our shared lives; I write my impressions and reactions to the times we’re living in as often as I record my own much smaller concerns.

And we sure as heck have been living through some times. We talk all the time now about trauma, which I appreciate for its clinical clarity: trauma is psychological and physiological. The more we know about it, the better we can address healing. It helps to know about the vagus nerve and brain chemistry and how our bodies manifest shock and loss. It is also important to address the soul in pain — how do we accompany the soul in is own underworld experience? I can’t answer that but I have a lot more experience in doing it now.

In November of 2019 I started a sabbatical. I traveled to England, France and Spain. While in London I attended three operas based on the Orpheus myth. I felt drawn to the Orpheus and Eurydice as related to my earlier passion for the Persephone myth. I wrote my master’s thesis at Harvard Divinity School on Persephone and Jesus as twin avatars of resurrection and the use of the Persephone story in pastoral care to women.  When I saw the Anais Mitchell’s genius work, “Hadestown” on Broadway in July of 2019 it re-activated a fascination with these mystery religions and the Queen of the Underworld. Get the Original Broadway Cast recording! It’s amazing!

After I tracked Orpheus across London and France and spent some time in Spain (Monserrat! Girona! Barcelona!) I spent Advent of 2019 at home in Massachusetts, worshiping with a monastic community and attending holiday concerts and outings; a real treat for a parish minister who is usually too busy that time of year to attend services.  A dear friend stayed with me and my beloved beagle Max for a month. Early into the new year of 2020, I flew to Arizona to attend an intensive training to become a certified spiritual director. While out West I road-tripped out to California to see the opera “Eurydice” and then came back to Phoenix after a brief stop at the Grand Canyon.

I flew home on February 20 or so, went to visit my sister in Connecticut, and then life went kaflooey. My mom had had a health crisis but she was stable, so we thought, and I was planning on going down to visit. But you remember what happened. The weird cancellations and closures. I followed the news and announcements from our governor and thought, “Wow, I can’t fly to North Carolina? I mean, I guess I can drive!” But no. Then it was no driving. You might touch the gas pump and die coughing the next day. The next day it was don’t leave the house. It was don’t touch anything.

On March 25, my mom died. I almost want to say she “up and died,” because that was what it felt like.  My siblings and I had a group conversation with her on the phone from the hospital. We sang “Bushel And A Peck” (a song she had always sung to us).  On a private call a few hours later I told her I loved her and her last words to me were “I don’t trust you.” She was lucid, believe me. It was a very intentional dig, consistent with her treatment of me for years.  What can you say to a dying woman? Certainly not, “Mom, you don’t trust ME because you’re chronically dishonest yourself. It’s called projection.”  Did I mention that we had been estranged? 

I told her to be at peace, I would always hold her love with me and hoped she would know she went with mine. You know why I did that? Because my mama raised me to be gracious, to understand that people’s nastiness is their problem, not mine. Oh, the irony.

During my mom’s last days, I saw a Tshirt that said, “It ran in the family until it ran into you.”  It has become a motto. I broke many generational patterns of abuse, but even as that was hard and painful, I was able to do so largely because of the loving mothering Shirley was able to give me during the years she was emotionally healthy, committed to recovery and sobriety. And my childhood, during which she suffered with substance abuse disorder, depression, eating disorders and a terrible marriage, she also made a valiant effort to be a good and loving mom. She was sad and scary but also magical and wonderful and gave us some really good stuff for our life backpacks.

Shirley had a hard time aging. A really hard time.  Not my story to tell, but it was hard to watch. It is hard to watch someone who has worked so hard to heal their wounds and to befriend their demons slide into bitterness and dishonesty. I am glad that she did not have to endure a drawn-out decline; she wanted more than anything to avoid that, and perhaps that is why she did not share medical information with us. Children are wont to push parents to do everything possible to ensure maximum longevity, but that was not my mother’s goal. I respect that. Here’s my girl. We were in NYC. I took her to see three Broadway shows. We had a blast. Here she is at a bistro in Union Square showing me her lipstick.

Shirley Lesko Weinstein Mole, 1939-2021

Almost simultaneously with mom dying, I returned six weeks early from my sabbatical to help my congregation cope with the shut-down. A time of utter madness for all industries and when we wanted to complain, we just thought of the essential workers and health care sector and the educators and zipped our lips.

