Teaching 'Women and the Media'
In September 2003, Rebecca Hains asked for suggestions to help her
develop a course on Women and the Media. She later posted a detailed
summary of the responses she received. The following file contains
her initial query and the summary that resulted. For additional
WMST-L files available on the Web, see the WMST-L File Collection.
Date: Thu, 25 Sep 2003 11:29:22 -0400
From: "Rebecca C. Hains" <hains AT TEMPLE.EDU>
Subject: Women & Media
I have decided to develop a course on Women & the Media, one that would
be appropriate to cross-list between a media studies program and a
women's studies program.
In this course, I would address issues of representation across
television, film, advertising, etc., both at present and throughout the
history of these media. I would also like to spend a considerable amount
of time discussing the representation (or lack thereof) of minority
women and lesbians.
Has anyone ever offered a course similar to this? Have you addressed
these topics within a subsection of another course? If so, I wonder if
you could suggest some resources and texts that would be appropriate. I
would also appreciate suggestions for other areas I could cover. Sample
syllabi and assignments would be particularly helpful to me.
If you would kindly reply to me off-list, I will post a compilation of
the responses here at a later date. My email address is
hains AT temple.edu.
Thanks in advance for your time!
Date: Wed, 15 Oct 2003 14:36:35 -0400
From: "Rebecca C. Hains" <hains AT TEMPLE.EDU>
Subject: Women & Media: a compilation of responses, part 1
On 9/25, I requested suggestions for materials that could be used in a
course on Women & Media. Below is a compilation of the responses that
people sent me off-list. I received many wonderful responses, and I've
included brief excerpts from the syllabi people sent as attachments.
I would like to thank Molly Dragiewicz, Charlene Ball, Marjorie Jolles,
Betsy Eudey, Margaret of Cambridge Documentary Films, Elaine Miller,
Fiona Ann Papps, Denise Guidry, and Pam Newport for their help. I really
appreciate your assistance!
All the best,
Molly Dragiewicz (mdragiew AT BUCKNELL.EDU) of the Bucknell University
Women's resource center offered the following suggestions:
>> The video Electronic Storyteller is a great intro for courses on
in general. The video (from the Media Education Foundation) explains
cultivation theory (which explains that media influence us not by
changing our behavior or providing models we simply imitiate but by
providing a repertoire of images and roles that provide us with a
limited vocabulary of ways of seeing the world and thinking about issues
that then come "naturally" to us). It links cultivation theory to
George Gerbner and colleagues' research over the past several decades
documenting the relationships between consumption of different kinds of
media and patterns in everything from voting patterns to fear of crime.
>> This video magically allows professors to turn the "television
doesn't influence me, it's only entertainment" conversation to more
productive ends, or avoid it altogether.
>> Also, FEMINISM, MEDIA, AND THE LAW. Author: Fineman, Martha A. &
Martha T. McCluskey (editors). New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1997 is a
>> I also always recommend
>> Meyers, Marian. News Coverage of Violence Against Women. Thousand
Oaks, Sage 1997.
>> Carter, Cynthia, Gill Branston, and Stuart Allan, ed. News, Gender
and Power. Routledge, 1998.<<
Charlene Ball (mcharleneball AT gsu.edu) of the Georgia State University
Women's Studies Institute wrote:
>> A course called Women and Media is offered by the Communication
Department at Georgia State University and is crosslisted by the Women's
Studies Institute. It is taught by Dr. Marian Meyers. You can contact
her at joumjm AT langate.gsu.edu <<
She cc'd Marian Meyers in that message, and Meyers quickly responded:
>> I am teaching a Feminist Cultural Studies course this semester and
going great! I'll attach my syllabus. My only regret (so far) is that
we read the Meaghan Morris article ("Things to do with Shopping
Centres") way too early in the semester. It's a really hard article and
my students were extremely intimidated and discouraged. I am using
several texts (plus a course pack of articles) and am really pleased
with them, in particular the Dines & Humez collection.<<
Here are some relevant excerpts from Meyers's syllabus, which she sent
me in an attachment:
>>Course Description and Expectation
>>Cultural studies is the inquiry into the practices of every day life
that contribute to the production of identity. Feminist cultural studies
explores every day practices, institutions and contexts as they pertain
to, produce, and regulate gender identities and norms. In this course,
we will study critical feminist work on domesticity, film, fashion,
pornography, consumerism, and various other aspects of engagement with
popular culture, along with important work on the cultural constitution
of gendered (and raced, sexed and classed) bodies and personal identity.
We will work on sharpening our critical skills through different kinds
of writing, discussion, and critical engagement with one another.
>> Required texts
. Course pack of articles
. Susan Bordo, Unbearable Weight: Feminism, Western Culture, and the
. Susan Bordo, Twilight Zones: The Hidden Life of Cultural Images from
Plato to O.J.
