Signs on the Syllabus: Feminist Practices
The Feminist Practices course below is now available as a digital reader from the University of Chicago Press. In addition to the material below—the course readings and suggested schedule of classes and assignments—the reader offers section introductions by Mary Hawkesworth, framing the questions raised by the readings within contemporary global feminist struggles and broader political, social, and cultural dynamics.
The reader can be viewed on PCs, Macs, Linux machines, Apple or Android portable devices, and Nook or Kobo e-readers, and it functions like any other e-book—text reflows, font size and spacing is fully adjustable, location markers provide universal references, and annotations are easily made. Exam copies are also available through the University of Chicago Press's website.
Syllabus prepared and taught by Professor Mary Hawkesworth
Fall 2011, Fall 2012
The 2011 “Slutwalk” in major cities around the world, the creation of a thrift shop in the poorest neighborhood in Hong Kong, activism against biopiracy, the rural reconstruction movement, the slow food movement, the creation of gender quotas for public office in more than 100 nations, a demand for inclusion at the World Social Forum, the prison abolition movement, the annual 16 Days Campaign against Violence Against Women, Riot Grrrls, the creation of women’s police stations in Brazil, Code Pink, Women in Black, Take-Back-the-Night rallies, the mobilization to preserve Douglass College, transnational campaigns against femicide in Central America, the global campaign for sexual democracy, Sister Namibia’s campaign against political homophobia, the three-year GEAR campaign to establish UN Women, V-Day performances of Vagina Monologues, DIY zines, the Women’s Caucus for Gender Justice at the International Criminal Court…all examples of recent and continuing feminist practices. What do these practices have in common? What exactly makes them “feminist?” What is their relation to Women’s and Gender Studies or to knowledge production more generally? This course is designed to explore such questions.
Feminism is a vibrant tradition that has contributed to intellectual ferment, cultural enrichment, and social transformation in all regions of the world for at least five centuries. Feminism is also a highly contested term—meaning very different things to those who caricature and repudiate it and to those who embrace the label. Some define feminism as a network of practices designed to eliminate women’s economic, political, and social subordination. But many men and women endorse those goals while rejecting the feminist label. How do women and men who identify as feminist differ from those who do not? What is at stake in claiming the feminist label?
Feminist practices involve social change projects inside and beyond the academy. Whether within the university or in larger national and global contexts, feminist projects entail challenging established relations of power (critique), envisioning alternative possibilities (theory), and activism to change social relations. Women’s and Gender Studies is often called the “academic arm” of feminism for it challenges what is believed to be “known” about women (and men), demonstrating that established “knowledge” is often shaped by research that takes men’s lives as the unquestioned standard, omitting or distorting women’s experiences. As an interdisciplinary field, Women’s and Gender Studies seeks to correct distortions created when women are omitted from the study of the world. Taking diverse forms of feminist practice as its focal point, the course investigates how to study the complexity of women’s and men’s lives in ways that take race, gender-power, ethnicity, class, and nationality seriously. The course will also show how such feminist knowledge production challenges long-established beliefs about the world.
This course strives to enable students to develop their talents in oral and written communication and in critical analysis of words and the world. Toward that end, student presentations in class and written assignments are designed to achieve the following learning goals:
- Enable students to identify, analyze, and critique social, political, and economic hierarchies grounded in race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, class, and nationality.
- Encourage students to interrogate cultural stereotypes and naturalizations of socially created differences.
- Attune students to complexity and variety of women’s and men’s lives and livelihoods around the globe.
- Cultivate students’ ability to analyze power dynamics from the micro-level to the macro-level.
- Sensitize students to the politics of issue framing.
- Foster strong written and oral communication skills.
- Develop students’ capacities to undertake innovative research and knowledge production.
- Empower students to devise creative strategies to promote social change.
- Teach students to collaborate across differences with others in course work, co-curricular activities, and in life.
The quality of any course is a direct result of the level of preparation and degree of participation of class members. In this course, each student will be expected to:
- complete all reading assignments by the dates specified on the course calendar;
- use this reading as the basis for informed class participation;
- complete three writing assignments, and
- make two class presentations based on their writing assignments that help shape discussion of reading assignments.
The writing assignments are designed to assist students in developing their analytical and critical skills. Toward that end, students will draw upon readings from the course and independent research to analyze particular feminist practices. The topic for the first assignment focuses on gendered labor and the commercialization of women’s sexuality and reproductive capabilities. Students may choose the topics for their second and third papers from the following course themes: love and marriage in the 21st century, violence against women, varieties of feminist activism, or women’s leadership and governance.
