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Intro to Women's Studies: Recommendations

The following suggestions for the most important thing people would 
recommend to someone teaching an Introduction to Women's Studies
course appeared on WMST-L in October 2001.  A second page offers
suggestions from 2005 about the merits of using a single text vs. an
instructor-selected collection of articles, as well as other topics
related to the Intro course. For additional WMST-L files now available 
on the Web, see the WMST-L File Collection.
Date: Mon, 8 Oct 2001 17:24:53 -0500
From: "Kathleen (Kate) Waits" <kwaits AT UTULSA.EDU>
Subject: Re Intro Course - what ONE THING would you recommend
Dear Colleagues,

I'm an experienced teacher, but will be teaching the Intro to Women's
Studies course for the first time in the spring. I will examine all the
relevant info in the
WMST-L collection, but my question is a little different from what's
already there.

I ask: what ONE THING would you recommend to an Intro to Women's Studies

I welcome input from everyone - including those who've merely taken the
intro course.  However, let me describe my situation, in case people have
ideas that might particularly fit me.  Based on conversations with prior
instructors at my university, I expect a generally pretty conservative
group, including at least some conservative evangelical Christians.  Many
have not been exposed to ANY form of "feminism," haven't thought about the
issues, etc.  "Feminist" is a bad word to most of the students.  However,
there may also be at least a few self-identified pro-feminist women (and
possibly men) in the class.  There may be some out gay/lesbian/bisexual
students (transgender seems unlikely).  There will be some men, some of
whom may be stereotypical "frat boy" types.  [Sorry about that - a number
of my BEST FRIENDS in college were in fraternities, but they were also
thinkers/serious students.]  Students of all types (with possible exception
of frat boys) usually have VERY good manners and are at least polite when
faced with new ideas. For what it's worth, I'm 50 years old, straight,
married, white, a law prof, very strong personality, outspoken in my
views.  I'd be considered a radical/ultra liberal feminist in these parts -
very mainstream/moderate in left or right coast Women's Studies circles.

To jog your thinking, here are some possibilities, but PLEASE do not be
limited by these:

1) What textbook(s) do you recommend (or NOT recommend) and why?
2) What other readings do you recommend  (or NOT recommend) and why?
3) What exercises have you tried - to either great success or abject failure?
4) Do you have a fantastic success/failure story that you think would be
especially useful to a new teacher?
5) Have you had some particular success/failure in integrating
race/class/sexuality issues into the Intro course?

I believe that responses to the list are appropriate, as one person's
suggestions may inspire someone else.

Thanks in advance.

Kate Waits
Date: Mon, 8 Oct 2001 18:53:21 -0500
From: "Jillian M. Duquaine" <jill-duquaine AT UIOWA.EDU>
Subject: Re: Re Intro Course - what ONE THING would you recommend
One thing that I would recommend to help "soften" the image of feminism
that many students seem to come into an Introduction to Women's Studies
course with is the Introduction "Blame it on Feminism" which opens Susan
Faludi's book "Backlash."  It's very accessible to students, Faludi uses
specific examples from media and popular culture that students can
generally relate to, and it provides a definition of feminism which my
students have found "very reasonable" (according to one of them).  More
specifically, Faludi's definition of feminism is this:  "It's agenda is
basic:  It asks that women not be forced to 'choose' between public justice
and private happiness.  It asks that women be free to define
themselves--instead of having their identity defined for them, time and
again, by their culture and their men." (p. xxiii).  While we have certain
altered this definition as a result of subsequent readings--adding things,
being more specific, broadening the scope, etc.--students seem to find this
a good starting point for the course and a "low risk" way to insert
themselves into a discussion about feminism, particularly as it makes
feminism seem like less of a "bad word."

Best of luck!

