Being a Latter-day Saint Woman Was Just Like the Barbie Movie for Me, Part Two

On Monday I published a blog post about the Barbie movie and how my Mormon upbringing reminded me of Ken’s experience in Barbieland. You can read that original post here.

If you haven’t seen the movie and need context for what I’m going to write about today, here’s a quick summary of just the part of the movie I’m going to talk about:

Barbieland was originally a place where the Barbies ruled everything and did all of the important jobs in society (doctors, lawyers, supreme court justices, etc). Kens just watched and hoped to be noticed by the Barbies. Ken and Barbie take a trip to the Real World, where these gender roles are largely reversed. Ken learns about patriarchy, and while Barbie is busy in the Real World, he sneaks back to Barbieland and introduces these new ideas to everyone there. The Kens take over and form a patriarchy in Barbieland, and the Barbies give up all of their jobs and responsibilities to primarily just dote on the Kens, fetching them endless “brewski beers” and listening to them talk about their favorite movies and explain things like how to edit in Photoshop to them.

There was a great comment on my original post made by Cate, wondering how Ken was able to come back to BarbieLand, quickly introduce patriarchy to everyone, and immediately brainwash all of the very smart and capable Barbies into *also* thinking it was an amazing system. 

Cate, thank you for your thought-provoking comment because it inspired this second blog post.

That little section of the movie felt like a plot hole to me at first, too. I thought, “How could a bright and capable Barbie go from being the president to just a doting servant in such a short period of time? Am I missing something? Does this actually happen in real life and my patriarchy-soaked brain is having a hard time grasping it?”

I had to sit with it for a solid day, and then I realized – yes, this is exactly what happens to bright, capable women in a patriarchy (including the church) all the time.

The movie explained that Barbies went from being leaders to subservient almost instantaneously because they had never experienced patriarchy before. They had zero immunity to the idea, just like an indigenous people are wiped out by smallpox when it’s introduced to them for the first time. 

I had to really think about it, but exactly like these Barbies had zero resistance to patriarchal ideas, I had no ability to fight against them either because I was born and raised completely in a patriarchal system. 

I was part of Ordain Women almost ten years ago, and the type of comment I heard more than almost anything from capable, bright LDS women was this: “I don’t want the priesthood. Can you imagine having to be bishop?! That’s way too much work. I just want to sit back and be blessed.” I followed up with an old friend who’d made that type of comment to me in 2013 when I told her I was submitting my own profile to the Ordain Women website. She remembered the conversation and her remarks, and reminded me she’d also talked about not wanting to wear panty hose or go to extra meetings. At that time her husband was so frequently gone with church callings and priesthood duties that she felt like a single mom and couldn’t fathom adding another responsibility to her plate. In retrospect (and in my opinion) sharing that burden of leadership between both men and women would’ve helped her out immensely as a young mom. She didn’t need to be called as the bishop – but an older woman in her ward with no career and no kids left at home could’ve done it. Just like a lot of Kens in the movie hang out at the beach all day and night without much to do, a lot of older women in the church are underutilized while young fathers have to fill the heavy callings – simply because only men are allowed to be in those positions.

I had likewise felt the same way as my friend for many years. I was grateful that I didn’t have to worry about getting called at midnight to give a healing blessing to someone in the hospital. That sounded terrifying. I didn’t have to go on a mission if I didn’t want to. I didn’t have to come up with back-to-school blessings for my kids. I didn’t have to worry about being called to a bishopric or the high council or having to sit in on disciplinary councils. I didn’t have to worry about getting older and NOT getting any of those prestigious callings and feeling like a failure. It all sounded so hard! I was so glad that would never be an option for me. I could just sit back and relax and let the men do all of it instead. Phew!

One of the Barbies (under Ken’s patriarchy) said, “This is like a spa day for my brain!” and handed her Ken another brewski beer while smiling. While I have never handed my LDS husband a beer in my entire life, I have made him dinner while he was out doing priesthood duties and said to myself, “I’m so glad it’s not me who gets called to give a healing blessing!”