Assignment 1: The first topic explored in detail in this course involves women’s labor in different regions of the world and the commercialization of women’s bodies. Drawing upon course readings and at least three additional scholarly sources (book chapters or academic journals), each student should write a paper that addresses the following questions: How is labor in the contemporary world raced and gendered? (Be sure to give specific examples.) Are there dimensions of labor exploitation unique to women? (Again, be sure to give specific examples.) What feminist practices have been developed to address gendered divisions of labor and the exploitation of women’s bodies? What obstacles have they encountered? What outcomes have they produced? The paper should be 5-8 typed, double-spaced pages. The deadline for the first assignment is Class 10.
Assignments 2 and 3: The second and third paper assignments are similar to the first, but each student is free to pick themes from the course on which to write. The options include love and marriage, violence against women, feminist activism, or women’s leadership. We will talk in class about how to frame questions to structure your papers. Again the task is to use course readings as well as at least three additional scholarly sources to help you to analyze the issue. Each paper should be 5-8 typed, double-spaced pages. The deadline for each of these writing assignments coincides with the day the class discusses the topic. Students will share their research findings with the class. Once each student has decided on the topics for papers 2 and 3, we will develop a class schedule of presentations. If you would like guidance in choosing a topic or in finding research resources, please feel free to stop by my office to discuss the possibilities.
Feminist Knowledge Practices
Class 1: The World According to Women
Which Women? Which Practices? Challenging the Boundaries of Feminist Knowledge
Class 2: Shilyh Warren, "Recognition on the Surface of Madeline Anderson's I Am Somebody," Signs 38(2): 353-78 [Winter 2013]; in-class viewing of I Am Somebody
Locating Knowledge in Time and Space
Class 3: Wayne A.Wiegand and SarahWadsworth, “By Invitation Only: The American Library Association and the Woman’s Building Library of the World’s Columbian Exposition, Chicago, 1893,” Signs 35(3): 699-722 [Spring 2010]
Women’s Labor and the Politics of Race, Class, and Ethnicity
Class 4: Marina de Regt, “Preferences and Prejudices: Employers’ Views on Domestic Workers in the Republic of Yemen,” Signs 34(3): 559-582 [Spring 2009].
Class 5: John R. Bowman and Alyson M. Cole, “Do Working Mothers Oppress Other Women? The Swedish ‘Maid Debate’ and the Welfare State Politics of Gender Equality,” Signs: 35(1): 157-184 [Fall 2009].
Class 6: Comparative Perspectives Symposium on Women's Labor Activism, Signs 33(3) [Spring 2008]: Piya Chatterjee, “Hungering for Power: Borders and Contradictions in Indian Tea Plantation Women’s Organizing,” pp. 497-505; Josefa (Gigi) Francisco and Gina dela Cruz, “Interventions from the Philippines,” pp. 505-510; Michele Ford, “Women’s Labor Activism in Indonesia,” pp. 510-515; Tong Xin, “Women’s Labor Activism in China,” pp. 515-519; Masako Yuki, “The Women’s Movement within Trade Unions in Germany,” pp. 519-527; Richard Sullivan and Kimi Lee, “Organizing Immigrant Women in America’s Sweatshops: Lessons from the Los Angeles Garment Worker Center,” pp 527-532; Monisha Das Gupta, “Housework, Feminism, and Labor Activism: Lessons from Domestic Workers in New York,” pp. 533-537
Commercializing Women’s Sexuality and Reproduction
Class 7: Sheila Jeffreys, “Keeping Women Down and Out: The Strip Club Boom and the Reinforcement of Male Dominance,” Signs 34(1): 151-174 [Fall 2008].
Class 8: Lisa C. Ikemoto, “Eggs as Capital: Human Egg Procurement in the Fertility Industry and the Stem Cell Research Enterprise,” Signs 34(4): 763-782 [Summer 2009].
Class 9: Amrita Pande, “Commercial Surrogacy in India: Manufacturing a Perfect Mother‐Worker,” Signs 35(4): 969-992 [Summer 2010].
Love and Marriage in the 21st Century
Class 10: Meena Khandelwal, “Arranging Love: Interrogating the Vantage Point in Cross‐Border Feminism,” Signs 34(3): 583-610 [Spring 2009].
* Writing Assignment 1 due
Class 11: Pei‐Chia Lan, “Migrant Women’s Bodies as Boundary Markers: Reproductive Crisis and Sexual Control in the Ethnic Frontiers of Taiwan,” Signs 33(4): 833-862 [Summer 2008].
