I did not take my daughters to see the Barbie movie because I wanted to see it for myself first.
Untangling myself on a Saturday afternoon from the demands of home and family was maddening; my family was not thrilled about my little afternoon break. Driving to the theater, I questioned why doing something for myself had become this hard. I expected to connect with some part of my childhood while watching this movie and realized that since motherhood I have barely been able to connect with myself at all.
Barbie’s opening scene brought an exhilaration I was not expecting. This movie masterfully weaves stories that are past and present. I was the little girl with dolls and tea parties. My Barbie was lovingly dressed for every occasion, living in an extravagant dream home, and marrying Ken every day. Barbie was a toy figure that I was expected to take care of. Like many women in my generation, I was raised to be a caregiver.
The perpetual lie that I could be anything I wanted to be and still be me is a trauma that I carry to this day, especially in the role of wife and mother. Barbie empowered many little girls in a variety of ways, but for me, Barbie was less about what was possible and more about what must be taken care of.
I grew up in the early 90s, feminism has always been in plain view, primarily because my mother believes in feminine empowerment while also being the quintessential 50’s style housewife and mother. She raised her daughters to have big aspirations in neatly packaged dreams. We were supposed to fall in love with the best man (Ken), have babies and fall in love with being mothers while also having our own talents and skills that brought us acclaim. My mom would always tell us, “You can have it all.” Although her intentions were pure, she lied.
My biggest struggle with feminism is that it tells women they can “Do it all, have it all, be it all…” While I believe in women’s empowerment, we should never have to “do it all” in order to be empowered or valuable.
This was my big message from the Barbie movie, a message with an open-end because, frankly, our society does not have this figured out. We are all on the verge of massive burnout. The patriarchy is crumbling but so are women, so are mothers, so are working mothers trying to build a career. The system we were raised to believe in has failed us.
Much like Ken finding himself, I believe that there has to be a balance between the genders- when it comes to things like parenting, responsibility, and goals. We are better together and not in competition.
As for my little girls growing up in an impossible world, I plan on telling them the truth that the Barbie movie taught me… “Moms stop moving so their daughters can look back and see how far they’ve come.” I wish my mother had told me that. Parts of us disappear in this journey of caregiving and child-raising. We do stop moving, and we sacrifice so much so that our children can have opportunities that we didn’t.
Nobody told me that being a mother would mean this much sacrifice. Nobody said I would lose this much of myself in the process. I never regret being a mom to my beautiful babies; I only regret that the world we live in makes it so hard.
The Barbie film sends a message that women are allowed to not be perfect, women don’t always have to be in charge, there is no such thing as “being it all” without a cost. Too many of us were raised with the wrong expectations of being a woman, wife, mother, artist, and successful professional. The good news is that we have an opportunity to send a different message to the next generation of women. While there’s a lot I have not gotten right, maybe my daughters can and will do things differently.