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‘Barbie Feminism’: Gender studies Fiat Lux course takes on silver screen giant

(Helen Juwon Park/Daily Bruin)

By Alexandra Crosnoe

Jan. 21, 2024 5:20 p.m.

This post was updated Jan. 21 at 10:30 p.m.

“Barbie” took the world by storm last summer, dominating both movie theaters and social media. Now, the movie has reached the UCLA course catalog.

Gender Studies 19: “Barbie Feminism” unpacks how director Greta Gerwig’s “Barbie” fits into the current feminist movement, said Juliet Williams, a professor of gender studies.

“I will feel my mission accomplished if students emerge from the course realizing that when it comes to feminism, the question we shouldn’t be asking is, ‘What is it?’” Williams said. “In this course … our task is to give substance and meaning to the notion of a distinctive new expression of feminism that we’re calling ‘Barbie Feminism.’”

As a Fiat Lux class, the course is one unit, consists of around 20 students and is taught by a member of the Academic Senate faculty on a topic they are passionate about. Williams said she was attracted to the Fiat Lux course design and how it gives students the chance to participate in a seminar class, something their degree plan might not offer.

Denise Diaz, a first-year political science student, said she decided to take “Barbie Feminism” as a way to add a more engaging class to her schedule.

“Since it’s my second quarter, a lot of my courses are more dense,” Diaz said. “I was looking for something that could liven up the mood.”

The class has just one prerequisite: See the “Barbie” movie. Devansh Mishra, a first-year mathematics of computation student, said his unexpected enjoyment of the movie made him eager to sign up for the course.

“I did the ‘Barbenheimer’ double feature, … and ironically, I went into it thinking I’d like ‘Oppenheimer’ more, but then I liked ‘Barbie’ more,” Mishra said. “It struck a chord with me so I was like, ‘Why not?’”

Williams said the class began with a week on patriarchy, a key term in the film. She added that the class would later cover how the word “patriarchy” lost its popularity within feminist theory and activism, along with the stakes of recovering the term.

The next week, the class will pivot to discussing masculinity, specifically regarding how the movie speaks to men and masculine gender norms, Williams said.

The course also offers a week on intersectional feminism and its role in the movie, she added.

“Intersectionality is a dominant framework within feminist theory which insists that we can’t think about gender outside of race and racialization,” Williams said. “We’re going to look at what messaging the movie sends about the significance and relevance of racial justice issues to 21st-century feminism.”

Williams said the class will culminate in a discussion of the politics of sex in “Barbie,” including the discontinuing of pregnant dolls in Barbie Land to the importance of the film’s final scene, which portrays Barbie visiting the gynecologist.

Diaz said the aspect of the class she is most excited about is the opportunity to dissect the movie beyond its most obvious feminist implications.

“There’s little things that maybe aren’t so apparent that we’re going to get into,” Diaz said. “I’m excited to talk more about connecting feminism to outside issues.”

Lucia Zolezzi Gideon, a first-year microbiology, immunology and molecular genetics student, said assignments for the class consist of reading articles and watching films, such as Hulu’s “Tiny Shoulders,” a documentary on the history of Barbie dolls.

Williams said she enjoys how the class immediately allows students to discuss the ways in which the movie impacts today’s society.

“As professors, … our starting point is scholarly literature … and in the very end, you might bring in some contemporary examples,” Williams said. “That approach is not always the most effective way to engage students.”

Thus far, Gideon said she has most appreciated hearing her fellow students’ personal experiences with feminism. They added that Fiat Lux’s small class sizes give students the ability to share their different perspectives and views more than in a traditional class.

Becca Kosic, a first-year microbiology, immunology and molecular genetics student, said she would recommend taking the class to become more informed about feminism.

“I would definitely recommend this class to another student,” Kosic said. “It’s really beneficial for anyone, especially looking towards your future and becoming a more well-rounded individual, more knowledgeable.”

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Alexandra Crosnoe
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