The trajectory of online outrage is fairly predictable at this point. A thing happens. A bunch of people get upset. A different bunch of people criticize the first bunch for getting upset. Yet still another bunch of people get upset at the second bunch for getting upset at the first. And like sands of the hourglass, so are the days of our lives…
I’ve been known to have my moments in all three of these bunches. And, fortunately for my own mental health, sometimes I’m able to ignore the news cycle entirely.
But the recent Barbie movie uproar did indeed suck me in. And while it may feel like noise to some, there’s been some interesting and smart analysis on the lack of Oscar nods for Margot Robbie and Greta Gerwig, and perhaps even more on the cultural outcry that’s resulted.
After digesting more than a reasonable amount of content about this miscarriage of justice, I’m putting myself in the third bunch on this one. And I’d like to explain why.
Following the initial surprise at the “snubs” and the cleverly incisive memes that resulted, what my own feed was filled with was pointed critiques at the public outrage itself. Some of those critiques centered on the fact that the world is burning and babies are dying and people are staying silent on those travesties while making a whole lot about some Hollywood folks not getting the chance at statues. That wasn’t wholly incorrect.
Other of the critiques focused on Babie as “not that great of a movie” and pointed out that, perhaps, Robbie and Gerwig didn’t actually deserve to be nominated for their work. Perhaps the world got so caught up in the billion-dollar blockbuster that we’ve failed to really consider talent. Ryan Reynolds was skillful in the film, and an unexpected delight. “Don’t despair, Margot,” reassured a post I read. “You’ll get em next time.”
I get both of these perspectives. Personally – not that it matters, really – I loved a lot of things about the Barbie movie in theory and principle. As cinema, it was entertaining to me. It was artful and clever, but not transformative. Meanwhile, yes… a lot of shit is going down around the world.
But what I think the critiques of the “feminist” outrage fails to fully grasp – or perhaps, moreso, at least acknowledge – is how close to home the experience of Robbie and Gerwig hits for so many women. It’s an experience so close to home that it shows up in our living rooms. And bathrooms. And kitchens.
What their experience reminded me of is when I’ve hosted a cookout and done every piece of it from coming up with the idea, reaching out to invite people, making a menu, compiling a grocery list, shopping, prepping, making six different side dishes and dessert, cleaning the house, setting the table, and tending to guests and when dinner is served everyone gushes to my male partner about how amazing the burgers he grilled were.
The experience of birthing an idea (or a space or project or a human person) and working tirelessly to bring it into fruition is what we do. Having a man involved and then given credit – regardless of whether the credit for his specific contributions is warranted – is what we live, constantly.
Are you guys pregnant!?, they ask.
What a great partner you have to take the kids for you!, they say.
These are incredible results this quarter, Bob, they congratulate.
We know how familiar this experience is, hence the onslaught of content calling out the dismissal of these two women. It strikes so many of us as such a dramatic example of such a familiar scenario. And that familiarity lights a match on the candle of rage burning inside of us.
That’s obvious, perhaps, but what I think is worth adding to this conversation is that it’s not silly or stupid to call out the public examples of this dynamic. Even when there are atrocities happening elsewhere. Even when those women may or may not “deserve” an Oscar. In fact, it’s so vitally important.
Here’s why. Because if I go online and write a post about how I’m mad that my husband got too much credit for our cookout, I might get a few pity likes on my vent, but I’ll largely be dismissed as a bitter woman who seems oddly obsessed about people validating her hosting. And just as quickly as I shared my teeny tiny example, the world has moved on.
But when we have an example like this one, something big and glittery and on the world’s stage, we have an opportunity to help create a mental model. It becomes part of the national conversation and we, for years to come, will point to the “snub” as part of the cultural fabric of women going unacknowledged for their work.
And yes, it’s happening in the context of some truly horrific news, news that absolutely deserves our attention too. But I don’t believe that speaking to Hollywood and gender bias negates the importance of those issues, individually or collectively.
Sure, awards for movies may seem like fluff, but what we literally reward in our society actually matters deeply. Not because Gerwig needs a statue on her mantel, but because the literally billions of people who see whether she takes home a statue (or has the chance at one) absolutely shapes what we see as acceptable, possible, and likely. It communicates something to girls, not just those considering careers in entertainment, but all girls. Girls who need to models of being trailblazers, of promoting the ideals of feminism.
And we need those girls and women to see that the world is changing, that men can’t waltz in and get the glory, that their art and their effort and their work means something to other people. We need that not just because it’s fair and right, but because, I believe, a more peaceful and just world actually depends on it. Research proves, after all, that having women in power produces less violence and more solutions. And isn’t that what we all want?
So whether Robbie and Gerwig’s work was Oscar-worthy is honestly hardly the point. If that’s what we are debating, we’ve lost the thread. What’s important here is that their lack of nominations ignited a crucial conversation, one that doesn’t lessen the other conversations that are happening or need to happen. I’m personally glad we’re having it.