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Exercises and Projects for Intro to Women's Studies

The following discussion of exercises and projects for an Intro to 
Women's Studies course took place on WMST-L primarily in late December 
1997.  At the end are one message from 1996 and one from early 1998 
that relate to this topic.  Also of interest may be the WMST-L file
entitled Exercises for the First Day of Class.  For additional WMST-L 
files now on the Web, see the WMST-L File Collection.
Date: Fri, 19 Dec 1997 21:13:30 -0600 (CST)
Subject: Intro to WS projects for students
I'll be teaching an intro to Women's Studies course in the fall, the first for
our university, and the first for me.  I've found the online information,
including this list's archives, extremely helpful.  I've read through all of
the syllabi available in the archive, and I notice that having students keep
journals is common to Intro courses, as are papers and projects.  I'm used
to assigning papers, but I'd like more information about the projects some of
you may use in your Intro courses (since the syllabi don't specify what is
required in these projects).  I would love suggestions about projects that
have worked well for you experienced Women's Studies teachers.

Thanks so much for any help!

Janet Allured, Ph.D.
Department of History
McNeese State University
Lake Charles, LA  70609
jallured  @  mcneese.edu
Date: Sat, 20 Dec 1997 09:17:05 -0800
From: Kathy Miriam <kmiriam @ CATS.UCSC.EDU>
Subject: films and Intro to WS projects for students
I am looking for suggestions for a film that would provide a vivid,
provocative representation of women's institutionalized oppression in its
"interlocking" layers, for an intro to ws class.  I plan to show Still
Killing Us Softly, to get the class rolling on discussing sexism, sexist
messages etc.  And I have films planned that cover specific issues:
dieting, violence, etc.  I have been racking my brain trying to find a
film that would present a more general view of the various layers of
institutionalized oppression.  I watched the Handmaid's Tale and Stepford
wives hoping for a good distopian film, but feel that these are too
limited, for various reasons...
any suggestions?


Kathy Miriam
kmiriam  @  cats.ucsc.edu
Date: Sat, 20 Dec 1997 09:09:53 -0800
From: Kathy Miriam <kmiriam @ CATS.UCSC.EDU>
Subject: Intro to WS projects for students
Some fun projects that I use:
collect sexist ads/analyze; make collage with sexist ads/ write over
collage or underneath with some text that sums up message

analysis of housework/summary as practiced in home of family, past or present

I have a different question for list-makers regarding Intro to women's
What are your strategies for introducing the concept of power into
discussion?  In other words, students seem to accept the idea that ads,
the media etc, promote specific gender meanings/stereotypes.  they even
accept that these meanigns are damaging, to both women and men.  How do
you teach students that men, although damaged in some ways by gender
"roles" or "stereotypes" also benefit?  Do you have any effective
strategies?  I have a good selection of readings (for example, Frye),
although I always welcome more suggestions, but I am particularly
interested in strategies of discussion, projects, etc for getting across
the concept of power--the issue that is most contentious because it
implies that men will have to give something up, as well as "gain"
something (in terms of a more just world, more humane relationships, etc).
ditto, all of this, by the way, with respect to discussing white
privilege with white students.
(anybody have particular success using McIntosh?)

thanks in advance,
Kathy Miriam
kmiriam  @  cats.ucsc.edu
Date: Sat, 20 Dec 1997 15:59:12 -0500
From: "Leah C. Ulansey" <leou @ JHUNIX.HCF.JHU.EDU>
Subject: Intro to WS projects for students (male hierarchy/privilege)
On Sat, 20 Dec 1997, Kathy Miriam wrote:

> How do you teach students that men, although damaged in some ways by
> gender "roles" or "stereotypes" also benefit? ... I am particularly
> interested in strategies of discussion, projects, etc for getting across
> the concept of power--the issue that is most contentious because it
> implies that men will have to give something up, as well as "gain"
> something...