As a BYU student, I remember thinking that male returned missionaries were so cool. Just like the Kens in the movie took their Barbies to the beach and played guitar at them for hours, an RM could’ve taken a younger me to the beach and spoke a foreign language at me and told me mission stories for hours, and I would’ve fawned over him the entire time if he was a boy I liked. I thought priesthood holding men were amazing. They could give blessings and literally speak God’s words directly to me on His behalf. They could heal cancer and raise the dead and convert thousands and call me forth on the morning of the first resurrection. They were my stake presidents and apostles and prophets and could reveal things that I could never begin to understand as a woman.

At some point in my life I began to realize that these blessings weren’t actually word for word personal sermons directly from the mouth of God channeled to me through a 22-year-old home teacher, but more like a young man closing his eyes and using his intuition to come up with the best things to say to me right then. I started to think, “Wait, I have intuition too. What makes his intuition so much better than my intuition? As far as I can tell his intuition is mixed with a bunch of testosterone and that just makes guys punch each other and start wars, so why does his man-intuition always outrank mine? Why can’t I give my own woman-intuition blessing right back at him? Why is his word the final say on everything??”

But before I reached that point and started to question patriarchy, I was exactly like the brainwashed Barbies who were totally content to serve their Kens and watch them be in charge of everything. I was grateful to not have to be in charge. I was grateful to have a “spa day for my brain”. When patriarchy was explained to me from infancy as something I should feel immense gratitude for, it was very hard to see it any other way. Like indigenous people and smallpox, I also had no immunity.

I don’t think all of those smart Barbies accepting patriarchy without objection is a plot hole anymore. I actually think it makes perfect sense and the movie did an accurate job of showing how gender inequality makes a woman behave against her own best interests and even feel happy while doing it. How many possible female Nobel prize winners have hung up their work after being told a career is incompatible with motherhood? What doctor could have cured cancer if her parents hadn’t prioritized her brother’s education over hers? What engineering feat was never accomplished because a young woman dropped out of college to support her husband through his schooling instead, because his was deemed more important than hers?

The Barbie movie is obviously an over the top, cartoonish caricature of real life and no actual male-female relationships are this overly simplified in reality. The critical reviews I’ve read of this movie seem to be missing that point – which felt explicitly obvious to me. It’s a fantasy world and silly things are happening throughout the storyline, so no one should actually conclude women consumed by patriarchal ideas dress in maid costumes and exist only to give foot rubs to their male romantic partner. It’s a comedic imitation of how patriarchy affects our ability to think rationally, and the ludicrousness of the Barbies’ behavior makes us look inward and consider our own irrational behavior.

When the brainwashed Barbies were awakened from their trance it’s what a lot of women refer to as their feminist awakening. It’s a sudden realization that everything you always thought was fair and equal actually isn’t – and that as a woman you’re the one who’s been willingly taking second place your entire life. After that it doesn’t matter how many ladies in Relief Society or bishops or parents or old BYU friends tell you that everything is fine, you can’t close your eyes to the inequality ever again.

So the next time you hear an LDS woman saying publicly that she’s so grateful to *not* hold the priesthood and worry about the responsibilities the men have, take a moment and remember those very capable Barbies embracing Ken’s patriarchal system and expressing their own gratitude for not having to do their old jobs anymore. It’s remarkably similar. I think the Barbie movie hit reality right on the head for the LDS church.

(PS. In response to a common critique of feminism that I’ve seen thrown at the Barbie movie, I want to add an important clarification from myself (a woman who was raised LDS) about my feelings towards men vs my feelings towards patriarchy. I think my feelings reflect that of many, many Latter-day Saint women.

