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Week 10--Further Expansion and Refinement?

Anne Dalke's picture
This week we will read some more Spivak (her interpretation of Mahasweta Devi's “Breast-Giver") and an excerpt from the work of the anthropologist Nancy Scheper-Hughes about the violence of everyday life in Brazil. You'll write papers looking @ gender issues in one particular location in the world, with instructions to "ground" your theorizing about how gender operates in a specific history and culture.

Along the way, please visit this forum and propose some suggestions for what we might read together as the semester ends. What topics, what texts might continue to expand (or perhaps help to refine?) your sense of critical feminist studies?

aaclh's picture

another related book

I just read a good book that reminded me of this class. It is called: "Outliers: The Story of Success" by Malcolm Gladwell. The point of the book is that the story of personal success - an individual succeeds against the odds - leaves out social location. Gladwell argues that an individual's success is not just due to the individual, but also his or her social location.
jzarate's picture


I'd like to thank Becky for coming up with the poetry day idea. It sounds very interesting and I'm looking forward to analyzing more poetry.
rchauhan's picture

I noticed in class on

I noticed in class on Tuesday that Jashoda's profession as motherhood was seen limiting for a woman. I just want to add that in the Indian culture, esp in the traditional areas, women are seen as wives and mothers. The daughters in a family would marry and move into their husband's house, who lived with his entire family, and would help manage the household. Also, her profession seems degrading for a woman, but one important key to the story (at least I believe) is importance of her dream and the Lionseated appearing in it. Dreams, astrology, etc are very important in the culture. The Lionseated coming into her dream as a midwife was interpreted by the rest of the community that the Lionseated was telling Jashoda she will be a midwife. Her dream is more like a prophesy. 


As for the next book/film we should read/watch, I liked the suggestion: 1984, Jhumpa Lahiri, and Born into Brothels. 

EG's picture

It's no secret that I'm a

It's no secret that I'm a fan of Jeanette Winterson's writing for both a queer and gender-challenging writing style.  In our discussion of "home," I thought of Oranges are not the Only Fruit, an autobiographical tale of a lesbian brought up by Evangelicals, and one that is Anglophonic.

I also recommend Written on the Body and Lighthousekeeping by Winterson.  I think that her use of the 2nd-person in these is really indicative of her interpretation of gender.  Winterson is an active political blogger as well, so it might be well to tie her current politics into her fiction/ creative non-fiction.  

aaclh's picture

more reading

I think that in the view of expanding our diverse reading, we should not repeat an author. I see "ebock"s point that picking a text automatically excludes 'texts' by the non-literate. However, this is an English course, so I assumed that, in taking the course, I was only going to learn about texts in English. So I'm not sure I see a problem with this.

I like the book Zami, but I can't think of a particular reason to read this book next. I'd like to hear more about Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic. 

Also, I was thinking about Laura's question: what do we do. I really think the first question is should we do something? But perhaps that was implied in the question what do we do: like the author in the story who started feeding neglected children and then gradually stopped.She, it seems, answered this question in the end by not 'doing' anything. So what she did was nothing. Or perhaps you could see it as listening to the mother's wishes.

Related to this: When reading this story I was really thinking about the question: in what ways is the question about what to do in this social location related to the question of what do we do about abortion. In what ways is it different. Some the arguments presented in the reading were similar to the ones I've heard for abortion. Did anyone else think they were similar or different? Does our decision of what to do in this situation affect what we do about abortion? Is what they're doing any different? In what ways?

ssherman's picture

I want to second: Reading

I want to second: Reading Lolita in Tehran.  I haven't read it, but I've always wanted to.  I think that it goes along really well with Persepolis,and I think that it would be interesting to read as it compares itself with Western texts.
sarahk's picture

I would always love to read

I would always love to read more Judith Butler. I also would love to watch that movie we watched the trailer for one day in class, about the transgendered parents. I forgot what it was called, but it looked SO interesting. Another book I would love to discuss in this class is one of my favorites of all time, Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic. I would love to know what everyone else has to say about it.
lrperry's picture

I second that vote for Fun

I second that vote for Fun Home! 

sarina's picture

Construction of gender?

My suggestion for the class is Orwell's 1984 because it would allow us to look into how gender roles are prescribed onto us by society. I also love that book and would love to re-read it with feminism in mind.

I don't have in mind one particular place I'd like the class to go to next. The class has already significantly stretched the pool of what could be considered a feminist topic that I have trouble thinking of something new. I feel like we could read just about any text and find something interesting in it as related to feminism (taste, anyone?). So my vote is to pick something provocative and enjoyable, and see where it takes us.

rchauhan's picture

I agree with both Charlie

I agree with both Charlie and Sarina! I love 1984 and reading it with a feminism in mind would definitely add a new meaning to the book. Plus it ties with our discussion about home.
kgbrown's picture

I agree, again!