Hi Kathy. I agree with you that this point is crucial and tricky to get
across. I've found it helpful in discussion to be very up front about the
ways in which elite white males and their (witting or unwitting)
representatives (including, alas, some women) exploit and exercise
power over other less powerful men (who are then often represented and
coded as less masculine, sub-human, or otherwise deviant from the proper
male norm). (An Asian-American student of mine just did a paper on the
"demasculinization" of Asian-American men in American films--it was
eye-opening for me.) The painful, ugly hierarchy among men--and women's
place in that hierarchy as scapegoats, workhorses, decorations,
trophies, doormats, etc.--can be vividly illustrated in many ways (films,

When I begin a discussion by talking about the (global, economic and
sexual)  hierarchy among men, a woman of color in the class will
frequently respond by pointing out that even disempowered men can and do
oppress their female counterparts in the familiar ways (unpaid or
underpaid female labor, domestic violence, sexual oppression). At that
point, the vast  proportions of the tragedy begin to dawn on the students:
the oppressed oppress each other while the real power structure remains
unchallenged. Once the discussion gets to this point, the door is opened
to discussions of coalitions. I have found it difficult and uncomfortable
but rewarding and honest to take discussions to this point. It forces you
and the students to define your politics more clearly and I have found
that students appreciate this.

If you want (and it's not easy), you can also broach another tricky
question: why does the power structure go unchallenged, despite the fact
that it is a pyramid with a few people (mostly white males and their
favored subordinates, pawns and trophies) at the top and large numbers of
unpaid or low-paid workers at the bottom? What assumptions make this
pyramid seem normal and acceptable? What kinds or aspects of feminism
challenge those assumptions? I do think it's important to show that
privilege is systemic and not just an individual phenomenon.

Suzanne Pharr's essay, "Homophobia: A Weapon of Sexism," has a phrase
in it that my students frequently returned to. Who do gender roles
serve, she asks. "Men and the women who seek power from them." This
straightforward expression has the advantage of acknowleging that women
(like subordinate men in some ways) can and do have access to patriarchal
power and status if they seek that power by working with or pleasing the
(elite white) males at the top--serving those men's interests personally
and/or professionally. This opens the door to discussion of the
compromises and relative merits of "working within the system" vs.the
advantages of operating from the margins.  It can also open the door to
discussion of whether women would seek male approval so much if their
security did not depend on it and what women might do in various realms
of life if male approval were less of a priority. In other words, what
would happen (to men, to women, to the world) if more women were
in a position to exercise their own autonomous power rather than seek
power through the chain of command that leads up to the men at the top?

 Pharr's essay is great because it gives students "the big picture" by
connecting economic exploitation, physical violence and rigidly enforced
gender codes (homophobia and sex role stereotyping both) as things that
the existing power structure can use to sustain itself. Pharr emphasizes
that economic greed is not only one of the primary motivations for
subordinating and devaluing women; it's also one of the motivations for
racism. Some men benefit materially from the exploitation of women; others
would probably benefit more from teaming up with women to topple the
pyramid, but they are prevented from seeing that by sexism...

So, to sum up: I talk a lot about the hierarchy among men while trying at
the same time not to forget the reality of male privilege...I hope I
haven't wandered too far from your basic question....I'm curious to hear
how others approach these issues. Perhaps one project/assignment might be
to have students interview men of various ages and ask those men how aware
they are of male hierachy, what factors they think determine their place
in it, and where, in their opinion, women fit in.

Leah Ulansey
leou  @  jhunix.hcf.jhu.edu
Date: Mon, 22 Dec 1997 13:39:49 -0600
From: Stacey Robertson <smr @ BRADLEY.BRADLEY.EDU>
Subject: Intro to WS Projects
Hi all,
Thought I would use this topic as an excuse to share my encouraging
experience with women's studies projects and to thank those of you who
made suggestions earlier this semester.
I did projects for the first time this semester, and the results amazed
me. I put them in groups of about five. The instructions were very broad.
I allowed them to do projects based on any one of the topics of the class
(sexuality; women's rights movements; beauty, health, and fitness;
reproduction/abortion; domestic and sexual violence; tv & movies; and
work), and I encouraged them to be creative.  I told them they would be
graded on how well they addressed the issues of gender and power; how much
credible and well researched information they were able to convey; their
organization; and their presentation.  The project was worth 25% of their
total grade, and I divided that up a bit based on suggestions of WMST-L
people.  I made 15% my grade for the group, 5% their self evaluation, and
5% their peers' evaluation.  Their self evals and peer evals were
terrific. I think perhaps I should have joined both the peer and self
evals, however, and made it 10%.
Anyway, the projects were terrific.  There was no overlap in terms of the
topics they chose (amazingly).  Some of the topics included gender and TV
commercials; the image of Black women in the media; gender and horror
films; sexual violence; domestic violence; and eating disorders.  They did
video interviews with students, conducted surveys, and did lots of
research.  They structured their presentations creatively, including a TV
news format; dramatic readings; audience participation; etc.  The projects
tended to be both analytical and also personal.  I am convinced that they
not only learned a great deal from their projects, they really felt like
they were participating in the process of education--and it became more
meaningful to them.
Thanks to the people who offered specific suggestions about how to do peer
and self evals.  Best,
Stacey Robertson
Assistant Professor, History Department
Director, Women's Studies Program
Bradley University
Peoria IL 61625
smr  @  bradley.edu
Date: Mon, 22 Dec 1997 17:06:15 -0400
From: Christine Smith <CSMITH @ VMS.CIS.PITT.EDU>
Subject: Re: Intro to WS Projects
        Hey, amy as well too my own horn too!:) I taught Intro to Women's
Studies last semester.  I had them do 2 projects, both of which were very
well received.  The first was a "3 generations" project. they had to
interview 3 women from 3 different generations (I defined that as at least
10 years apart).  They formulated the questions based on class materials.
        They could pick a theme (such as body image) or ask a variety of
questions.  Students LOVED this.  Many (not all) interviewed family
members) and really learned alot.  Most went well over the number of
suggested pages (6-8). The final project was to create a zine.  A zine is a
do-it-yourself magazine.  I brought in examples for those who didn't know. 
The could work in pairs or individually.  I encouraged creativity and
variety.  Again, they could do one topic or be more general (as long as it
related to women).  I was VERY impressed with the results.  One student
used heres as a way of coming out, a returning monm struggling with the job
market did here's on women's work, a pair did a womenderful one on women's

