As I sit down to write this blog post, the news is just breaking about Barbie’s new curves—have you seen the story? If you missed it, Mattel has designed a new Barbie—well, several new Barbies, actually: three new body types [petite, tall, and curvy] with 30 hair colors, 22 eye colors and seven skin tones. Reading the cover story that Time ran this week, I was reminded of how much Barbie has perpetuated the gender stereotypes of many generations since her first appearance in 1959. For example, did you know that it wasn’t until last year that Barbie came with flexible ankles that would allow her to wear flats? [Because, you know, real women wear heels—apparently all the time.] And, at one point in her history, Barbie actually came with a diet book that counseled, “Don’t eat.” Some years later, Barbie came with a chip that caused her to say, “Math is hard.” Sheesh. [In fairness, there also was a “surgeon Barbie”–with a cute short scrub jacket to boot–in 1973, when less than 10% of surgeons were doctors. OK–point taken.] Only time will tell how these new Barbies will be received by a new generation of young girls and boys, but what I do know is that gender stereotypes die hard.
In the same way that the word “Barbie” will most likely continue to conjure up images of a perky-breasted, tiny-waisted, long-haired blond for years to come, it is true that even after 2,000 years of Christianity, the word “God” continues to conjure up images of an old, bearded white man—usually sitting on a throne. Thinking about these two images, I wonder if in some general way the history of the role of women in the church can be read between these two stereotypes: a powerful, older male God who rules the world and a young, attractive woman whose crowning attribute is her beauty [and that hot pink convertible, of course]. It’s a stark contrast between substance and superficiality, between gravitas and frivolity, between strength and weakness; and it highlights the various reasons given throughout the years why women shouldn’t have a greater role in both the church and society: they’re not smart enough, not capable enough; they’re too delicate, too emotional. I say again, Sheesh.
Wouldn’t it be great if, in a similar way, the church decided to roll out a couple new images of God? We could start right away, with Lent if we wanted. Imagine if this year on the Ash Wednesday bulletin, instead of a traditional image of Jesus and his Father, that “Father” was depicted full-figured, with a chic pixie [“Father” is a metaphor, after all, not an indication of literal gender.] If some curves and blue hair work to bring Barbie into the 21st century, image what they could do for God.