Class 12: Juliet A. Williams, “Unholy Matrimony? Feminism, Orientalism, and the Possibility of Double Critique,” Signs 34(3): 611-632 [Spring 2009].
Class 13: Lois Harder, “The State and the Friendships of the Nation: The Case of Nonconjugal Relationships in the United States and Canada,” Signs 34(3): 633-658 [Spring 2009].
Class 14: Natalie Oswin, “Producing Homonormativity in Neoliberal South Africa: Recognition, Redistribution, and the Equality Project,” Signs 32(3): 649-670 [Spring 2007].
Violence against Women
Class 15: Rosemary Marangoly George, “(Extra)Ordinary Violence: National Literatures, Diasporic Aesthetics, and the Politics of Gender in South Asian Partition Fiction,” Signs 33(1): 135-158 [Fall 2007].
Class 16: Myriam Denov and Christine Gervais, “Negotiating (In)Security: Agency, Resistance, and Resourcefulness among Girls Formerly Associated with Sierra Leone’s Revolutionary United Front,” Signs 32(4):885-910 [Summer 2007].
Class 17: Cawo Mohamed Abdi, “Convergence of Civil War and the Religious Right: Reimagining Somali Women,” Signs 33(1): 183-208 [Fall 2007].
Class 18: Melissa Wright, “Necropolitics, Narcopolitics, and Femicide: Gendered Violence on the Mexico-U.S. Border," Signs 36(3): 707-732 [Spring 2011].
Varieties of Feminist Activism
Class 19: Christine M. Cooper, “Worrying about Vaginas: Feminism and Eve Ensler’s The Vagina Monologues,” Signs: 32(3): 727-758 [Spring 2007].
Class 20: Laura Mamo and Jennifer Ruth Fosket, “Scripting the Body: Pharmaceuticals and the (Re)Making of Menstruation,” Signs 34(4): 925-950 [Summer 2009].
Class 21: Carrie Lambert Beatty, “Twelve Miles: Boundaries of the New Art/Activism,” Signs 33(2): 309-328 [Winter 2008].
Class 22: Hagar Kotef and Merav Amir, “(En)Gendering Checkpoints: Checkpoint Watch and the Repercussions of Intervention,” Signs 32(4): 973-996 [Summer 2007].
Class 23: Josée Johnston and Judith Taylor, “Feminist Consumerism and Fat Activists: A Comparative Study of Grassroots Activism and the Dove Real Beauty Campaign,” Signs 33(4): 941-966 [Summer 2008].
Class 24: Seema Arora‐Jonsson, “Discordant Connections: Discourses on Gender and Grassroots Activism in Two Forest Communities in India and Sweden,” Signs: 35(1):213- [Fall 2009].
Women's Leadership and Governance
Class 25: Susan Carroll, “Reflections on Gender and Hillary Clinton's Presidential Campaign: The Good, the Bad, and the Misogynic,” Politics & Gender 5(1): 1-20 ; Victor Garcia, “Silvia Tlaseca and the Kaolin Mushroom Workers Union: Women’s Leadership in the Mexican Diaspora,” Signs 34(1):42-48 [Fall 2008].
Class 26: Monique Leyenaar, “Challenges to Women’s Political Representation in Europe,” Signs 34(1): 1-8 [Fall 2008]; Gunnel Gustafsson and Kerstin Kolam, “Political Women’s Leadership in Sweden: Developments and Challenges,” Signs 34(1):27-32 [Fall 2008].
Class 27: Najma Chowdhury, “Lessons on Women’s Political Leadership from Bangladesh,” Signs 34(1): 8-16 [Fall 2008]; Truong Thi Thuy Hang, “Women’s Leadership in Vietnam: Opportunities and Challenges,” Signs 34(1): 16-21 [Fall 2008].
Class 28: Amanda Gouws, “Obstacles for Women in Leadership Positions: The Case of South Africa,” Signs 34(1): 21-27 [Fall 2008]; Marian Simms, “Women’s Politics and Leadership in Australia and New Zealand,” Signs 34(1): 32-37 [Fall 2008]; Laura Gonzalez and Jane Bayes, “New Transnational Opportunities and Challenges for Women’s Leadership: The Consejo Consultivo del Instituto de los Mexicanos en el Exterior (CC‐IME),” Signs 34(1):37-42 [Fall 2008].
Feminist Knowledge: Recapping the Issues
Class 29: Course review