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Critical Feminist Studies: A New Course at Bryn Mawr College

Fall 2007 New Course: English 293

Critical Feminist Studies: An Introduction
TTh 10:00—11:30 am Anne Dalke

Evolving Technology, Evolving Feminism
(by Margaret Ernst, Bi-College News, 11/20/07)


Generous Feminism,
by Gail Chavenelle, BMC '67
Chavenelle Studio, Dubuque, Iowa

Generous Feminism Takes Up
Residence in English House

"Seeing the Setting for the Voices"
Photographs of Final Performances

“…feminism has already made a difference….On the other hand, that difference has opened up and brought into view the energies of contradiction hidden inside the unsayability of what feminism has now given voice to. Once women begin to speak, we begin to differ with each other….literature is important for feminism…as the place where impasses can be kept and opened for examination, questions can be guarded and not forced into a premature validation of the available paradigms. Literature…is…a mode of cultural work, the work of giving-to-read those impossible contradictions that cannot yet be spoken.

Barbara Johnson: The Feminist Difference:
Literature, Psychoanalysis, Race and Gender

Not monolithic, prescriptive, conformist or singular, contemporary feminist theory covers a wide range of perspectives and approaches, which this class will showcase. The texts we will examine will include, but not be limited to, those that address the matters of reading and interpreting literature. We will also be attending to broader theoretical concerns, in an attempt to define the questions which contemporary feminisms raise and the different answers with which feminisms reply. For starters, we will interrogate four keywords: what does it mean to be ‘feminist”? What is “difference,” what “theory,” what “literature”? Before ending, we will consider what cultural and political work these texts have done/we might use them to do.

During the first half of the course, we will read a range of short theoretical texts, by Paula Gunn Allen, Gloria Anzaldua, Hélène Cixous, Barbara Johnson, Linda Kauffman, Paul Lauter, Biddy Martin, Chandra Mohanty, Patrocinio Schweickart, James Sosnoski, Gayatri Spivak and Virginia Woolf. We will then select several longer literary texts to read together. Possibilities abound. I list here only a selection from the area with which I am most conversant, 19th and early 20th century U.S. writings by women: Margaret Fuller’s The Great Lawsuit, Sojourner Truth’s speeches, Rebecca Harding Davis’s Life in the Iron Mills, Linda Brent’s Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, Charlotte Gilman’s Herland, and Nella Larsen’s Passing.

Once a week, students will be expected to post their responses to these readings on-line, on Serendip’s Exchange. We are inviting interested alumnae to join us in this portion of the course.

In a series of three more extensive, and linked, writing projects, students will also become more conversant with the current scholarly work being done in the field of gender and sexuality; figure out which of the discipline-or-subject-specific sources might be most useful in developing your own particular stake in this interdisciplinary conversation; and define a critical question you want to pursue at length. A total of twenty-five pages of writing will be required by semester’s end; the length of each individual project may vary, based on your interest and ambition.


Evaluations: It is the instructor's feeling that concerns about grading are, for both teachers and students, a hindrance to the kind of open and productive interactions on which effective education depends. Moreover, no measure on a single scale can adequately represent any given student's distinctive engagement with and achievement in any given course. Students will receive grades on the completion of this course that reflect the instructor's evaluation of the degree of engagement with the course that they have displayed, the progress they have made in becoming better writers/inquirers, and the level of sophistication they have reached. Individual assignments will be commented on but not graded.


Working Schedule
Week One
Tues, Sept. 4
Welcome to The Dinner Party

By 5 p.m. on Wed, Sept. 5: post on-line your thoughts about my invitation to our dinner party,
about Sojourner Truth's representation there, and/or Woolf's invitation to contribute three guineas...


Thurs, Sept. 6 Virginia Woolf, Three Guineas (1939)

Part I: Contemporary Feminist Theory
Week Two

Tues, Sept. 11 Patrocinio Schweickart, “Reading Ourselves: Towards a Feminist Theory of Reading” (1986)


by 5 p.m. Wed, Sept. 12: Response to Schweickart or Sosnoski due on-line


Thurs, Sept. 13 James Sosnoski, “ A Mindless Man-driven Theory Machine: Intellectuality, Sexuality and the Institution of Criticism” (1989)

Week Three
Tues, Sept. 18
Linda Kauffman, “The Long Good-bye: Against Personal Testimony, or an Infant Grifter Grows Up” (1992)


by 5 p.m. Wed, Sept. 19: Response to Kauffman or Allen due on-line


Thurs, Sept. 20 Paula Gunn Allen, “Kochinnenako in Academe: Three Approaches to Interpreting a Keres Indian Tale” (1986)

Week Four
Tues, Sept. 25
Gayatri Spivak, "Three Women’s Texts and a Critique of Imperialism" (1985)


by 5 p.m. Wed, Sept. 26: Response to Spivak or Cixous due on-line

Thurs, Sept. 27 Hélène Cixous, “The Laugh of the Medusa” (1976)


by 5 p.m. Fri, Sept. 28: Two-page paper due on-line: what feminist issues seem most critical to you, one month into the semester? Who addresses them most cogently? What else would you like to know, and how can you find out?