I think 1984 would be very interesting to read in a feminist context. I haven't read it in almost 10 years and I think that it would be interesting to re-read with a "new" feminist outlook.
lrperry's picture

After our reading for this

After our reading for this class about different kinds of curriculum, do you all still vote for 1984? It seems like it might be either a Phase 1 book, where women don't really exist, or a Phase 3 book, where women are an  "anomaly", something that messes up the overall system. But perhaps I am misremembering the text. 


Charlie_C's picture

<i>Nineteen Eighty-Four</i>

Nineteen Eighty-Four is one of my absolute favourite books. However, I've never read it with a feminist mindset.... I would love to do that. It would bring a whole new layer to a book I already love. Yay!
hpolak's picture

"passive euthanasia"

The reading for Thursday's class I found to be very powerful and kind of disturbing. I have decided that I will probably major in anthropology, and I found it interesting that the piece was written by an anthropologist. A key role of the anthropologist in observing a community is not to impose your own beliefs or understanding of the world on the group. You are supposed to simply watch, and understand that there really is no "sameness" in the world, just variations. "But to attribute 'sameness' across vast social, economic, and cultural divides is a serious error for the anthropologist, who must begin, although cautiously, from a respectful assumption of difference" (355). I tried to act as an anthropologist in reading this material, and I definitely had a hard time. I always assumed motherhood and that unique bond between a mother and child as being universal and surpassing cultural barriers. This piece showed me that environmental factors can have an effect on even this love which I thought to be unshakeable.

I found the phrase "passive euthanasia" used on page 365 to be especially powerful. I found that it reflected much of the attitude toward these babies. It was not always an outward act of abuse committed on these babies, but passive action, which can sometimes be just as bad. Scheper-Hughes claims malicious child abuse is extremely rare in this area. However, I think it is possible to view this passive act of ignoring the baby's health and well-being at such a young age as being malicious in some senses.

It is still hard for me to grapple with this topic of mothers not always having an unconditional bond of love with their child. I think the author provides a sufficient explanation that makes me understand the situation more on page 402. "To give birth to many children and on the expectation that only a few will survive infancy, to invest selectively in those considered the 'best bets' for survival" (402).


ebock's picture

another idea


Zami: A New Spelling of My Name by Audre Lorde

It's a "biomythography," and talks a lot about multiplicity of identities/social location.

lrperry's picture


 A VOTE FOR: Toni Morrison, Beloved.  A novel based on a life of a real woman – a slave, Margaret Garner. Morrison writes about slavery, sexual abuse, traumatic memories, and the strange existence of slave/woman/mother/daughter/human. Utterly readable (and beautiful), but complicated, and told from a female perspective. And it won a Nobel Prize!  

I haven’t read these, but I’d like to: Isabel Allende, The House of Spirits. (a transgenerational story of Latin American post-colonial political upheavals… My friend says this is her favorite book and that the narrative revolves around the experiences of women). For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf, Ntozake Shange (a play structured as a series of twenty poems performed by women – some themes addressed are love, abandonment, rape, abortion)  

A VOTE AGAINST: Anything by Jane Austen or Virginia Woolf. They are the “token women” of the canon – they’ve already got enough people reading them.

Anonymous's picture

I second the vote against

I second the vote against Austen/Woolf. This course introduced me to the multiplicity of authors and range of literature...and I would like the end of the course to be just the same. Austen and Woolf are too over read.

Dawn's picture

I must also second House of

I must also second House of the Spirits, because it happens to be my favorite book as well! I love Isabel Allende so much! Although, I would say House of the Spirits is my favorite, I have also enjoyed Eva Luna and The Stories of Eva Luna. Both of these books have similar themes. One I have not read that I would really like to, and I think would be very relevant to this couse is called Aphrodite: a memoire of the senses. This book has been described as part cookbook, part anthology and part personal experience from Allende. It has memories, literary excerpts, folklore, and recipes - most of them developed by Allende's mother that involve some sort of aphrodesiac power. After reading The Book of Salt, I thought that it would be interesting to draw in the idea of taste and other less used senses again. A "memoire" of the senses would be a good way to do that.