        Aside from projects, I tried to encourage them to be active in the
class.  We had women's poetry day, and everyone brought in a poem or 2
written by a woman (some brought in poems they wrote). I talked about 3rd
wave feminism and why college women were perceived as apathetic.  Students
started doing all sorts of proactive things after that (some joined NOW,
worked on getting lighting on campus, wrote letters to the editor of the
campus newspaper). After showing "Not a Love Story," women were really
shaken.  They decided to vent their anger on a local store that sold porn. 
I don't necessarily condone what they did, but I was very pleased that they
reacted actively. 

casmith  @  lclark.edu 
csmith  @  axpvm1.cis.pitt.edu
Date: Mon, 20 Jan 1997 01:04:26 -0500
From: Sally Harrison-Pepper <Sallynla @ AOL.COM>
Subject: Journal Hand-Out
Several people, including Joan Korenman, suggested I post the hand-out I
mentioned earlier.  So, here is a version I've used when teaching a course on
"Women & Theatre: The Politics of Representation" in which students read
plays and critical essays each week.  As I developed my version, I received
useful advice and/or models from Jill Dolan (CUNY), Patti Schroder (Ursinus),
and Carolyn Haynes (Miami U).  If you borrow ideas from mine, I hope you'll
give me credit too!
Sally Harrison-Pepper
*  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *
The purpose of the weekly journal is threefold.  First, it will ensure that
you complete the week's reading in a timely fashion and approach the work in
a thoughtful and critical way.  Second, the journal will support your
participation in more stimulating discussions in class.  Third, it will give
you practice in writing dramatic criticism.
As a general rule, you should focus your comments in each entry on:  first,
the play under consideration, and then, the supplemental critical essays.  I
would like to know what you think, but/and have no interest in a summary of
the materials.  I've read the materials, you can assume I have in your entry,
and I will trust that you have too!  Instead of summary, then, I want you to
engage the text; question it; analyze it; respond to it.  Locate the spots
you would like to discuss in class.  Try to put at least one specific
question in writing, so that you can recall and ask this question in class.
I will sometimes give you a list of potential questions the previous week
that you may choose to consider, answer, or include in your response to the
following week's materials.  But you may als, or instead, ask additional
questions, muse about concerns, look closely at a character, a moment, or an
element in the play, make an argument about the play or one of the
theoretical/critical essays, take issue with an essay, apply an essay to
another play in the course, compare one week's reading to a previous week, do
a close reading of a section of the play or an essay, trace a theme, image,
or issue through the play, or deal in depth with what we have read or
discussed in any way you feel is appropriate.
Essentially, I want to know about the issues, problems, themes, or ideas that
arose as you read the play and how the critical essays affected your views.
 I am seeking depth and detail in your thinking about the course materials.
 Think about these materials deeply, and then engage with the issues they
raise in your writing.  Also, focus on expressing yourself clearly.  Say why
and how the material worked to create the meanings you found there.  What
questions were prompted by the essays?  Where do you agree and disagree?
 What information is new to you and what do you think of it?  What questions
do you wish to raise in class?  Where do you stand on the issues raised in
both the play and the essays?
I do not expect and do not seek formal, finished essays, though you should
absolutely use proper grammar, proofreading, and so on, and should still cite
the article or book correctly (putting the page number in parenthesis) so
that both you and I can find the place in the text if we wish and consider it
in more detail.
I do expect to see thoughtful responses.  Please remember, too, that these
are critical/ theoretical response journals.  Although the assignment, and
feminist practice in general, encourages a personalized response, your
entries should not be "personal" in the ways a diary or other confessional
form might be.  Realize as you write that I want to grade you on your
thinking, analysis, and writing abilities, but not on your politics or your
life.  So, while I am interested in your personal and critical voice, and in
your invested engagement with the material, you may need to find ways to