I love men. I genuinely adore them. I love the way they think. I love the way they talk. I love the male perspective. I love feeling protected by men. I love letting them pick up my heavy stuff. I love when they hold the door for me. I love when they teach me interesting manly topics I’ve never heard of. I love them as fathers. I love when they’re brave and hardworking and loyal. I love how they are “great at doing stuff” (from Ken’s song in the movie). My favorite genre of music is Boy Band. I just celebrated my twenty-year anniversary married to a very wonderful LDS man. Since I was about 11 years old the things I like about boys, men and masculinity have quite possibly filled my thoughts more than any other topic. I love men and all maleness in a way that I can’t even put into words because it just comes from the very core of who I am.

And yet, I hate patriarchy. I hate it so much. I hate a system where I was taught to undervalue my own contributions to society and my own self-worth in subservience to men. Hating the patriarchy (or loving the Barbie movie!) does not equate to hating men or masculinity. (And disliking the patriarchy as a man does not mean hating oneself.) The two things are completely and totally separate. So from me…and all other women – we love men. What we hate is patriarchy.)


  1. Can you please give me a good example of the “patriarchy” functioning in Society in the last 15 years? Not in the Church, but in US Society. A distinct example of an organized kabal to hold women back.

    • Bro, you ask one thing, then set a ridiculous standard of an “organized” kabal. Patriarchy is systematic. It’s part of the social structure. It doesn’t really need an organization. There are obvious double standards in the secular world. Just a quick example. The same group that worships trump, criticized Kamal for her pervious sexual relations within a relationship non the less. While trump sexually molested women, slept with a porn star while his wife was pregnant. They raised him as some pinnacle of manliness, while shaming denegrading Harris.

      You comment has to be disingenuous.

    • Just Wondering —

      One example is that I’ve worked at two engineering firms in Utah, and I am still the only licensed female professional engineer at either of them. At the previous company I was the only female engineer at all (licensed or non-licensed).

      There is nothing magically inherent in the brain of a woman that makes her less likely to want to become an engineer. Women go into engineering at low rates because of patriarchy. Women leave engineering because of patriarchy. When I worked in Texas for 2 years, my firm had many female licensed/professional engineers. Still not 50/50, because of course we still have the US / Christian culture to contend with, but it was a lot better than in Utah!

    • @Just Wondering: Men are completely in control of the most basic female rights to their own bodies. A woman can’t decide on choices for her own body and reproductive rights. Women are still paid less than men- for doing the same job. Women are in charge of an unequal share of household duties and mental labor in households, because it is expected of their gender- even when they are working full time outside the home. Our entire political system is dominated by men. Women don’t even get to keep their name when they get married- they take on their husbands name. All of those are examples of patriarchy.

      • By reproductive rights, you mean abortion. You have all kinds of reproductive rights – even the right to to kill your own child in utero. What right don’t you have on the reproductive front? Are you afraid of having the right to kill your own child taken away? You can be on birth control or not. Pregnancy is a potential consequence of sex. Women are not men. The consequences of sex are not the same for the two, but women aspire for it to be so.

        If you’re doing more housework than your husband, that’s a relationship you are participating in and choosing to stay in. Do you do an equal share of the outdoor work and car repairs and house repairs?

        • Read the book, “Ejaculate Responsibly” ( for a very well thought out description of reproductive rights for men vs women. You said it right, the consequences of sex are not the same for men and women. And the responsibility and costs of reproductive care/control are not the same for men vs women. If men were the ones getting pregnant laws would be very different. It’s not about killing babies, that is just the media (and you) sensationalizing the issue.
          And yes, I work full time, I do all the housework AND all the repairs in the home that I co-own with my husband. I fix and install appliances, lay flooring etc, and am 100% responsible for finding contractors for work I can not do. Just the fact that you listed these as men’s work is very telling.

