Panelists Delve Into the Barbie Revolution

The Center for Women’s and Gender Studies continued its 25th anniversary celebration on Tuesday, Jan. 30, with “Barbie Revolution,” a panel discussion held in the Health Education Center boardroom. In front of an audience of about 100 attendees, a four-person panel answered questions about the controversial and sometimes contradictory themes in the “Barbie” movie.

The conversation was moderated by Beth Keefauver, senior instructor of English at USC Upstate, and panelists were Lyla Byers, a visiting assistant professor of sociology and anthropology at Wofford College with an interest in fat studies; Renu Pariyadath, an associate professor of communication and an affiliate faculty in the Women’s and Gender Studies program at USC Upstate; and two students, seniors Sofia Villegas, president of Spectrum, USC Upstate’s LGBTQ+ student organization, and Gabriella Torres-Santiago, a computer science/cybersecurity major.

While some have dismissed the relevance and importance of “Barbie,” the panel argued that much of the context has sparked lively debate about feminism, gender roles, stereotypes and heteronormativity. In one of the movie’s most famous scenes, the character Gloria delivers a moving monologue about the challenges and expectations faced by women in the United States. Pariyadath noted women were holding hands in movie theatres during the monologue in a homosocial response.

In answering various questions posed by Keefauver, the panel expressed mixed feelings about the film. Most enjoyed it and were pleased to see feminism, diversity and gender issues well represented, but would have preferred to see the filmmakers take it to the next level. Byers pointed out that although plus-size people were visually present in the film, they never showed any flesh and weren’t integral to the plot. Torres-Santiago said she was pleased to see two Latinas, a mother-daughter duo, as main characters, but the father was white, denying the opportunity to explore machismo culture. Pariyadath mentioned that although Mattel makes Barbie dolls of varying ethnicities, there were no international Barbies in Barbieland.

After the panel discussion, the floor was opened to the audience, where questions were posed about ageism, the character of pregnant Midge and non-binary characters. The event allowed for in-depth discussion and debate. Attendees were encouraged to wear pink, and the color was well represented in the room. In addition to a costume contest with four separate categories, there was a Barbie photo booth and a vibrantly pink spread, including cupcakes, fruit and pink punch.

Story by Susan Grotenhuis