Much has been said and written about the Barbie movie. If anything, the amount of hand-wringing over the movie’s virtues and vices is, at least, a testimony to its power as a thought-provoking cultural phenomenon. At the risk of being reductionistic, Barbie is about seeing that which has been unseen or even ignored. Particularly, Barbie is about getting society, especially men, to see what women go through and that women are more valuable than just “the fairer sex.” To give us this sight, Barbie gives us Barbieland, a world in which the Barbie dolls run everything and that the Ken dolls are powerless, oafish, eye candy. Seeing men in such positions is a powerful—and far from subtle— rhetorical device that makes men so uncomfortable that they finally see women and what they go through.
Might I offer a cultural juxtaposition to show that there is a subtler, perhaps even more powerful story that can get us to truly see women? The cultures of Jesus’ time—whether Greco-Roman or Judean—were far more misogynistic than ours. Women barely had standing in courts of law, were not afforded educations, nor considered even close to men in physical or mental abilities. They were seldom heard from and rarely seen for their true value. Women were background figures at best.
Jesus’ compassionate genius invaded that space. He demanded that men, especially religious men, respect women. Once, a Pharisee (a particularly strict and austere religious leader) named Simon had invited Jesus to dinner at his home. Now, it was customary for a host to offer water to his guests to wash the dust off their sandaled feet as they entered the home. Yet Simon had neglected to extend this common courtesy to Jesus.
Socially powerful men were reclining following the meal when a “woman of the city” burst into the house. She began to weep in Jesus’ presence, knowing that he had healed many and delivered women from oppression and sin. In fact, she wept onto Jesus’ feet, washing them with her tears and wiping them dry with her hair. She anointed Jesus’ feet with a costly perfume. She had found that longed-for forgiveness in Jesus. But the pharisee was outraged. How could Jesus be a prophet of God if he would allow such a sinner to touch him in this familiar way?
The odor of the pharisee’s religiosity filled the room more pungently than the fragrant ointment. Simon the pharisee had dismissed the woman as beneath him. But Jesus would not dismiss her. The Bible recounts a small, but profound detail. While confronting Simon’s self-righteous dismissal, Jesus turned toward the woman (Luke 7:44). Marinate in this for a moment. He looked at the woman—not Simon—even as he challenged Simon’s misogyny. “Do you see this woman?” Jesus asked him while looking at her. Simon hadn’t seen her at all. All he saw was her sin and low station. “I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair,” Jesus said. “Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much.” Jesus saw the woman the entire time he was addressing Simon. How masterful that the simple gesture of looking at her while scolding him could simultaneously show appreciation for the woman’s character and teach Simon a thing or two about his lack of humility or love. In a culture where women dissolved into the backgrounds of men’s affairs, Jesus spotlighted the woman, speaking to her and through her.
Whether grossly exaggerated or keenly accurate, women have flocked to Barbie for the way it urges us to see women. Women flocked to Jesus as well. As Michael Kruger points out, women flocked to the fledgling church, fleeing the dismissals and mistreatment that characterized their former religious communities. They saw in Jesus a man who valued them. Dorothy Sayers’ powerful statement about what women saw in Jesus rings in my mind. “Perhaps it is no wonder that the women were first at the Cradle and last at the Cross,” she writes. They saw in Jesus a man unlike any they had ever met, a man who was “a prophet and teacher who never nagged at them, never flattered or coaxed or patronized; who never made arch jokes about them, never treated them either as ‘The women, God help us!’ or ‘The ladies, God bless them!’” Sayers saw, as Jesus’ women followers saw, that Jesus had no fragile male ego that would cause him to put down women so that he could feel superior. “There is no act, no sermon, no parable in the whole Gospel that borrows its pungency from female perversity; nobody could possibly guess from the words and deeds of Jesus that there was anything ‘funny’ about woman's nature.” Barbie wants us to see women. Women saw in Jesus a man who truly saw them.
The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of Christian Headlines.
Photo courtesy: ©Priscilla du Preez/Unsplash
ABDU MURRAY offers the credibility of the gospel message as a speaker and writer with Embrace the Truth. He has written several books, including “Saving Truth,” “Grand Central Question,” “Apocalypse Later,” and his latest, “More than a White Man’s Religion.” For most of his life, Abdu was a proud Muslim until a nine-year historical, philosophical, theological, and scientific investigation pointed him to the Christian faith.
Abdu has spoken to diverse international audiences and has participated in debates and dialogues across the globe. He holds a B.A. in Psychology from the University of Michigan – Ann Arbor and earned his Juris Doctor from the University of Michigan Law School. Abdu lives in the Detroit area with his wife and their three children.
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