    • Dude. The church is a part of society and a part of US culture. It’s a huge reason why people in Utah, Idaho and Arizona have the society that they do. It effects everything where it’s strongest. Why do you feel it needs to be left out? The US would absolutely be a dystopia if it was ran like the church is ran. Women would have no authority and no position of power, just like the Kens have nothing in the movie. You think that people leave the church culture at home when they are in the outside world? No. It effects their decisions in everyday life and how much women are valued in the broader society. If they think women can’t lead in church, what is going to cause them to think we are competent outside of the church? It’s absolutely systemic, not a kabal. That means there’s an underlining view that women are of lesser value, which means that there’s going to be systems put in place that keep to that view. I think it would benefit you to actually see the movie.

      If you want examples, look at the structures of power in the US. How many female presidents have there been? What’s the percentage of female CEOs compared to male ones? Would a female president even be accepted? You’re being obtuse and part of the problem. Roe v. Wade was just overturned last year. That’s a pretty backwards step and an example patriarchy. We talked about there is a disproportionate amount of men in government, You think it was women who decided that they shouldn’t get to control their reproduction? Nope. It was men who have no medical experience who did it.

  2. Congress’s refusal to pass the Equality Act. Women and our Q siblings are still not equal in the US. And the LDS church sends highly paid attorneys to fight against equal rights.

  3. This is great! When I commented on your last post, my “Oops” was meant to acknowledge that, oh, maybe I had been brainwashed – sort of. You explain it wonderfully here!

    • Oh, ha ha! I think I read your “oops” as “oops” for the filmmakers. Well, it made me think more, and we’re all brainwashed a little bit. At least we have good company! 😅

  4. Reading about undo influence and mind control from psychologists over the last few years they point out that one of the biggest misconceptions is that only unintelligent people are vulnerable. There are many successful, intelligent well educated people who find themselves victims.

    • Jake, in fact intelligent people can be brainwashed more easily precisely because they think they will never fall for brainwashing. Their pride gets them.

  5. This was exactly the part of this movie that hit home for me. I have always been very adamant about rejecting patriarchy in society, and simultaneously accepting it at church. I have 100% made comments about church leadership being “too much work.” Ten years ago I wore pants to church in solidarity with the Ordain Women but wasn’t quite ready to sign my name. Today I would. Sometimes that awakening takes a long time.

  6. Abby thank you for getting this out there, I personally connect with all you are saying as a former LDS woman. I very much underachieved in my life so as not to make my husband look bad. Before I married I planned to continue my studies (I graduated with honours at BYU hawaii), but marrying a man without a degree, I was told by priesthood leaders that I needed to support him to study instead (which he only started 10 years after our wedding) and that my focus should be on bringing lots of babies into our family! I succumbed to the pressure. Im so glad this movie has put “patriarchy” out there in people’s awareness, esp for our young girls. I must admit though, if I saw this movie as a young woman in the church, I probably would have likely dismissed this as a wordly movie spouting worldly ideas. I now know better and so will my daughter!

    • I’m pretty sure it was President Hinckley who said, “Men, you don’t want to marry a girl whose education exceeds yours, do you?” (or something), making it clear that men are supposed to be the ones who achieve educationally, not women.

        • Yes, that’s the talk it’s from! Here’s the paragraph:

          “It is plainly evident from these statistics that young women are exceeding young men in pursuing educational programs. And so I say to you young men, rise up and discipline yourself to take advantage of educational opportunities. Do you wish to marry a girl whose education has been far superior to your own? We speak of being “equally yoked.” That applies, I think, to the matter of education.” -President Hinckley

          He’s totally fine with young men getting more education than young women -that’s never a problem at all. It’s just when the roles reverse that he gets nervous. I have seen many female friends go through divorce and join the workforce two decades late and with limited (or outdated) education, often in part because of prophetic advice like this. 🙁

        • To be fair, it appears he’s advocating being “equally yoked”. (Though I agree, no one has ever batted an eye when the man is more educated than the woman.)

