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Dreaming Education

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Before this class...
            Part of what made my freshman year at Bryn Mawr so intellectually interesting for me was seeing myself in new ways.  At the start of my freshmen year I hadn’t thought critically about gender or sexuality at all.   My first semester, I was taking introductory Sociology and an Italian literature course on the Women’s movement in Italy and a writing seminar with a major focus on womanhood.  I was for the first time thinking about socialization, norms, value systems and other things in ways I hadn’t been conscious of.  I was pushed to understand so much more of myself and of my surroundings.  It was also one of the first times I really felt inspired by what I was learning in school.  That is what I hope this class will continue to push me to do.  To guide me into thinking about theoretical concepts and then from there, to be criticial of myself and society.  The feminist I am today owes that portion of my identity to Bryn Mawr. In terms of the environment here, being around so many motivated and smart people was a huge change and the fact that they were all women really contributed to my notion of what being a woman means.  There is a lot to be said in favor of an education which is in dialogue with itself.  Those three classes challenged and supported eachother in a variety of ways.  As a result my overall understanding was deeper and more comprehensive.
What I am learning now...
             Reading Neil Gaiman’s The Doll’s House was  the most intellectually challenging part of the course so far.  In part that is because I am coming from a background focused more on social sciences and biology,  in part because I had never read anything like it.  Studies of literature open up so many areas of discussion which are frowned upon in the hard and soft sciences.  In the humanities, freedom is granted to explore what isn’t reality, to imagine and to dream.  New ideas don’t have to be supported by data or the theories of other’s.  The world of humanaties provides, I think, more room for individuality. 
            Gaiman’s text is a perfect example of the possibilities provided by the humanities.  He creates an imagined reality that is in some ways aligned with and in sme ways in opposition to our own.  The sketchy quality of the art allowed the reader to further explore that world in her own way.  Looking through the lense of gender and sexuality, I thought one of the major strengths of the graphic novel was that it didn’t didn’t problematize deviation from norms.  It was full of characters who varied from the gender binary but that wasn’t the point of the story.  Even though this story was pretty fantastcal, I think producing stories like The Doll’s House, in which characters are “deviant“ but the story isn’t about their “deviance“ helps to break down the idea of “normalcy“.  If the only stories in whichgender or sexuality differences are about those differences.  Of course those narratives are important and should be written about, talked about and celebrated but it shouldn’t end there.  Gender and sexuality are only parts of an individual, and losing sight of that is dangerous when we aren’t all respected equally. Gaiman’s story isn’t explicitly about any of these issues, and that non-issue approach lets readers empathise with charaters they otherwise might not.
What I am dreaming for us...
            The problem with teaching Gender and Sexuality is that as a component of every individual, it influences everything.  Where do we begin?  Where do we even begin to begin?  In light of this problem, my approach is to touch on a variety of subjects with the hope that this will satisfy in some way the diversity we bring as a class and the hope that that same diversity will further understandings of the new material. 
            I want to start by saying that I think our studies would benefit a lot from more diversity of opinion.  Most of the work we have looked at thus far has been from people with a lot of agency.  All have been white, liberal, western, well educated, and (I assume) have a certain level of economic comfort.  I would like to take a look at how different systems of oppression work in conjunction with each other.  I want to look at perspectives we haven’t heard from yet and think critically about why we haven’t heard them.  People involved in the discourse of gender and sexuality tend to share a similar mindset.  To get a fuller understanding, we must look at how people who diverge from that mindset think and why.  We have to look at the perspectives of people from different nations, religions, political affiliations, etc if we ever hope to understand how gender and sexuality affect us all.
            My dream for the rest of the course is much much too large, we could never finish all that I am suggesting.  Instead of choosing here what I think would be beter for the class, I think that it would be more beneficial to pick things out from it together as a group.  My syllabus is broken up into five major sections; one is about the body, disease and maternity, another on social aspects of gender, another on popular culture, another on masculinity, and finally one on education and pedagogy.  My hope is that we could pull material from different areas to make our studies truly interdisciplinary.
Gender, The Body, Disease and Maternity
I would like to consider the influence that our gendered bodies have on our lives.  How can we and how can we not break away from this?  When is the physical body a trap and when is it an asset?
Books we might consider:
Race Against Time by Stephen Lewis.  This book is a compiled version of the Massey lectures which Lewis delivered in 2005 on the AIDS crisis in Africa.  One of the most interesting aspects of his work is his discussions of how gender affects this disease.  It also raises the question of how men fit into feminism, something which I think is important to discuss.
The Beauty Myth By Naomi Wolf.  I haven’t yet read this book but it deals with bodies in a social context .  It examines societal pressures which cause women (mostly) to try to alter themselves.  I think it could be really interesting for us to look at as a class.
The Second Shift by Arlie Russell Hochschild.  This is a sociological study of labor division in the home.  I read it last year as part of my introductory sociology class and it really helped me in thinking about the pervasiveness of socialization and norms.
Gender and Society
            Next I would like us to consider the social world and how that affects gender and sexuality.  Why do we think the way that we do?  How do we act in ways to perpetuate these social categories?  How can we shape societal beliefs?  Is anything static?  We have begun to look at this already but I think there is still a lot more to consider.
            The construction of the male gender and of Masculinity is something which seems to get left out of a lot of gender discussions.  How does male socialization work?  How does being socially dominant affect the individual?   What happens when the individual deviates from the norm?  Is it different from when someone in the non-dominant group deviates?
Popular Culture
            I think it would be really interesting to take a critical look at gender and sexuality in popular culture.  How are our identities presented to us as consumers?  How influential is that on our daily lives?  How are minority narratives presented?  Whose stories get left out?

            A movie to consider:

            There is a PBS documentary titled “The Makers of Cool“ which deals with popular culture and the consumption process.  It focuses on adolescents but has messages which are applicable to society as a whole. 

            A potential project:

            Because there is just too much out there that we could look at, perhaps each of us could choose some cultural product and report back to the group with observations.  We could think about what themes arose and what that says about our popular culture and gender and sexuality.
Education and Pedagogy
            It seems necessary to take a final look at the process of education and what influence gender and sexuality have.  I would like us to revisit this conversation as a class and talk about how our perspectives have changed (if they have) and why.