The ‘Barbie Speech’ – How Much Has Really Changed For Women in America?


In our world where up is down, and black is white, there is a left and a right – it’s the middle we appear to be missing. Does it exist, or was it make believe all along?

Into this existential despair enters Britt Cagle Grant, the 47-year old Federal Judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit. The Stanford Law graduate, blessed by the Federalist Society and Leonard Leo, and former clerk of Hon. Brett Kavanaugh, was nominated by Donald Trump and confirmed by the Senate on July 31, 2018.

Now six years later, her words in rejecting DeSantis’s “Stop Woke Act” (otherwise known as the “Individual Freedom Measure), are particularly crushing to her supporters: “By limiting its restrictions to a list of ideas designated as offensive, …it penalizes certain viewpoints — the greatest First Amendment sin. Banning speech on a wide variety of political topics is bad; banning speech on a wide variety of political viewpoints is worse.”

When still a Presidential candidate in 2022, DeSantis used the bill as the leading edge of a divisive campaign based on white nationalist victimization, stating, “No one should be instructed to feel as if they are not equal or shamed because of their race. In Florida, we will not let the far-left woke agenda take over our schools and workplaces.”

Ron and Casey DeSantis mirror in many ways the fictional Barbie and Ken – soon to be featured in the 2024 Academy Awards. The comparison of Ron to Ken needs little explanation. And Casey is equally well-credentialed. The former host of PGA Tour Today met her husband on the golf course, and was married at Disney World. Beautiful and smart as a whip, she graduated with a degree in Economics from the College of Charleston where she competed on the Equestrian Team.

With this most recent turn of events, the DeSantis family seems to be following the plot line (with its twists and turns) of Barbie – this year’s favorite for Picture of the Year. And in the aftermath of that film you will find a female disrupter at least as prominent as Justice Grant.

I am speaking of the brilliant actress, America Ferrera, who played a 39 year old mother and Mattel employee, and delivered what one film critique describes as “the ‘Barbie’ monologue we all talked about.” You can find the two minute speech in its entirety here, and it is well worth a listen. Ferrera herself described the big speech this way: “funny and subversive and delightfully weird.”

When I first heard the speech, (husband, father of a grown daughter, grandfather of six granddaughters, brother of six sisters) I cried at one specific line – “It’s too hard.” – That comes in the next to the last paragraph.

Here is “The Speech”:

“It is literally impossible to be a woman. You are so beautiful, and so smart, and it kills me that you don’t think you’re good enough. Like, we have to always be extraordinary, but somehow we’re always doing it wrong.

You have to be thin, but not too thin. And you can never say you want to be thin. You have to say you want to be healthy, but also you have to be thin. You have to have money, but you can’t ask for money because that’s crass. You have to be a boss, but you can’t be mean. You have to lead, but you can’t squash other people’s ideas. You’re supposed to love being a mother, but don’t talk about your kids all the damn time. You have to be a career woman but also always be looking out for other people.

You have to answer for men’s bad behavior, which is insane, but if you point that out, you’re accused of complaining. You’re supposed to stay pretty for men, but not so pretty that you tempt them too much or that you threaten other women because you’re supposed to be a part of the sisterhood.

But always stand out and always be grateful. But never forget that the system is rigged. So find a way to acknowledge that but also always be grateful.

You have to never get old, never be rude, never show off, never be selfish, never fall down, never fail, never show fear, never get out of line. It’s too hard! It’s too contradictory and nobody gives you a medal or says thank you! And it turns out in fact that not only are you doing everything wrong, but also everything is your fault.

I’m just so tired of watching myself and every single other woman tie herself into knots so that people will like us. And if all of that is also true for a doll just representing women, then I don’t even know.”

But in our binary world, is it enough to agree with Barbie when she suggests that “Naming the problem can break the spell?”

Or must we document again a litany of facts that document the harm done – 1 in 5 women victims of rape or attempted rape; epidemic (41%) domestic abuse and violence; unequal pay; forced birth enacted by male super-dominated Red State legislatures; absurd maternal/fetal mortality rates; no paid maternity leave; no universal preschool; Congress is 72% male; and I could go on. But I and many others have been this way before, in search of the right facts, the right message, to find the elusive “middle ground.”

Justice Grant’s appearance this week drew me back to March 24, 2005, when another Federal Justice from the Eleventh Circuit ruled for sanity in a Florida case, opposing both the Governor (Jeb Bush) and the President (George W. Bush). That Justice allowed Terri Schiavo’s feeding tube to be removed at a Pinellas Park hospice, where she died peacefully on March 31, 2005.

Terri had struggled with a hidden eating disorder (a condition shared by 9% of Americans), which went undiscovered when she sought evaluation for infertility. On February 25, 1990, she collapsed in the lobby of their apartment in St. Petersburg, Florida. She was resuscitated but from that day forward remained in a “permanent vegetative state.” A epic 15 year “culture war” ensued before final Judicial relief was grudgingly earned.

Shouting that day from street side the day she died was Randall Terry, leader of Operation Rescue, who somehow believed that Schiavo had not suffered enough, and what our country needed was a heavy dose of “traditional masculinity,” defined by the American Psychological Association, in 2018  as a blend of “stoicism, competitiveness, dominance and aggression—and on the whole, harmful.”

Is the middle really missing? As our fictional Barbie said, let’s believe that “naming the problem can break the spell,” and that others like Justice Britt Cagle Grant might unexpectedly come along Otherwise, we are likely to witness other Terri Schiavo’s come along, destined to die because being a woman in a Trumpets America is “just too hard.”

Mike Magee MD is a Medical Historian and regular contributor to THCB. He is the author of CODE BLUE: Inside America’s Medical Industrial Complex (Grove/2020).

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