Charlie_C's picture


I LOVE ISABEL ALLENDE. I'd have to put my vote in for <i>Daughter of Fortune</i>, though. It tells the story of a Chilean noble, Eliza, searching through California for her lover, who went to search for gold. She is accompanied by her Chinese immigrant friend, Tao Chi'en. It talks a lot about the various cultures, and also "women's place" in Californian society. Plus, there is really awesome gender-bending. It is... utterly fantastic and I really love this book and its author!
Charlie_C's picture

As of right now, I can

As of right now, I can think of a few books that would fit in great with this class:


--Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K LeGuin. It's a scifi novel about a planet in which all of its inhabitants are physically genderless, and then develop genitalia for a certain time of the month for mating. A human male travels to the planet to act as an ambassador, and it's his sense of gender versus theirs. There are other issues in the book as well, such as politics, religion, and knowledge vs ignorance,  but the gender is a HUGE part. I loved reading it, especially considering that the extreme majority of characters in the novel believe that having a "permanent gender," like the ambassador, is a disorder, almost something to pity.


--What Happened to Lani Garver by Carol Plum-Ucci.  Yeah, this is a Young Adult fiction novel, but it's pretty amazing. It takes place in a very small town, and the school receives a new transfer student, Lani Garver, who seems to defy every category people use to classify others - gender, sexuality, and age in particular. It's narrated by an "almost-popular girl" who befriends Lani, and is taught to completely change her outlook on life and realize that not everything is so easily labelled. The ending (which is revealed in the prologue, actually) is very heavy, though. 


-- Orlando by Virginia Woolf. I actually just finished reading this the other day, and it was fantastic. It's a fictional biography of Orlando, a boy who lives during Elizabethan times, and keeps on living to the present day (well, 1928). Orlando's gender also changes halfway through. Woolf is hilarious and talks a lot about how Orlando acts and thinks in each gender, and other societal commentary. She's... amazing. 

anorton's picture

Left Hand of Darkness

I would be up for reading this book.  Scifi novels don't make it too far into traditional English curricula, and it would be good to read something non-standard.
Dawn's picture

I have heard about Left Hand

I have heard about Left Hand of Darkness and it sounds absolutely amazing. I think it would be an extremely good fit for the end of this course. Regardless, thanks for reminding me! I'm now going to put it on my booklist for general reading, because I really want to read this book!
ebock's picture

motherhood & suggested next step

I wanted to say this in class today but I didn't. I wish I had. I think we assumed in class today that motherhood is universal. I think we assumed a mother's love for her children, the ways in which she loves her children, and the unconditionality of her love is something that transcends culture. I really don't think that this is the case, and it goes back to the idea of social location. Jashoda's social location is very different than that of my mother, and in fact, many (but certainly not all) American or western mothers. Her motherhood was her income, her way of providing for her family.

In terms of suggesting a next step for our text (or other material), I would still strongly suggest us seeing Maquilapolis because I think it connects to a lot of the themes and concepts we've been exploring in the course. I certainly think that it is a fine example of a social location that most of us are not familiar with (or don't see on a day to day). And as I just discussed with Professor Dalke, this is also a way of seeing the dispossessed  speaking. Unlike Moya or Moraga, who are examples of Chicana feminists (though not representative of the Latina population by any means), the women in the film do not speak through the language of the literate (text), they communicate via film.

I think what makes choosing another text problematic when we are trying to learn about a group of people who are from a different social location, and we want to hear about that social location from its inhabitants, we don't want to hear it through an intermediary (someone who is speaking for these inhabitants; someone who is trying to represent them), they may or may not be literate. (I hope that's clear; if not... reply, please) That's what makes this film so important. These women (and of course Vicky Funari) have used a medium that rejects the traditional academic means of communication and representation.

I think Born into Brothels would also be an excellent film to see; I think that it would challenge our idea of motherhood  (if I remember the film correctly; its been awhile...)and also be a fine representation of a non-Western perspective.


skumar's picture

Suggested Film

It is interesting that we use Serendip, yet we have never seen/read anything other than traditional books in the course. In many ways, Serendip serves as an online text for the course. Thus, I would highly reccomend exploring feminism/identity in a different medium--in a movie. First, I wanted to second Julia's suggestion of Born into Brothel's.

Another one of my sugestions is the movie Fire, a film I made reference to in a previous posting. Fire is a film my Mira Nair, a highly controversial movie director. I think Nair's film is one that will contribute a great deal to our discussion of what it is like to deter from traditional gender roles (costs? benefits?) as well as, more explicitly, lesbian love. Since we are currently in the "international" facet of feminism/identity, I think the movie (about south asian women) will contribute to the expansiveness of feminism that we, or at least I was, were introduced to by starting with Latina feminism.

kgbrown's picture

I agree!

