Barbie’s Ken, men and Jesus

Dunedin Anglican Ollie Alexander heads to the cinema to ponder the state and meaning of masculinity – in response to a challenge from Student Christian Movement Otago.

Photo by Tara Winstead. Powered by Pexels.

Four Dunedin lads took up the SCM challenge to ask what it means to be a man in the eyes of the big Hollywood moviemakers in August 2023.

At first look, Oppenheimer with his cold calculations, conflicting convictions and ever-present pipe seemed like an obvious choice, but we decided that the Barbie movie might offer us the answers we sought. Either that, or we just wanted a good reason to enjoy Greta Gerwig’s pink and plastic wonderland.

Our masculine hero in the Barbie movie is none other than Ken, the beach doll played brilliantly by Ryan Gosling. As one Ken living among many, he seemingly exists to compete for Barbie’s fleeting attention and affection. We soon realise that with or without Barbie, he is still “just Ken” — an afterthought in the genesis of Barbie and her personal utopia.

On his adventures, Ken discovers a social structure based on horses and boy-clubs, horses and beer, horses and toys and easily impressed Barbies. Did I mention horses? Without revealing too much, I’m glad to say that the film provided plenty of laughs, a fantastic musical piece and just enough depth for us lads to dive into at the bar afterwards.

We acknowledged that masculinity is difficult to define and probably looks different across history and cultures, but we agreed that if masculinity represents the dominant version on the internet then we might be better off in Barbieland.

When male “influencers” take to Youtube, Instagram and other internet platforms they preach on what it really means to be a man, which too often ends with dominance, wealth and physical strength.

When people like Andrew Tate — a self-proclaimed misogynist with charges of rape and human trafficking against him — start to become leading voices in masculinity, then we need to pause and work out why.

Do men feel like they are losing control in a world of frequent change? Do we want to hold onto power as women strive for equal rights and income? Has an erosion in real-world communities and a rise in online echo-chambers exacerbated harmful male viewpoints?

“Jesus reveals a masculinity that chooses service over dominance, and calls us to be merciful peacemakers who grapple to love our enemies.”

Looking to Jesus and his followers, we find that Christian culture is not immune to shallow or distorted versions of masculinity. Many men would rather see Jesus with a high-income job, holding a rifle and a beautiful wife, than as a poor, celibate, former refugee who held a towel to wash the feet of his friends.

Jesus reveals a masculinity that chooses service over dominance, and calls us to be merciful peacemakers who grapple to love our enemies. Traits such as physical strength and productive skills are still desirable for Christian men (Jesus was a carpenter after all) but having deep-rooted morals and a sacrificial love for others is paramount.

We discussed the importance of mentors and role models in our own lives who show us good versions of masculinity.

Some of us mentioned fathers, grandfathers, teachers, and church members who have been stable examples for the better. Men who work hard to provide, but whose ego doesn’t need them to be “The Provider”, who respect and learn from the women in their lives as well as support them, who are willing to associate not only with the strong and triumphant, but with the weird and the stragglers, and who are even prepared to look weak or fail if necessary.

By the end of the night, we acknowledged how good it is to grapple with this topic together. Just like Ken we still have many questions, but we were better off for joining him on the journey — horse or no horse. 

2023 Anglo-Catholic Hui Reflection

My protestant roots run deep. Even after a near conversion to Roman Catholicism (what we colloquially call swimming the Tiber) ten years ago, I was hesitant when the theme for this year’s Anglo-Catholic Hui was announced to be the Blessed Virgin Mary. While I can affirm for Mary the theological title Theotokos, God-bearer, with the fifth-century ecumenical council of Ephesus, that thin line between veneration and worship gets awfully blurry on the ground in devotional practice. I have to admit, I hold some discomfort around some of the more Roman Catholic beliefs and practices around Mary. Yet through this Hui, I felt God in the discomfort—in the challenge.

We arrived to St Peter’s Cathedral in Hamilton on Thursday evening for a powhiri to kick off the hui. Following the call of the Karanga and the welcome, Rev Stephen King of St Peter’s Te Aro in Wellington gave the response on behalf of us guests, who had gathered from Te Whanganui-a-tara, Tāmaki Makaurau, Ōtepoti, Ōtautahi, and Waiapu. The weekend was rich in many ways—not least through the sharing of kai and whanaungatanga with others across the Motu. 

Statue of Our Lady of Walsingham, brought by Bishop Cherrington, first bishop of Waikato. Photo courtesy of Sarah King.

There were brilliant presentations and panels, and the historical and theological teachings was of the highest calibre. Archbishop Emeritus Sir David Moxon spoke out of his experience as former co-chair of The Anglican – Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC), repeating throughout that when we start with metaphysics not with the molecules, we find we have much in common. Pā Cruz Karauti-Fox spoke of Hākarameta, Sacraments, within a te Ao Māori framework. We also heard from Rev Dr Turi Hollis and Cynthia Piper.

Archbishop Emeritus Sir David Moxon looks on as Kawhia Muraahi and Chris Kay tell of the story of the whenua at Ōrākau from the days of Rewi Maniapoto to the sale of the land by the Kays to the Crown and the subsequent gifting of the land to tangata whenua. Photo courtesy Sarah King.

But the most sacred part of the hui for me was a pilgrimage or whīkoi through the Waikato through sites of colonial harm and indigenous pain. On this holy journey, we brought with us a print of the Blessed Virgin Mary, made especially for this hui by Rev Sarah Lea West. We started at Ōrākau, made our way to Rangiaowhia, and wrapped up at Old St John’s in Te Awamutu. The stories we heard were harrowing and tragic. Pā Cruz encouraged us at evensong that night to carry with us every tear, every drop of blood, every scream, and every bullet—not to dwell in guilt, but to acknowledge the reality of our history in this land. And to acknowledge a history that could have been.

The Blessed Virgin Mary that journeyed with us on our whīkoi in Old St John’s in Te Awamutu sits in front of a portrait of Irihāpeti Te Paea Pōtatau. Photo Courtesy Sarah King.

There’s a special kind of holy discomfort, unlike other forms of unease. The kind of sacred discomfort that we were invited into prevented us from rushing to centre ourselves in the story. It asked us not to focus on our own reactions and stories of pain, but to witness, acknowledge, and be truly present to the pain of others. The Evensong service at Old St John’s concluded with Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament, the rite in which Jesus in the Eucharistic host is exposed to adoration. It was a holy moment—a holy moment that could only enter into OUR time and space through liturgy and sacrament. In that moment, we were brought together in practice and in the belief that through the work of Jesus Christ, these wounds and scars won’t have the final say in Aotearoa. Like the Blessed Virgin Mary, we bear witness to profound suffering. And yet we do not turn away. Like Mary, we continue to sing out for justice to triumph through love in this land. 

To find out more about the Anglo-Catholic Hui, visit or join the Facebook group: Anglo Catholic Hui.

Michael Toy

Public Theologian