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  • Introduction to Women's Studies 101 
    Fall 1999 

    Class Meeting Times, Fall '99: M/W 1:00-2:15 
    Professor: Karen Remmler, Dickinson 102/Tel.: 2443 or 2408 

    Office Hours: Mon. 2:30-4:00 (please sign-up in advance) 

    **I would like to acknowledge the important and insightful suggestions of my colleagues at Mount Holyoke College on the MHC Women's Studies Program Committee past and present. This syllabus represents a collage of their suggestions and insights. 

    Course Description: What does it mean to be a woman in today's world? What are the shared and diverse economic, political, psychological and social realities of women's lives? How do women shape and become shaped by these realities and the theoretical interpretation of them? How are women constituted as objects of knowledge, and how do they constitute themselves as knowing subjects? In what ways do words matter? (What do words such as "woman" "femininity" "masculinity" "gender" mean in different contexts?) What can we learn by studying women's experience across cultures and identities? What are global feminisms? What does Women's Studies have to do with our everyday lives? How do we internationalize Women's Studies? Who constitutes the "we" in these sentences? How do "we" take account of cultural differences? 

    It would be impossible to cover every single topic related to the interdisciplinary study of women and gender in one semester. Our focus will be on issues facing women today and on the representation of these issues in theory and practice. In addition, this course will explore the relationship of gender to other forms of identity and categories of difference and experience such as race, class, sexuality, ethnicity, nationality, religion and class from three major areas of inquiry. The questions in each area will inform our reading of texts, viewing of films, and class discussion throughout the semester. 

    1) representation, language and the body: 

    What is gender? What is language? representation? discourse? How is gender culturally constructed? How is the construction of gender inflected by other cultural constructions, such as race, sexuality, class, ethnicity and/or nationality? How do representations of the body inform and construct female subjectivities? 

    2) power structures and the formation of knowledge: 

    What is power? What forms can it take? How are structures of power created, perpetuated, reinforced, unsettled, troubled, and changed? How do relations of power intersect, reinforce one another, and at other times challenge one another? How do relations of power develop through social, economic, and political arrangements? How do scientific assumptions, theories, and practices institute or break down relations of power? What role do definitions of knowledge, works of art and other cultural "texts" play in upholding or subverting power structures? What is the relationship between women and states/nations? What role do these relations play in encounters between colonists, colonized and postcolonials? 

    3) feminist approaches in theory and practice: 

    Is there a feminist ethics? Can we speak of feminisms? How can we make judgements and choices and yet also accept provisionality, contingency, and ambiguity? How have local feminisms and forms of woman's activitism varied globally? What possibilities for constructive and transformative action might we fashion from our analyses of gender, power, and knowledge? What is the relationship between activism and theory? 

    We will begin by discussing the emergence of Women's Rights movements, Feminisms, and Women's Studies. We will then examine the meaning and practice of female identities and gender in relation to racial, ethnic, sexual, national, religious, and class identities and their construction in cultural discourses and images. Thirdly we will discuss structures of violence, resistance, and change in which women are implicated as active participants and/or subjects of attack. Some of the specific topics under consideration include reproductive rights, human rights, environmental health, and cultural expression by and about women. 

    In order to conduct our inquiry into women's lives and experience and the methods by which the understanding of theses lives and experiences are transformed into knowledge, language, memory, and action we will read both fiction and non-fiction and view documentary and feature films. Our discussions of this material will be the basis for achieving the major goal of the course: to enable you to critically examine the relationship between theory and practice as it effects women's experiences and the construction of gender and other categories of identity. 

    Seminar Format: This course is primarily discussion-based, although lectures by the instructor will introduce discussion topics, readings, and films. You are expected to participate actively in class discussions and to write weekly reflection pieces on the readings and films. Individual and Group presentations will be a regular part of each class session. Discussion questions will be handed out for most assignments. 

    Guest Discussants: Occasionally other women's studies faculty will join our class to discuss a course reading or film. This will give you the opportunity to meet other faculty and to learn about different approaches to the issues raised in class. 


    Five College Women's Studies Research Center is a fine place to visit and to meet feminist scholars and activists from all over the world. Occasionally I will recommend that you attend a lecture or works-in-progress talk. In addition, the valley has numerous archives and organizations relevant to women's lives that may be of interest to you. 

    The Weissman Center for Leadership will be sponsoring a series of events on environmental health, a topic we will be exploring in this course. Information about the events is included on the syllabus. 

    The Speaking Arguing and Writing Center: This center is excellent resource for preparing oral and written assignments. Contact the Center about setting up practice sessions for your class presentations and/or guidance in preparing written work. 

    Subject Guide for Women's Studies is an on-line guide to bibliographies, websites, archives, publications and other tools for the study of issues related to women. You will find this site useful for your research projects and for general knowledge. We will have the opportunity to learn more about library and on-line resources during a library visit early in the semester. 

    Course Policies and Structure: 

    Regular attendance is required. More than two absences will result in a lowering of your final grade by one letter. Class participation is expected and is worth 15% of your final grade. All assignments must be handed in on time and be completed by the last day of the exam period in December in order for you to receive a final grade in this course. 