I agree that having another medium other than literature would be an interesting idea, especially from a comparative perspective. The film that Julia suggested, Born into Brothels, or the one that Emily described in class, which I believe both have their subject involved in the process of making the film, seem interesting. It may raise questions about the issues of author versus subject, something that I think is applicable to the other texts we've read, but isn't really something we've discussed in detail.
skumar's picture

...and here's another one!

Reading Spivak and and Devi reminded me of Jhumpa Lahiri. Obviously, Lahiri's texts highlight south asian culture (traditional gender roles) and Lahiri is not as radical or as feminist as Devi and Spivak. Nonetheless, I still think Lahiri's texts (Namesake, Unaccustomed Earth, and Interpreter of Maladies) can contribute to our discussion of gender roles. I think Lahiri's texts (especially Namesake) highlights a way in which Western/American gender roles coincide with gender roles of another country.

  I love Jhumpa's writing, so I would love to read anything by her!

anorton's picture

Second for Lahiri

I also thought Lahiri's work would be interesting to read; but I've never read The Namesake, and it's been so long since I read Interpreter of Maladies that I couldn't recall gender-specific stories. Since you brought her up, though, I'll assume that we could readily make a significant study of gender in her work. Thanks for suggesting her!
mpottash's picture

"Breast Giver"

One element of Devi's story that stuck out at me was the idea of a women's identity being formed by her motherhood. In the very first paragraph, Devi writes that "Jashoda was a mother by profession" (222).  The idea of someone being a mother by profession seems very limiting.  Why does motherhood need to be a profession?  It is true that there are many women who want to stay home and be a mother, which is a completely acceptable choice.  But women can have other professions besides being a mother.  

In discussing the effect that a liberal journal would have on the women of the town, Kangali says that "'the moment wife, or mother, or sister reads that paper...she'll say 'I'm a woman!  Not a mother, not a sister, not a wife'" (230).  I believe that this was one of the basic beliefs of second wave feminism, the idea that women did not need to stay home and take care of the kids, that they had worth outside of the house.  However, one of the challenges of a modern feminism, and a new definition of feminism, is making it okay to stay home as a mother, just as it is okay to work outside of the house.  I feel like this is often a challenge that is raised at women's colleges, where women are trained to go out into the world.  Can a women be progressive, liberal, and feminist and still be a mother and stay in the home?

One idea for a text that we could read is Middlemarch, as we discussed it in the begining of the course with regards to Middlesex.  I would also be interested in reading some theory, both dealing with &quot;traditional&quot; feminism, and ways to define new feminism - although I realize that this is a lot of what we have been doing.

On a completely different note, I just watched the movie of Persepolis and would highly recommend it. 

jlustick's picture

Text Ideas

Two ideas for the course's additional text...

1. Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi, which I have not read but is on my "To Read" list. This text would be interesting from several perspectives... it's about women using education to subvert a regime that represses women. These women are creating their own education, rather than accepting the one given to them by men. This idea connects to our discussion at the beginning of the course about the importance of women's education for feminists (i.e. our Three Guineas class). Also, this book exhibits a blending of genres, which is something that we have also touched on in discussion but not fully examined. In addition, the book discusses canonical texts by Fitzgerald, Austen, etc., and it would be intersting to see how their literary analysis compares to our own, Western feminist approach.

2. the film Born into Brothels- as I mentioned in class, this is a documentary that primarily focuses on the lives of children born into Calcutta's red light district. I thought this film was extremely well done- beautiful, moving, enlightening, etc.- and relevant to the class in many regards. First and foremost, during the beginning of the course, we discussed the idea of "child care" as being part of feminism, yet the idea of children is not something that we've returned to. This book might allow us to examine the way in which feminism can apply to the lives of children.


also, just as a note, The Handmaid's Tale sounds good.

anorton's picture

Reading suggestions

There are some texts that I consider to be fairly canonical because I've had to read them, or their authors, for various classes: Chopin's The Awakening; Austen's Pride & Prejudice; anything by Willa Cather, or by Virginia Woolf, if we want to revisit her. There's also The Handmaid's Tale, by Margaret Atwood. Un Lun Dun and the books in the His Dark Materials trilogy are all young adult fantasy novels written by men that feature female heroines; it might be interesting to look at portrayals of girls in male-authored texts. Un Lun Dun (by China Miéville) is very funny and would be a light-hearted way to end the semester. On the other hand, Caryl Churchill's Cloud 9 (a play) does some very interesting things with gender/sexuality/identity that might be a nice culminationto the course.

That's all I've come up with from scanning my library, but I'll post again if I think of others.

sarina's picture

I've wanted to read The

I've wanted to read The Handmaid's Tale, by Margaret Atwood for some time now. It looks like a really interesting book.