theorize your experiences as they relate to the texts we read.
Always read the assigned plays and essays in the order in which they are
listed on the syllabus.  Sometimes you will be asked to read the play first;
at other times, you will be assigned some introductory essays to introduce
the play or provide a particular frame through which to view it.   The order
in which things are assigned is set-up to provide a certain perspective or to
allow a particular angle to build gradually through the essays.
Note the occasional writing themes assigned in the Topics & Assignments
section of this syllabus.
You must write a minimum of two typed pages (250 words) each week, and may
write no more than four pages.  Often, writing a short paper is harder than a
longer one.  You need to select ideas carefully and be very focused.
Yes, do observe the conventions of correct writing (i.e. complete sentences,
spell checking and proofreading, etc.), since these details reflect an
author's commitment to and respect for good scholarship.  Preparation details
can affect your grade.
A  =  Journal entries that deserve an "A" are those that take the material
far beyond the basic requirements of the assignment (journals that simply
fulfill the assignment, on the other hand, are average, and "average" in my
book equals "C").  "A" Journal entries are:  carefully written;  seem
comprehensive in their scope; may raise useful and/or provocative questions
about the material; often find ways to bring in readings from previous weeks
and begin to draw connections; and, if they use personal experience (which is
NOT a requirement ever), find ways to theorize that experience in useful,
provocative, and intellectually rigorous ways.  An "A" journal entry does not
necessarily comment extensively on ALL the reading, but does find an angle, a
path through the material that will provide a response that has depth,
critical insights, seriousness, and good writing.
B  =  Journal entries receiving a "B" have clearly addressed the reading
materials and discussions, but aren't quite specific enough.  While "B"
journal entries have gone beyond the average assignment, they still need more
depth and breadth of discussion and/or need to be more explicit in their
critical analysis.  A journal entry may also receive a "B" if the author
includes a personal experience but has not made a genuine effort to utilize
the choice in clear theoretical terms that have a relationship to the
critical materials assigned.  Most often, a "B" is the result of the writer
overlooking a key point in the essays.  "B" Journal entries may seem to skimp
on the writer's commitment to delving into the material.
C  =  "C," as mentioned above, means "average."  It means the writer
fulfilled the basic parameters of the assignment, but didn't do anything more
with the materials.  Journal entries receiving a "C" may be superficial in
their approach to the materials, lack detail, or display a lack of attention
to the reading assignments--either missing a key point or maintaining a
position on the material that lacks  sufficient support and clarification.
 "C" journal entries fulfill the basic requirements of the assignment but
lack development.
Date: Mon, 22 Dec 1997 11:19:57 -0800
From: Kathy Miriam <kmiriam @ CATS.UCSC.EDU>
Subject: man bashing and Intro to WS projects for students
I have another question for list-members as I prepare my intro class:  do
you have any effective strategies for defusing and/or problematizing the
"man bashing" charge in women's studies classes, particularly intro
thanks in advance,
Kathy Miriam
kmiriam  @  cats.ucsc.edu
Date: Mon, 22 Dec 1997 16:45:23 -0400
From: Christine Smith <CSMITH @ VMS.CIS.PITT.EDU>
Subject: Re: man bashing and Intro to WS projects for students
In any of my women's Studies classes, we discuss what it means to "male bash."
I generally give the example, ""If I say that 1 in 4 women will be raped by a
man, is that male bashing?"  Almost universal nos.  "If I say all men are
rapists, is that male bashing?"  Almost universal yeses.  Then we talk about
patriarchy,and male privilege.  We also discuss how patriarchal culture is one
big "female Bash" but few people seem to be complaining about that.  And how
saying that women's studies classes are a bunch of "male bashing sessions" is a
way of dismissing women's  studies and stigmatizing it.  And trivializing it.
Instead of recognizing the rigorous academic work we do, we are reduced to
bitching about men and talking about our periods.
A big problem I run into is that students will often agree that women are
oppressed, but that men are oppressed too (because they are stigmatized if they
