The Very Rev. Rob Courtney
Fr. Rob is the Rector of St. Paul's Episcopal Church & School
Welcome to another installment of "RevRecs," an occasional feature where I, "the Rev," make some recommendations about things I'm reading, watching, listening to, etc. This week I've got an article and a movie for you, both of which I believe deliver the same message.
1. The Barbie movie
The first trailer for the Barbie movie had a title card that said, "If you love Barbie, this movie is for you," followed by another title card that said, "If you hate Barbie, this movie is for you." After seeing it I can say that's absolutely true. Put aside your preconceived notions, as well as the polarizing reviews you may have read, and see it. It's got something culturally important to say (a BARBIE MOVIE!? Who woulda' thunk), and it's very funny.
Is it a movie that particularly lifts up women's empowerment issues? Yes. At the same time, it has something vitally important to say to and about men. I saw it with my wife and my son, and we all enjoyed it for different reasons. It also gave us something to talk about as a family.
Part of that discussion came directly from an article I read recently . . .
2. "Men are lost. Here's a map out of the wilderness" by Christine Emba
A few days before I saw the Barbie movie I read this opinion piece from The Washington Post by Christine Emba. I paid special attention because she's also written a book called Rethinking Sex: A Provocation that I'll leave here as a side recommendation. Her book has some important things to say about our cultural conceptions and discussions around sex and gender.
Emba's article "Men are lost" is equally important. She writes,
"While the past 50 years have been revolutionary for women — the feminist movement championed their power, and an entire academic discipline emerged to theorize about gender and excavate women’s history — there hasn’t been a corresponding conversation about what role men should play in a changing world. At the same time, the increasing visibility of the LGBTQ+ movement has made the gender dynamic seem less stable, less defined."
She points out how both conservatives and liberals try to create definitions of masculinity, and neither really gets at the heart of the matter. As a result, men go off in all sorts of unhelpful directions as we try to find our way in a world that looks different from the generations that came before us.
The essential question the article raises is, "What does a healthy, differentiated, masculine identity that is socially compatible with women's empowerment look like?"
Spoiler alert for the Barbie movie: when it comes to Ken, and his fellow Kens, that's the basic question the movie asks about men in the end, too.
The Church's role
I think it's cultural issues like this that the Church has an opportunity to speak to in meaningful ways. To start, from a theological perspective, it's important to understand that patriarchy is not part of God's original design for creation. Many expressions of Christianity would have us think so, but it's simply not true. After Adam and Eve are expelled from the Garden of Eden, God lays out the consequences of their actions. In Genesis 3:16, God says to Eve, "You will desire your husband, but he will rule over you." In the Garden, Adam and Eve were equals. Patriarchy comes later as a consequence of "the fall."
"In the Garden, Adam and Eve were equals. Patriarchy came later as a consequence of 'the fall.'"
The Church can influence this discussion if we, too, can answer the question for ourselves. What does a truly Christian vision of masculinity - one that takes into account God's original intention for humanity, and looks to Jesus as its guide - look like?
What does it mean to you - whether you're a man or a woman - to "be a real man"? I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments.
Take some time to read Emba's article, and to see Barbie if you have the time. I'd love to hear your thoughts on both, as well!