People are flocking to see the new Barbie movie which, as of this writing, has earned over $700 million in box office revenue. It is the hit of the summer and the film that has brought America back to the movies. Why is Barbie so popular? And why exactly is a rabbi writing his column about a fictional doll?
For starters, the Barbie movie is about re-claiming power from the patriarchy. Barbie sets out on a quest to wrest authority away from male figure heads. She is dismayed that, only in her ever-protected dreamland, do women have genuine access and influence. She is stunned to find a society dominated by male presidents and CEOs and endeavors to change this fact.
Her message to every girl out there: You have worth. Do not allow yourself to be demeaned or belittled into believing otherwise. I echo her sentiments and pray that our girls and young women know just how much they bring to the world around them.
Barbie is also popular, I believe, because it pokes fun at toxic masculinity and the stereotypically fragile male ego. Ken, her sidekick, must learn to set aside the need for brawn and bravado as he attempts to become more thoughtful and understanding. We can note here that the quintessential Jewish leader in our tradition is Moses, who comes from a place of humility, gratitude and wisdom. He leads with grace and foresight without need for misguided machismo. The message to our boys and young men: It is highly masculine to be sensitive, kind and empathetic. Moses, Jacob and Joseph resonate to this day because they were gentle and considerate. Let’s try to do the same.
As is noted in the movie, Barbie is the creation of Ruth Handler, a Jewish woman and the daughter of Polish immigrants. She named the doll after her own daughter, Barbara, when she invented it in 1959. She wanted her daughter to have something to play with that was not a baby or a babydoll. She was, we might say, attempting to extend her daughter’s childhood. Perhaps we can relate to this too, as our children grow up faster and faster and enter a world of increasing cynicism, corruption and enmity. We pray that they might remain kids, or at least kids at heart, and thus continue to exude innocence and inquisitiveness.
Not to overstate it, but Judaism would urge us to consider carefully who qualifies as a role model. Our tradition provides us with various female voices that inspire to this day. We read of Sarah and Rachel, Esther and Ruth, Deborah and Beruriah, who enlightens the sages of the Talmud with her wit and knowledge. Barbie joins a long list of strong Jewish women who are not content with the world as is but rather aim to bring greater justice and equality to their surrounding culture.
May we all find our voice and may we all remember that we deserve to shine bright, bringing our light to a world that very much needs it.