. Gail Dines & Jean M. Humez, eds., Gender, Race, and Class in Media
. Morag Shiach, ed., Feminism and Cultural Studies<<
Betsy Eudey (BEudey AT csustan.edu), director of Cal State Stanislas's
Gender Studies, wrote:
>> Two summers ago I taught a course on women and popular culture that
was really fun and educational for the students. I've attached the
syllabus - all or some may be of interest to you.
>> I have recently shown the video "Slaying the Dragon" in a course this
year, and the students responded well to the film's discussion on Asian
women in the media - the film's a little dated, so we discussed who the
Asian women are we see now, and how they are portrayed.
>> I also like "and still I rise" which addresses images of African
American women in the media. It's 10 years old, though, so it also needs
to be updated by the students/teacher.<<
She attached a syllabus to her email message. Here are some relevant
>> Course Description:
>> In this course we will examine representations of women in popular
culture. Targeted analysis of the effects of media on women began in the
1960s, and has grown into a major component of women's studies
scholarship. We will look at the ways in which popular culture
represents, creates and challenges stereotypes of women's roles in
(predominantly American) society, paying particular attention to
television, music, movies, advertising and magazines. We will look at
the roles women play (and don't play), the behaviors and attitudes that
are considered appropriate for women, and the types of women that are
>> Course Objectives:
. To introduce students to the critical study of popular culture
(learning to be critics rather than simply consumers)
. To provide students with experience examining patterns of women's
representation across varied media
. To develop an awareness of the role popular culture plays in creating,
challenging or reinforcing women's experiences
. Douglas, Susan J. (1994). Where the Girls Are: Growing Up Female with
the Mass Media. New York: Three Rivers Press.
. Inness, Sherrie A. (1999). Tough Girls: Women Warriors and Wonder
Women in Popular Culture. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania
. Additional Readings will be passed out in class and/or available
Margaret of Cambridge Documentary Films
(mail AT cambridgedocumentaryfilms.org) wrote:
>> It might be interesting to look at this historically. An interesting
early anthology, Sisterhood is Powerful (1970) ed. Robin Morgan had a
great chapter on Women and the Media. In 1979 we made the film,
"Killing Us Softly", in 1987 we made "Still Killing Us Softly" and in
2000-2001 we did "The Strength to Resist: Beyond Killing Us Softly."
This latest one incorporates the work of Carol Gilligan, Gail Dines,
Catherine Steiner-Adair, 3rd wave activist and author Amy Richards,
pioneer Gloria Steinem and others. You can download a free study guide
from our website www.cambridgedocumentaryfilms.org/beyond.html Also I
wrote something for "Feminist Media Studies" called "Producing
Feminism." in volume 1 No. 2, 2001. Margaret <<
Elaine Miller (emiller AT brockport.edu) of the SUNY Brockport Dept. of
Foreign Languages and Literatures wrote:
>> Do you know of the book "Representing Women. Myths of Femininity in
the Popular Media" (1995) by Myra Macdonald? there are a lot of
articles and book chapters out there now -- maybe the WMST-l archives
will have those references.
>> If you're interested at all in treating images in editorial cartoons,
I've produced two videos on the subject -- the first on portrayals of
Geraldine Ferraro in the 1984 campaign, and the second on images of
Hillary Clinton as First Lady. They're in distribution with First Run
Icarus Films. I can send more information if you would like.<<
Fiona Ann Papps (fpapps AT upei.ca) of the University of Prince Edward
Island's Department of Psychology wrote:
>> As part of the psychology program at UPEI, I teach a 400 level
special studies course entitled "Media, Sex, Power". This course
is also cross listed with Women's Studies. I have attached
syllabus and assignment details, and I hope that you find these
interesting and useful. I would be happy to receive any feedback
that you would care to offer on these materials.<<
Here are some relevant excerpts from Fiona's syllabus:
>> COURSE DESCRIPTION
>> In late capitalist societies, popular media have become important
vehicles for the production and circulation of shared knowledges and
experiences about gender, sexuality, race and class. This process is
instrumental in the construction of power relations organized around
these categories. This series of seminars will explore the role of the
media in the social construction of these power relations, using the
framework offered by critical, or postmodern, psychology as a basis for
this exploration. Various form of media will be used to illustrate the
social construction of power: body-building magazines; film; magazine
problem pages; day-time talk shows; fanzines and e-zines; teen-drama;
public health campaigns; talk-back radio programs; men's magazines; the
Internet; and pornography.
>> OBJECTIVES OF THE COURSE
>> This course has the following objectives:
1. To familiarise and engage students with post-modern and
post-structuralist critiques of psychology.
2. To impart skills of firstly, critical reading of texts and secondly,
deconstruction of texts, using a variety of techniques.
3. To illuminate the ways in which power is constructed and resisted
through the use of discourse around gender, sexuality, race, class, and
deviance in various media texts.
