Barbie, the movie and Lessons in Chemistry, the best-selling book have enjoyed wide popularity, due to their wit and humor. There is absolute joy– laughing throughout these two works of fiction.
I laughed heartily and often through both works. Sometimes, while reading Lessons, I had to put the book down and just have a good belly laugh.
Fiction is sometimes the best way to produce truth, and the subversive elements present in the blockbuster film and the best-selling book reveal the challenges of living in a patriarchal society and the norms that restrict women from being their true selves.
I watched Barbie three times, all in a movie theater. The second time I watched Barbie, I wanted to count the number of times the word ‘patriarchy’ was used. The answer is ten, eight by Ken, two by Ruth Handler, Barbie’s creator.
In Barbie’s quest to resolve her existential crisis (discovering she has flat feet and has thoughts of death), she travels to the ‘real world’ and discovers the harsh realities of a world that limits women’s potential. She returns to Barbieland with an ally, the real-world Gloria, who provides the poignant turning point in the film, a powerful monologue that speaks of the impossibility of being a woman in a culture that subjugates them at every turn. This moment ignites a spark of change, empowering Barbie and her fellow dolls to set their own standards of self-actualization, free from the constraints of societal norms.
Lessons in Chemistry, set in the 1960’s, follows the story of Elizabeth Zott, a woman struggling to establish herself as a scientist, amid sexual assault and obstacles that keep women in subservient roles. Author Bonnie Garmus deftly weaves her tale of Elizabeth’s journey, at one point reflecting on Elizabeth’s relationships with men, and noting, “she only ever seemed to bring out the worst in men. They either wanted to control her, touch her, dominate her, silence her, correct her or tell her what to do. She didn’t understand why they couldn’t just treat her as a fellow human being, as a colleague, a friend, an equal, or even a stranger on the street, someone to whom one is automatically respectful until you find out they’ve buried a bunch of bodies in the backyard.”
When Elizabeth’s friend tries to explain that men are different, and need coddling, Elizabeth pushes back. “Men and women are both human beings. And as humans, we’re by-products of our upbringings, victims of our lackluster education systems, and choosers of our behaviors. In short, the reduction of women to something less than men and the elevation of men to something more than woman is not biological: it’s cultural and it starts with two words: pink and blue. Everything skyrockets out of control from there.”
In both Barbie and Lesson in Chemistry, we find tucked into the hilarious and adventurous story lines,subversive moments that are jewels. Both works are brilliant, fun, and filled with powerful messages.
FUN T-shirt to Celebrate Equality
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Rebecca Now, founder, manager, and performer