Week Five
Tues, Oct. 2
Barbara Johnson, “Apostrophe, Animation, and Abortion” (1986)


by 5 p.m. Wed, Oct. 3: on-line response due to Johnson; OR
describe how you'd teach Martin, Mohanty or Anzaldúa to someone who hasn't read the texts


Thurs, Oct. 4 CHOSE EITHER
Biddy Martin and Chandra Talpade Mohanty, “Feminist Politics: What’s Home Got to Do with It?” (1986)
Gloria Anzaldúa, “La conciencia de la mestiza: Towards a New Consciousness” (1987)

by 5 p.m. Mon Oct. 8: due on-line a proposed "menu" for the remainder of the course

Week Six

Tues, Oct. 9 Paul Lauter, “Caste, Class and Canon” (1981/1987)


by 5 p.m. Wed, Oct. 10: Response to Stryker due on-line


Five Questions with...Susan Stryker. (en)Gender.
Helen Boyd’s Journal of Gender & Trans Issues. 2005.

"Transgender Studies: Queer Theory's Evil Twin."
GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies 2004. 10 (2): 212-215

"My Words to Victor Frankenstein Above the Village of Chamounix -- Performing Transgender Rage." GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies 1994. 1(3): 227-254.


by 5 p.m. Fri, Oct. 12: if you haven't met w/ me yet this semester, make an app't to do so.
4-pp. proposal due on-line: what critical feminist project do you (individually) want to consider this semester? What questions interest you? How will you pursue them? With what assistance?


October 16-18 FALL BREAK

Part II: Feminist Literary Texts—to select together


On-line postings continue due each Wednesday by 5 p.m.


Week Seven
Tues, Oct. 23
Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz, "La Respuesta/The Response" (1690)


Thurs, Oct. 25 Simone de Beauvoir, Introduction and Conclusion to The Second Sex (1949)


Recommended CONTEMPORARY commentary:
Sherry Ortner (BMC '62),"So, Is Female to Male as Nature Is to Culture?"
Making Gender: The Politics and Erotics of Culture, 1996.

Christine Delphy, "The Invention of French Feminism: An Essential Move."
50 Years of Yale French Studies : A Commemorative Anthology, Part II, 2000.


Week Eight
Tues, Oct. 30
Paris Is Burning. Dir. Jennie Livingston. Videocassette. Miramax, 1992. 76 minutes.
(available on reserve in Canaday)


Judith Butler. "Gender is Burning: Questions of Appropriation and Subversion." Bodies That Matter: On the Discursive Limits of "Sex." New York: Routledge, 1993. 121-140.


bell hooks. "Is Paris Burning?" Black Looks: Race and Representation. Boston: South End, 1992. 145-156.


Thurs, Nov. 1
Katie Cannon, Katie's Canon: Womanism and the Soul of the Black Community (1996).
(esp. Forward, Preface, Introduction and Appendix; also recommended: Chapters 4, esp. 5 & 10)
Womanist Bibliography

Week Nine
Tues, Nov. 6
Rosemarie Garland-Thomson, Reshaping, Rethinking, Redefining: Feminist Disabilities Studies. Barbara Waxman Fiduccia Papers on Women and Girls with Disabilities. 2007.

Thurs, Nov. 8 Octavia Butler, Kindred (1979)

Week Ten
Tues, Nov. 13
Kindred, continued...

Thurs, Nov. 15
Monique T. D. Truong, The Book of Salt (2004)

Week Eleven
Tues, Nov. 20
The Book of Salt, continued...


By 5 p.m. Wed, Nov. 21: 6-pp. draft due on-line, reporting on research done towards your final project


Week Twelve
Tues, Nov. 27
Gertrude Stein, "Lifting Belly." Bee Time Vine and Other Pieces (1953)

Poetry by Marilyn Hacker (esp. "Canzone" and "Embittered Elegy")
Other favorite poets and our own poetry...?

Thurs, Nov. 29
Adrienne Rich, "Vesuvius at Home: The Power of Emily Dickinson" (1975) and

Twenty-One Love Poems (1978)

Sandra Cisneros, "Ghosts and Voices: Writing From Obsession," Notes to a Young(er) Writer" and Do You Know Me? I Wrote The House on Mango Street." From a Writer's Notebook, Americas Review 15, 1 (1987)

and "The House on Mango Street," "Hips," "Beautiful and Cruel," "A House of My Own" and "Mango Says Goodbye Sometimes" from The House on Mango Street (1989)

Week Thirteen
Tues, Dec. 4
Wendy Wasserstein, The Heidi Chronicles (1988)

Thurs, Dec. 6
Paula Vogel, How I Learned to Drive (1997)

Week Fourteen

Thurs, Dec. 13
8 p.m.: Linda Griffiths, The Age of Arousal (2007) performed @ the Wilma


by 12:30 pm, Fri, Dec. 21: Final 12 pp. critical feminist project due on-line
Final Portfolio due in Anne's mailbox, English Department Office.