>> COMPULSORY READING
>> In order to understand the theoretical position informing this series
of seminars students MUST read the following:
. Burr, V. (1995). An introduction to social construction. (Ch1. What is
Social Constructionism?). New York: Routledge.
. Foucault, M. (1977/1979). Discipline and punish. Harmondsworth, UK:
Peregrine. Part 3: Discipline (Docile bodies; The means of correct
. Foucault, M. (1983). Power and truth. In H. Dreyfus & P. Rabinow
(Eds.), Michel Foucault: Beyond structuralism and hermeneutics. Chicago:
University of Chicago Press.
. Geraghty, C. (2000). Representation and popular culture. In J.Curran &
N. Gurevitch (Eds.), Mass media and society. (pp. 265-279). London:
. Weedon, C. (1987). Feminist practice and post-structuralist theory.
(Ch 5. Discourse, power, resistance). Oxford: Basil Blackwell
Denise Guidry (dguidry AT english.ufl.edu) of the University of Florida
>> I'm a TA in English and I use a media analysis unit in my freshman
writing classes; I've used this in more generic, introductory courses, a
course focusing on gender, and a course focusing specifically on
masculinity. I have students write response papers about a print/TV ad,
a television program (either an episode or a number of episodes), a
musician/song/CD, and a magazine (usually "men's" or "women's"
magazines, usually one issue) of their choice. I have them look at how
femininity, masculinity, class, sexuality, race and ethnicity, and other
classifications are represented--or not. I have each student select one
genre, and they present their response to the respective text to the
class. I've found this to be a very useful unit, and the students are
usually quite invested in it because they are effectively teaching their
peers. As the presentations continue, students begin to notice and
remark on patterns of representation in popular culture. Because they
often use texts they encounter in their daily lives, they start looking
more critically at the texts with which they choose to surround
>> I find it helpful to give students handouts that explain elements of
advertising (which I found in Every Day, Everywhere: Global Perspectives
on Popular Culture) and television. This gives them a vocabulary for
discussing formal elements of their texts.
>> I think this type of set of activities could be expanded. For
example, students could 'hunt' for images or mere mentions of lesbians
in "women's" magazines, which could open up a discussion of what is
presented to consumers as ideal femininity. You might want to look at
specifically "feminist" magazines to see how they depict women, and how
they may or may not be more inclusive. Ms., Bitch, Bust, and the new
Fierce magazine announced on the WMST-L in the last week or so, among
others, could be interesting possibilities.
>> Laura Mulvey's piece "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema" is, of
course, a classic and gives students a lot to work with in terms of the
"male gaze." I taught it in conjunction with The Full Monty, and many
of my students reached interesting conclusions about how when it is
men's bodies on display, the male gaze still holds a certain element of
power. Significantly, Mulvey doesn't deal much with the female viewer
in her piece, which provides an opportunity for critique and expansion
of her argument.
>> If you're interested in working with music, work with genres could be
interesting. Country music and rap offer interesting, vexed relations
between gender, race and ethnicity, class, sexuality, power, and so on.
Also, I've had students explicate song lyrics before (which could be
done as formal paper, response paper, and/or class presentation). It's
always interesting to see what texts they choose to work with.
>> A friend and I developed and proposed a course on portrayals of
romance (we haven't had the chance to teach it yet). Romantic love
permeates our students' everyday lives, but they rarely get the chance
to critique it. We included in the syllabus a number of texts that look
at constructions of heterosexual, gay, bisexual, and lesbian romance.
Everything from Bridget Jones's Diary (and the upcoming sequel) to the
wildly popular Jane Austen adaptations to The Wedding Banquet to TLC's
daily lineup (A Dating/Wedding/Baby Story), as well as critiques of
romantic love, portrayals of romantic love, critiques of dismissals of
romance novels as trashy, criticisms of consumerist, anxiety-ridden
wedding mania, etc.
>> If you'd like any of my assignment prompts, syllabi, etc., I'd be
happy to pass them along, and you're welcome to check out my Web site
( http://www.english.ufl.edu/~dguidry ; to get to my UF syllabi, click my
name). Best wishes in creating the course. Looks like it'll be fun and
mind-nourishing. Also, if you have any questions or suggestions, please
let me know. <<
Pam Newport (PNfeminista AT aol.com) of the University of Cincinnati wrote:
>> I took a Communication course in undergrad that dealt with the media.
Some of the class focused on representations of different people and
different theories surrounding those representations. The class didn't
really have a text; we just watched a lot of movies and discussed them.
The movie I viewed and wrote a paper on, that I eventually presented at
a Communication conference, was on Spike Lee's "Do the Right Thing"
using feminist theory to interpret his portrayal of women. One author I
used who has written about him as well was bell hooks. <<
Rebecca C. Hains
hains AT temple.edu
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