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Designing Our Learning

meredyd's picture


I’m going to start with some full disclosure information, and that is that I don’t have nearly the amount of background in critical gender/sexuality theory that the rest of this class does on the whole. I’ve always been interested in analyzing and interpreting, but I was only specifically intrigued by studying gender and sexuality when I came to Bryn Mawr, and even then it was in abstract kind of way. I played around with different disciplines - Art History, East Asian Studies, and primarily English lit and Creative Writing, but gender was always lurking in the background and even in my Women, Feminism, and History of Art course freshman year, the actual societal construct and implications of gender were discussed less than I had expected. I came to this class wanting to learn more, to follow the threads of what I had into some greater understanding. 

What I’ve come to see is just how much diversity of thought exists in the discipline of Gender and Sexuality studies, which I feel we’ve only partially begun to explore. I know a fair amount about the white, middle/upper-middle class, female experience, especially in the realm of academia - but there’s more to it than that, and so much crossover between gender and other modes of being and ways of seeing the world that I want to explore. I think even in the climate of Bryn Mawr, maybe especially in the climate of Bryn Mawr, it’s very, very easy to become complacent and forget that. 

We talk a lot about women, and we talk a lot about feminism - as an institution, as something so hugely important and influential to all of our lives, a hidden thing that even before anyone in the class self-identified as a feminist, came into play in ways bigger than we could understand. And that’s what I’ve gotten out of our previous texts - trying to know where we came from, to gain the basic framework necessary for understanding where we’re going next, telling stories and histories. 

Grobstein’s lecture and Ortner’s lecture/writings had interesting parallels for me - one told us how we tell stories, the other worked to show us how those stories change and grow as we enact them in our daily lives. And then we have Gaiman and Acker, who explicitly identify this phenomenon, the idea that we are all dreaming ourselves and our world. By understanding these concepts, both abstract and explicit, we begin to go deeper. But do we always need to start that way? Can we dive right in, starting with the personal histories of the people around us, not grounded in theory but simply in interpreting experiences in our own way, to start with? I’m still thinking about this, but I think we can. I think as academics, we spend too much being afraid to just not know, to explore other points of view without first armoring ourselves in analysis. 

For this reason, I would begin the second half of the class by doing exactly that - I want to know the stories of the women in our classroom beyond message board postings and comments they make in group discussion. I loved the histories that Prof Dalke and Prof Lindgren showed us, how they came to the places they are at in their lives and who helped bring them there. Everyone in the class would create on of these presentations in whatever way they felt most able to express themselves (multimedia highly encouraged) and post it to the course site. (I like the course site - it’s handy and easy to navigate, and brings a practical dimension to the class experience since everyone in the world, including a lot of important voices in gender/sex discourse, are blogging now. It’s something worth keeping). 

Another thing that I get the feeling that people are thinking but not really saying is - we need to stop talking about Bryn Mawr so much. I love Bryn Mawr. Most of us love Bryn Mawr. But we’re stuck in Bryn Mawr - it seems to dominate every other discussion. We need to get out in the world more, not just out of the Main Line and collegiate world, but also out of the Western World. 


Here are some aspects of that we would explore in the course in general:

- Other feminisms besides “mainstream feminism”, which so often excludes women of color, disabled women, and women with non-binary gender identity from discourse. Examples: Black feminism/womanism (In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens - Alice Walker), Chicana/latina/mujerista feminism, the work of Asian and indigenous feminists, etc. Feminism internationally in non-Western countries...

- I think it’s important (hugely important) to remember to include men in our discourse, even if they’re not in this particular class. I’d like to study the effect masculinity has on us as women, and on the world, specifically - it would be interesting to find a man who has done female-centric work/work with women of some kind (?) and have him speak. I wold also like to explore the intersection of sexual identity with masculinity - the homophobia of straight men, the fascination of/acceptance with “lipstick lesbians” being appropriated for male pleasure, etc.

- I want to do more interdisciplinary work in terms not only of texts, but in expression of texts. I feel as a class we do really well with back-and-forth, real time dialogue, as long as it’s at least a little framed/moderated. But instead of a lecture or readings, we could examine more hands-on, specific work. Why not take more advantage of the city - not necessarily like a Praxis course, but using resources such as those that are available to us, museums, living recourses...I think it’s important to place ourselves in the context of where we are wider than just the college, and see how gender plays itself out in the city where we all “live”.

- My main interests are in popular media and literature, so naturally I was thrilled when we read Sandman, and I do think graphic novels are an extremely valuable medium, just as valuable if not more so (in some cases, as far as conveying meaning goes), than drier, more academic texts. 

- Movies: As far as I know, we’re not watching any movies! Film analysis is a hugely important part of my own formative understanding of sex and gender. Movie suggestions: Ma Vie en Rose, Boys Don’t Cry, anything from the Philadelphia LGBT film fest, documentaries

- Exploring our childhoods for sex and gender. I guarantee there are so many things that none of us fully recognized when we were kids that inform how we think about gen/sex today - Disney films, children’s books, stories our parents told us about “how to be” boys or girls or whatever they wanted us to be. But what did we want to be? On the first day of class we went around the circle saying what fictional character we most identified with. How have these changed over the years, and why? Borrowing from Acker’s examinations, what have we carried with us from childhood - what is different from what we remember?

- Influences outside of the classroom - who we are besides being academics. I think it would be interesting (This happened in another class of mine and seemed to work out really well) - if, building off of the “oral histories” idea, we could each take a day to sort of shape what we wanted of the class. Bring up a specific topic for discussion beforehand, in our particular area of interest/expertise, and how it relates to gender and sexuality, and do a short presentation about it. 

It’s hard, in an introductory class, to be sure of what is the most necessary study in such a broad spectrum. But I think the best process is trial and error.



Embroideries - Marjane Satrapi

Middlesex - Jeffrey Eugenides 

Fun Home and Dykes to Watch Out For - Alison Bechdel 

anything by Sherman Alexie

video documentaries by Jean Kilbourne

The Body Project - Joan Jacobs Brumberg

TransGeneration (TV series)

This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color