    This course is writing/speaking intensive. Each student will meet with me or the class speaking/writing mentor at least once in the process of preparing her class presentation and essays. 

    In order to prepare for class discussion, you write weekly one-page reflection papers on class assignments either on paper or e-mail. Each student will post her reflection paper on the e-mail list at least twice in the course of the semester. The reflection papers are to be posted on Sunday evenings by 9.p.m. The reflection papers will be useful for preparing class discussion and will be collected once a month as part of the class-participation requirement. The reflection papers can serve as the basis for your class presentations. Each student will present a synopsis and discussion of at least one reading or film in the course of the semester. 

    At the beginning of the semester, we will form groups for group discussions and projects. Each group will present a position paper during the last four weeks of class that addressed an issue covered in class. Each group will be expected to give a ten-minute presentation in a form of the group's choosing (debate, role play, lecture, performance) that draws from your position paper. Individual presentations of 5-7 minutes by each member of the group will follow the group presenation. Each individual presentation will take a stand on the issue at hand, present arguments for or against and back up statements with examples. 

    Your position paper will 1) identify a problem or issue facing women 2) demonstrate ways of gathering information and preparing documentation 3) identify resources 4)develop a strategy based on research and experience to deal with the problem or issue 5)recommend action for implementation of strategy based on your research and observations. 

    Requirements: Your writing and speaking assignments focus on a particular issue which you develop from a number of perspectives in the course of the semester. 

    1. Regular attendance is required. More than two absences will result in a lowering of your final grade by one letter. Class participation is expected and is worth 20% of your final grade. All assignments must be handed in on time and be completed by the last day of the exam period in December in order for you to receive a final grade in this course. 

    2. One class presentation of 5-7 minutes based on one aspect of your group's position paper. In addition, you will be expected to respond to different views on the subject presented by other students. 10% 

    3. Group project/position paper: At the beginning of the semester we will form groups of 4-6 students. Each group will research, develop and write a ten-page position paper based on a topic covered in class. Position papers should build on your reflection papers and respond to the major questions raised under the three main areas of inquiry listed above. The position papers may include background information on the subject at hand, a series of questions raised by different examples of and views on the subject, and an analysis of possible responses to the questions and a conclusion that summarizes your stance on the subject. The paper will require additional research and must cite all sources. The entire group will receive the same grade for the position paper, though members may write different parts of the paper. 30% 

    Topics for group project may include: 

    • Women's Studies at Women Colleges: Perspectives and Recommendations
    • Reproductive Rights: Cross-cultural studies
    • Gender and Science: Debunking Myths
    • Human Rights: What does gender have to do with it?
    • Women and the Environment: Does gender matter?
    • Women and Technology
    • Sexuality and Sexual Politics
    • Cultural Production by Women: What difference does it make? For whom?
    • Case Studies on the constructions of difference and the intersections of race, class, ethnicity, religion, and nationality within and/or across cultures.
    • Women and Resistance: Global Perspectives
    • Visual Images of Women in Mass Media
    • "Whiteness" as a category of identity
    • Forms of violence against women
    4. Weekly reflection papers will be collected monthly and should comment on all class assignments, although you may choose to elaborate on one reading or film in particular for each week. In your reflection papers please refer to the three areas of inquiry in order to analyze how the reading or film has clarified the questions raised in previous classes and in your own mind. What are the main premises of the reading? What insights have you gained from the reading or film for understanding the topic at hand? What are the limitations of the reading or film? You may choose to concentrate on one or two ideas and develop them from week to week. For example, you may want to explore how each text and/or film constructs gender in relation to race or another category of difference. Or you may want to suggest how the insights gained from the reading or film impact action. 20% 

    5. One individual class presentation in which you introduce and discuss a class reading or film. The presentation can be realted to your group project and reflections papers. These presentations are stepping stones for your group and individual presentations. Dates of presentations will be announced in class. 10% 

    6. Two-page synopsis of the goals you have achieved in this course and how you plan to apply what you have learned in your studies and everyday life. Please refer to specific examples. Due last day of exam period. 10% 

    Readings and Films: The assigned reading in this course include both canonical feminist texts and more recent texts and films in which "woman" and/or "gender" are central literal and/or figurative categories. We will explore how reading from perspectives informed by women's studies may impact your understanding of experience and its transformation into knowledge and action. 

    Readings are available at the Odyssey Bookshop, Village Commons 

    Gilman, Charlotte Perkins, The Yellow Wallpaper 
    Morales, Rosari. Getting Home Alive 
    Morrison, Toni. The Bluest Eye. 

    To guide you questions of style, please purchase Diane Hacker's A Pocket Style Manual 

    Course Packet: available in the WS office, 109 Dickinson Hall. 

    Films: the films will be on reserve at Williston Library 
    Citizen Ruth (1996) 
    Femme aux yeux overts (1994) 
    Khush (1991) 
    Las Madres de la Plazo de Mayo (1985) 
    One Woman, One Vote (1995) 
    The Body Beautiful (1991) 
    Toxic Racism (1994)



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    Copyright © 1999 Mount Holyoke College. This page created and maintained by Cynthia M. Krohn. Last modified on October 28, 1999.