 I hope I will never forget the wild experience of bringing a church program online. Only my music director will ever know the true chaos we managed on multiple devices while producing a beautiful worship service over Zoom. We were up until 3AM learning new technology, editing videos, scrambling along with the rest of the world to try to figure out how to function under bizarre and unprecedented circumstances. 

Two people I will always remember who cared for me in those first weeks of fear and loss: my dear friend Michael who drove up to Lynn from the South Shore just to hug me. We put a big fleece blanket over him and one over me to protect ourselves. It was so scary but he knew that my heart was broken and I needed human contact.

And Jim, my gum-chewing neighbor who has lived in the triple-decker next to me for thirty years or so, texted me a day or two after mom died. This is what he wrote, “Hi Victoria, I will be getting your groceries so get a list to me by Thursday. I will be going to Market Basket, Stop & Shop and Whole Foods, so feel free to let me know what brands of items you prefer.” 

“I WILL BE GETTING YOUR GROCERIES.” He was informing me, not asking me.  Listen, I was in such a daze of sorrow and discombobulation, I went with it! This was a genius tactic, because if he had said the usual, “Do you need anything,” I would have responded with the usual, “Oh no, I’m just fine, thank you.” I wasn’t fine at all, and Jim got my groceries for weeks. When I went to square up with him financially, he waved me off, chewing gum. “Naw, we’re good.”  He didn’t give me a choice! So he gets muffins (I’m a bad baker but I really make an effort for him) and my eternal thanks.

I should also mention that I have an amazing neighborhood and that we did, and still do, a brisk front porch Tupperware trade. Soups, casseroles, bottles of wine, bags of bagels, borscht (me), and yes, the traditional cup of sugar when requested. 

Continue reading “(How Are You?) Are You Okay?”

Some Truth About “Part-Time” Ministry

You’re hiring or calling a minister for the next year, starting July 1. Say your congregation really can’t afford a full-time minister with all the benefits. That’s okay. You have to be honest and realistic about the congregation’s finances and viability: that’s part of good and faithful stewardship.

But here are some things that clergy won’t tell you, because they are wishful thinkers by nature, they need a job, and they have inherited a tradition that embraces poverty and silent suffering as a mark of holiness. Bad combination when you’re trying to pay the bills and survive in America!

So I’m going to tell you what your potential pastor is only discussing with their spouse, colleagues and maybe best friends.

Not only do they believe you if you are telling them that this position has the potential to grow into a full time situation with benefits, they are already tasting that raise they hope will come in a year or two. Their ego wants to imagine them being wildly succesful in ministry with your community, even though they are acquainted with reality and trends in ministry. They may also have been in enticing conversations with people in the church who whispered reassurances about rosy futures to them. Maybe that bequest will come in. Maybe the partnership with the arts organization or the day care will materialize and generate income.

Friends, please help the clergy to hold reasonable expectations with you about the possibility of job security or growth. It is important to be hopeful but just as important to be honest.

If you are hiring a minister to serve you half or three-quarter time, understand that parish ministry is not an hourly position. The moment you get a minister in place, they represent the institution in the wider community (ie, they are never not off the clock in their role), and they are ultimately going to be held responsible for all programs, the functioning of staff , and the health of the congregation.

You maybe offering a 30-hour a week position, but know that when a priest, rabbi or minister assumes the title of Spiritual Leader of [Your Congregation’s Name Here,] they take on the psychic burden of holding the institution, its concerns and its people in their awareness at all times. They respond to crisis at all times. Emails, text messages, phone calls come in at all times. For all the focus on “healthy boundaries in ministry” these days, there remains a big emotional and often unconscious expectation that the minister is omnipresent. Whether they are actually physically present, part-time clergy are assuredly thinking about their ministry setting far beyond the official hours they are getting paid for.

Resentment takes hold when there is not open, honest and frequent communication between clergy and laity. If you do it often enough, it doesn’t have to be stressful and formal. Have an iced tea together. Remember that you have a shared love and commitment. Remember that it can be scary and difficult for everyone to talk about money, contracts, and professional expectations. Remember that this is extremely weird work, that it is not work we should discuss or evaluate in corporate terms, but it is someone’s job.

I wish you the best in having honest, appreciative conversations.

PeaceBang is an independent on-line ministry of the Rev. Dr. Victoria Weinstein.