Jillian M. Duquaine
Graduate Student, Women's Studies Department
The University of Iowa
701 Jefferson Building
Iowa City, IA 52242

jill-duquaine    AT

"Feminists can, and I believe should, fight for many immediate ends.  But I
also find a great deal of comfort in the idea that feminist commitment
means working toward changes that are slow and deep.  It helps me see my
struggles to teach as a feminist as part of a larger picture, although the
picture itself keeps changing and must be painted by many
hands."   --Berenice Malka Fisher
Date: Mon, 8 Oct 2001 22:21:25 -0500
From: Lisa Johnson <ljohnson AT>
Subject: What One Thing . . .
Kate asks about success stories with integrating race/class/sexuality
into a women's studies course. I may be off in responding because I
teach composition, but I have found that shaping units around these axes
of identity triggers student defensiveness and preconceived ideas about
feminism or politics in general, especially associated in students'
minds with the much maligned and misinterpreted concept of identity
politics. To avoid this problem, I do units on arenas of life where
these axes surface together in a fruitfully messy tangle: education,
family, place, and the body (and just as the axes of identity
criss-cross each other, so too do these "chunks of life" interpenetrate,
so that the interconnectedness of private lives and public arenas,
individuals and cultural history, emerges as well).

Lisa Johnson
Visiting Assistant Professor
Dept. of English
State University of West Georgia
Carrollton, GA 30118
ljohnson    AT
Date: Tue, 9 Oct 2001 06:22:02 -0500
From: Meryl Altman <maltman AT DEPAUW.EDU>
Subject: Re: Re Intro Course - what ONE THING would you recommend
I recommend _lots of writing_. I have weekly somewhat informal response
papers, with a very open assignment,  and I also sometimes begin class by
asking students to write down answers to very-openended questions based on
what they have read. I find this helpful, for a number of reasons, both  in
getting students to reflect and study issues rather than responding in an off
the cuff manner which can lead to fruitless contention, and in making sure all
voices are heard somehow -- giving a space for quieter students who may be
feminists or developing feminists without knowing it -- they write to me, I
respond with lots of comments and then say things like, you ought to bring
this up in class ... but I am always asking students to respond _to the
reading_, not just on the basis of a kneejerk reaction to an issue. And I try
to pick readings where a "yes it is/ no it isn't" dynamic doesn't immediately
get set up, and frame issues that way. Also, I sometimes find myself saying,
well, you probably can guess I don't agree with that (a pro-life position, or
whatever) but here is something interesting I see emerging from what you say.

But I may have an easier time of it because we don't have the sort of gen ed
requirements here that get students put into classes they are likely to resist
in the negative ways you seem to be anticipating. And I continue to think
(though I know many people don't agree) that those sorts of requirements
aren't helpful, especially to women students and feminist students.

Hope this helps.
--Meryl Altman
Date: Tue, 9 Oct 2001 09:06:03 -0400
From: Sandra Shattuck <shattuck AT UMBC.EDU>
Subject: Re: Intro Course - what ONE THING
Thanks to Kate Waits for a great question! My response:

***experiential exercises***

There's nothing like discovering ways in which gender operates by feeling
it in your bones -- which often happens when students take on more
experiential exercises. Some of these are discussed in the WMST-L files
under pedagogy, but I'd like to remind folks of Barbara Scott Winkler and
Carolyn DiPalma's _Teaching Introduction to Women's Studies: Expectations
and Strategies_ (Westport CT: Greenwood, 1999) and two articles on an
experiential exercise called the outrageous act (aka feminist action
project, gender-role violation exercise) which are "The Outrageous Act as
Gender Busting: An Experiential Challenge to Gender Roles," co-authored by
Judith McDaniel, Judy Nolte Temple and me; and "Outrageous/Liberating
Acts: Putting Feminism into Practice," by Ann Mussey and Amy Kesselman.

I received a lot of help from WMST-L when I was researching the origin of
the outrageous act for the article and I'm happy to talk with anyone
privately (or via the list) about this exercise.

Sandra D. Shattuck
shattuck    AT
Date: Sun, 21 Oct 2001 17:47:48 -0700
From: Barbara Scott Winkler <bwinkler AT INTERNETCDS.COM>
Subject: Re: Re Intro Course - what ONE THING would you recommend
Well, this isn't entirely self-promotion, since the articles in the book
_Teaching Introduction to Women's Studies: Expectations and Strategies_
(Westport, CT: Bergin and Garvey, 1999) were written by colleagues.  I think
you will find it very useful as a resource since it provides a range of
resources as well as discussions of various class dynamics.  Book is
co-edited by me, Barbara Scott Winkler and Carolyn DiPalma.  Good luck.
Best, Barbara

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