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  • Writer's pictureDonna Norman Carbone

What Does Barbie Have To Do With Writing? Or Anything? Everything, really.

Imagine this. A dark, damp basement and in the far corner, just beneath the window, a magical world exists of pastel colors, hot pink chief among them, brightening an otherwise bleak space.

A tall high rise at its center, walls open from room to room and on its face. A hot pink car sits in an imaginary driveway waiting for adventure and, off to the side, a forest, invisible to the eye, with trees stretching into the air cocooning a wide open camper that sits on the side of a crisp, blue, make-believe lake (a baby blue blanket in reality).

This was the world I created with my sister and my friends. We played Barbies for hours, making up different scenarios, living out worlds of the characters we created. This is where storytelling took shape for me.

Wait a minute…. Before I saw the Barbie movie, I’d intended on writing about how playing Barbies shaped me into a storyteller–a story I could still tell. But, after seeing the movie, I have a much more pressing story to tell.

Bear with me for a moment.

Each year, I teach Catcher in the Rye to high school juniors. I have discovered there are two very distinct types of readers. The first enjoys the book, recognizing how well Salinger captures the mindset of a teenager. The second abhors the book, citing that its main character Holden is whiny, rebellious, and hates everything. After I allow my students time and space to think about and articulate their opposing positions–at times, heated debates ensue about the book’s merit, about just how successful or unsuccessful Salinger is at representing their age group, I offer up a challenge to the second type of reader. I ask them to reread the book as college students or beyond to see if their points of view have changed given their new perspectives that come with maturity. I contend that the second group can’t bring themselves to appreciate the accuracy of Holden’s portrayal because they are too close to it. It’s too raw. Holden is them. Whining and complaining, thwarting authority and rebellion are all part of the adolescent process–the process of finding themselves.

Now, getting back to the Barbie movie where I make my point. First, I applaud Greta Gerwig for breaking box office records and breaking the glass ceiling. I applaud her for flipping patriarchy by speaking to an audience of women who can relate to every single moment of the film and every single word spoken by America Ferrera’s character. What a monologue, right?

I believe men who are affronted by this film are not unlike my teenage students reading Catcher in the Rye. The men who are the loudest have probably been taught to “be a man,” “don’t admit weakness,” and “never show your emotions.” Watching this movie makes them feel uncomfortable because they are looking in a mirror; really looking in the mirror into the depths of oneself is an unsettling act. They won’t or can’t admit it or see it for what it is. I offer up a challenge to the men that take issue with the film; watch it again, this time with an open mind and an open heart. Think about your mothers and your daughters and your sisters and try, just this once, to see it from their perspective.

I, for one, loved the Barbie movie. I haven’t seen a film, yet, that demonstrates patriarchy in the raw way that Gerwig’s film does. When I left the theater, I felt both sad and empowered: sad because after all these years, and all strides women have made, it seems for every two we take forward, we take a step back. For example, it’s beyond me that we are still fighting for rights to our own bodies, for healthcare, and childcare. I didn’t mean for this to take a political spin, but it goes beyond political for women. For men, it’s political. For women, it’s personal. What a brilliant way for Gerwig to end the film. [No spoilers, here, you’ll have to see the film to know what I’m talking about]

The reason I tell stories about women as the focus of my work is to show their resilience, strength, and faith in the face of adversity. My stories celebrate the power of women. Wouldn’t it be a wonderful world to celebrate the power of everyone equitably?


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