Poet says he won't let his sons play with dolls and women are tearfully praising the message
The unexpected twist hist hard. And that final line? Phew.
Usually, when you hear a man say he doesn't want his son to play with dolls, you have a pretty good idea of what beliefs sit beneath the sentiment. It's not unreasonable to assume that some combination of misogyny, homophobia and problematic ideas about masculinity are at play in such an attitude.
That's why an unexpected turn in Demetri Manabat's spoken word poem, "Barbie," caught people's attention.
Manabat referred to "Barbie" as "a poem about dolls" in the caption of a TikTok video showing him performing it on stage. He opens the poem with a provocative statement: "My sons will never play with dolls. In fact, I refuse to let my sons play with dolls."
He goes on to explain that if he ever catches his son with a Barbie or a Bratz doll or a Polly Pocket or Cabbage Patch, he would set them straight, "knowing that's not how God intended" for men to act.
The audience sits quietly through all of this, and a heavy pause lets them stew in his words. But then the twist comes as Manabat explains the why behind his feelings about his sons playing with dolls, and it's one heck of a gut punch with an absolutely knock-out last line.
Watch, all the way to the end:
“Barbie” A poem about dolls. I hope you enjoy. Much Much Love Always & Forever Demetri #barbie #poetry #doll #spokenword #writing #writer #lasvegas
Is it any wonder the video has been liked over nearly a million times in three days on TikTok alone?
People in the comments were as expressive about their feelings as some of the live audience members who called out during the poem.
"I was like booooy, you better be goin somewhere with this, and yall he WENT somewhere," wrote one commenter.
"This is one of those poems you have to stick around for. I hope millions stick around for it, sir," wrote another.
One commenter simply wrote "*deletes paragraph*" as a joke about how they were initially responding to the poem when it began. Another wrote "*trust the algorithm, trust the algorithm*" in a similar vein.
Lots of people shared the lines that hit them particularly hard.
"'My boys will not make toys out of women.' This is a very amazing and beautiful piece. More people need to hear it," wrote one person.
"'Treated like a woman well before she was one but never taken seriously long after she became one' has me in tears," shared another.
"'Stretch marks tattooed across her skin as a result of reaching so far across the universe she bridged heaven and earth.'" another wrote.
"'Is the child inside of her not dying, too' felt like everything just got knocked out of me. That was one of the strongest lines I've ever heard," shared nother.
Poetry has the power to speak truth in a way that helps us understand ourselves and our world better, and spoken word poetry in particular, with its rhythmic storytelling, is a powerful tool for synthesizing complex thoughts, beliefs and feelings. Manabat could have said, "Without understanding the true value of women in real life, boys playing with dolls could symbolize men seeing women as plastic playthings to be handled and controlled and casually tossed aside," but that wouldn't have been nearly as effective as the picture he painted with his poetry and that last line—"My boys will not make toys out of women, so I refuse to let them play with dolls until they actually understand the difference between the two." Phew.
Here's to the poets who put humanity into words, and here's to conscientious men who give voice to the struggle too many women have endured for generations.