  7. I’ll push back a little – I don’t think they should only use older women who don’t have kids at home. That still feels wrong to me. Yes, young mothers are overwhelmed, especially in a patriarchal society because they are literally doing everything: child care, cooking, cleaning and all the planning, while doing this with careers of their own. I think if the men in these systems helped out more it wouldn’t be as big of a burden for women to have these callings. I think patriarchy makes it impossible in every way. The barrier of overworked mother is there for a reason.

    • In the movie, the barbies in Barbieland are considered better and more competent than the Kens just for being Barbies. There’s no other reason. They are superior just for being themselves and existing. Their needs and wants trump everything else. That’s perfectly illustrated in the notion that women are too busy to have certain callings. Men get to make decisions and find personal fulfillment in these positions just because they are men, for no other reason. They are competent to do so just because they are male. Women need the experiences too, but their decision is already made for them.

      • I think I have found why the notion bothered me. Let’s do a role reversal like the Barbie movie does. Do the men who extend these callings care if the man who is called has young children at home with a wife who will be over worked? No. Does the man called decline the call because that means he’ll be away from his kids and his wife needs help? No. That doesn’t happen. Women’s work isn’t valued in the system. Like how the barbies act, the men’s needs and wants are more important and like Barbie, they absolutely can’t give up having a dance party everyday.

    • It would be fantastic to call some young moms as priesthood leaders! Especially if they are stay at home moms alone with young children all day and their husbands are gone at work – the women could actually leave the house and get some adult interaction and responsibilities outside of the domestic sphere (which is so good for mental health). The husbands could have hands on time with their kids at home after being gone all day, rather than leaving straight to the church after work for their callings.

      It just makes perfect sense to me to open up all church responsibilities equally to both men and women. (And yes, it means men start doing a lot more of what has traditionally been considered women’s work.)

  8. I’m going to shake things up a bit. While I found this blogpost slightly inciteful, I am a bit disturbed by the implication that women who are happy in a patriarchal society either can’t see the inequality that is there, or are brainwashed to see it as God’s will. Either conclusion paints these happy women not as wise and spiritually minded, but as mindless and easily manipulated. Please correct me if this was not your intention. What if, instead, it is the wise women of the world that know we have a great work to be done that can’t be done by men. Was God discriminatory against men when he gave women the ability to carry a child in the womb, but gave men such a small but not insignificant roll in the creation of children? This carrying of a child in the womb leads to bonding of mother and child that leaves some men feeling insignificant in their most important relationships. When a child is born, they lose their wife to their child at least for a time. If a man were to mention this sadness, they would be deemed whiney and non-understanding. Yet men are expected to not bat an eye when women get all ruffled over any inequality. There is a double standard, and it benefits women over men. Women get to be a whole person, intelligent and emotional, while men are reduced to misogynistic idiots without a clue on how their behavior affects women. While this may be a true statement part of the time, I don’t believe it helps society to view men this way. Isn’t it nice to give men something that gives them a fighting chance to be significant in the lives of their family?

    • As a man, I appreciate your concern, Jennifer, but I assure you that we’re doing just fine. I have often heard the argument that motherhood is the counterpart to priesthood and while I can appreciate the sentiment, I don’t agree with it. Nor do I believe that “God gave men the Priesthood because they couldn’t be mothers.” I don’t need anything to compensate for the fact that I’m not a mother because I AM a father. Just because I didn’t carry my children to term and nurse them doesn’t give me any less of an opportunity to form a bond with them. And I reject the idea that I need the priesthood or a leadership calling to be “significant in the lives of [my] family.”
      In fact, every major calling I’ve had in the church has made me less significant by taking me out of the home.

      Contrary to your statement that men talking about our feelings of inadequacy and insignificance would make us seem whiney and non-understanding, while there are certainly some that would see it that way I think it would be a really great thing for men to talk about the things that really matter to us instead of constantly pretending like nothing at all ever bothers us. It would sure make Elders Quorum far more enjoyable and rewarding! Men being comfortable talking about emotional things is a good thing and makes us far better at being good fathers and good people.

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