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Teaching Women's Studies to Disadvantaged Women

The following suggestions for teaching women's studies to
women with histories of drug addiction and prostitution
were offered on WMST-L in October 2003.  For additional WMST-L
files available on the Web, see the WMST-L File Collection.
Date: Fri, 3 Oct 2003 14:54:23 -0500
From: Alison Piepmeier <Alison.Piepmeier AT VANDERBILT.EDU>
Subject: teaching race/class/gender
Hi, folks--

I've been offered the opportunity to teach a non-credit course (probably
six-weeks long, an hour or two a week) on race, class, and gender to a
group of women with criminal histories of drug addiction and
prostitution.  The group will be diverse in terms of age, ethnicity, and
educational levels.  I've checked the WMST archives and haven't found
any past conversations about this specific issue.

I'd love suggestions about particular texts or films that might be
useful, as well as approaches and exercises.  At this point the women
have asked to have specific information about violence against women, as
well as a discussion of "healthy relationships."  I also plan to have a
basic "what is gender" conversation early in the course.  I hope to have
the women produce something by the end of the six week period--perhaps a
poem or set of poems, an autobiographical essay, etc.

I'm very excited about this opportunity, and I look forward to hearing
your thoughts.


Alison Piepmeier, Ph.D.
Assistant Director, Women's Studies Program
Vanderbilt University
Nashville, TN  37235
a.piepmeier  AT  vanderbilt.edu
Date: Fri, 3 Oct 2003 21:23:30 -0400
From: Krista Scott-Dixon <kristasd AT rogers.com>
Subject: Re: teaching race/class/gender
One film that is always a hit with my classes is Set it Off. It stars
Queen Latifah, Jada Pinkett, and Halle Berry as women who, frustrated
with their poverty and limited opportunities in the inner city, turn
to bank robbing.  It has tons of great material around race, class,
gender, sexuality, community and belonging, establishment of identity,

After viewing the film I have the students write a short piece about
the four main characters. They choose one, and write about how her
race, class, gender, or sexuality affected her life choices and
relationship to the others. It always generates excellent discussion.

Krista Scott-Dixon
York University
Toronto, ON
kristasd  AT  rogers.com
Date: Sat, 4 Oct 2003 08:28:56 -0500
From: Mary Kirk <Mary.Kirk AT METROSTATE.EDU>
Subject: Re: teaching race/class/gender
A few quick suggestions...

To explore "feminism":
bell hooks' Feminism is for Everybody. It's a little, thin, easy to read
book (you may have to explain some vocabulary). I've used this several
times to unanimously positive response from very young students with
little "academic" background to older students with much more. As hooks'
does in all of her writing, this is another great example of how to talk
about gender, race, AND class issues
The F Word (by Women Make Movies) a quick 10-minute video that opens up
a great discussion of what feminism is (that contemporary feminism is
inclusive of race and class).

To talk about patriarchal society as a structure/system:
I've frequently used one chapter from Alan Johnson's The Gender Knot to
explain about patriarchy.
I recently used some ideas from Riane Eisler's book The Parnership Way
to explain the dominator model (patriarchy) and the partnership model
(new visions for how to organize our society)

Background for you to understand your audience:
I just read a book called The Female Offender: Girls, Women and Crime by
Meda Chesney-Lind that makes connections on early childhood abuse and
drugs/alcohol abuse and women who end up incarcerated. It directly deals
with race and class as well as gender.

Sounds like an exciting project. Have fun! By the way, I love the idea
of poems and/or autobiography. I have consistently found this to be one
of the most meaningful experiences students have in my classes (at least
in terms of generating things I have to evaluate :)
Mary Kirk, Ph.D.
Asst. Professor, Educational Philosophy & Planning
Metropolitan State University
700 E 7th
St Paul, MN 55106
Date: Mon, 6 Oct 2003 07:25:08 -0500
Subject: Re: teaching race/class/gender
I happen to teach a class entitled "Race, Class and Gender," so I know
it can be both fun and very challenging.  Your opportunity sounds like a
great one.

A film about domestic abuse that I recommend is "Defending Our Lives,"
a 30 minute award-winning documentary.  It gets right to the heart of
the legal double-standard (pointing out that there are more animal
shelters than women's shelters for instance).  There are several online
study guides for that film as well.

I have also found that poetry works very well.  I assign poetry by
women, which my students tend to respond to much more quickly than the
essays I assign.  I also have them attempt to write poetry on occasion,
as a way to break out of the "I assign, you respond" mold.

Also, students of mine from working-class backgrounds respond extremely
well to discussions of the welfare system, affirmative action and
welfare-to-work.  These are all institutional systems they are familiar
with, but of course the underlying message is to hate yourself for using
the welfare system.  Among the tools I use is the film "Roger and Me."
While that film is not focused on gender, race and gender are integral
to that story and woven deeply with class.  As a child of the working
class in the 1980s, I have never felt that "Roger and Me" got anything
wrong either.

Last but not least, the undergraduate text I use is "Race, Class and
Gender in the United States" by Paula Rothenberg.  It just went into its
6th edition.  That is by far not the only book, but I have used it for
some time with great success.

Best of luck,

Amber R. Clifford
Central Missouri State University
Date: Mon, 6 Oct 2003 08:45:22 -0400
From: Susan Clark-Cook <SCLARK AT BENTLEY.EDU>
Subject: Re: teaching race/class/gender
I have been teaching Psych. of Women for some time now, and one movie I
find that is particularly helpful is the movie Doris Claiborne movie from
a book by S. King.  You might think that an odd choice for a psych. course
but it actually hits a broad range of women's issues-including
relationship violence, incest, power issues, mother-daughter, father
-daughter relationships and difficulties, female friendships, and
drug/alcohol abuse as well as women using work and sex to try and deal
with trauma...
the students enjoy it, and are actually amazed at what it touches on...we
always have a great discussion afterwards.
Good luck!

 "For if the mind can imagine it, the mind can make it so...Susan"

 Dr. Susan Clark-Cook
 Clinical Psychologist
 Counseling and Student Development
 Adjunct Assistant Professor, Behavioral and Political Science
Date: Mon, 6 Oct 2003 14:59:47 -0400
From: Jackie Warrilow <jw AT PCADV.ORG>
Subject: Re: teaching race/class/gender

The NRCDV has a fairly extensive video list, accessible online at
Click on "Resources" to get to the annotated List.

Let us know if we can help with other resources.

In Peace and Hope,

Jackie Warrilow, MA
Technical Assistance Specialist II
National Resource Center on Domestic Violence
6400 Flank Drive, Suite 1300
Harrisburg, PA 17112-2791

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