cry, for example).  I refer to Marilyn Frye's article "oppression" for
this one.
I do find hate women often become very angry at men and can make some really
negative comments about men.  I validate their anger, but  discuss hating
patriarchy versus hating men.  And I encourage them to channel that anger into
something proactive.
Christine Smith
Lewis & Clark College
casmith  @  lclark.edu
csmith  @  axpvm1.cis.pitt.edu
Date: Mon, 21 Oct 1996 14:09:14 -0500
Subject: Re: intersection of racism, sexism, heterosexism
>For an activity on the intersection of racism, sexism and heterosexism:
>You might choose a selection of Audre Lorde's poems, along with excerpts
>from Zami and have folks read them aloud then discuss them.
>Jo Ellen Green Kaiser jgkais00  @  ukcc.uky.edu
Another way to use poetry is to use the following exercise I learned in
a workshop I attended at a conference several years ago.  First divide the
participants into groups.  (What follows allows for up to 6 groups.)  Give
each group an assignment from the following.  (Note that you need to have
some materials for options 1 and 2).  After some time have each group
present.  I have used this exercies effectively with poetry on a variety of
John Kellermeier
SUNY Plattsburgh
kellerjh  @  splava.cc.plattsburgh.edu
                          Poem Exercise
Gather with your assigned group, read the assigned poem and then
carry out the activity described below:
1. Prepare a performance of the poem for the other groups.
2. Draw your emotional response to the poem.  Do not illustrate
   the poem -- convey your feelings.  After doing your individual
   drawing gather with the others in your group and share your
   drawings.  Decide how you want to present what went on in your
   group to the other groups.
3. As a group, create a sculpture expressing your response to the
   poem.  You can use anything in this room or anything you can
   find within the allotted time.  Then, you will present your
   sculpture to the other groups, including some of the process
   and thinking and feeling that went into making it.
4. Write a poem about the poem.  Your poem will probably express
   both the meaning of the poem for you and your attitude toward
   it.  After writing your individual poems, join the others in
   your group and share your poems.  Decide how you want to
   present what went on in your group to the other groups.
5. As a group plan how you would turn the poem into a music
   video.  What type of music would you use?  How would you want
   to use as performers?  What special effects would you want to
   use?  And so on.  Decide how you want to present your plan to
   the other groups.
6. Write a headline for the poem.  This should describe the poem
   and what makes it newsworthy.  After writing your individual
   headlines, join the others in your group and share your
   headlines.  Decide how you want to present what went on in
   your group to the other groups.
adapted from Claiming Voices: A Workshop in Feminist Pedagogical
   Theory and Practice presented by Barbara DiBernard, Judy
   Levin, and Joy Ritchie, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, at the
   conference on Re-Visioning Knowledge and the Curriculum:
   Feminist Perspectives, Michigan State University, East
   Lansing, Michigan, April 1990.
Date: Sun, 18 Jan 1998 12:16:03 -0500
From: "Kelley Crouse (by way of Kelley Crouse <kcwalker @ syr.edu>)"
              <kcwalker  @  SYR.EDU>

Subject: Intro WS exercises
This was posted to the Teaching Sociology list and I found that it does
indeed work quite nicely.

Best Kelley

 Leadership, Gender, and the Invisible Ceiling: An Inductive Exercise

Type up two sheets of paper, one headed as follows:


Mark each characteristic with an "M" or an "F" depending on whether
you think it is generally defined by society as a masculine or
feminine characteristic.

The second sheet should be headed so:


Mark an "X" by the 10 characteristics which you think are the
essential qualities for a leadership position in a complex
organization (business, government, etc)

Type with a readable font, but one which is not easily read by someone
in a neighboring seat (i.e. use capital letters for the title but do
not use an enlarged font).  The two sheets should look alike at a
glance.  Below each heading provide the following list of
characteristics, or a similar list of your own construction:

_______ achiever
_______ aggressive
_______ analytical
_______ caring
_______ confident
_______ dynamic
_______ deferential (defers to others; yields with courtesy)
_______ devious
_______ intuitive
_______ loving
_______ manipulative
_______ nurturant
_______ organized
_______ passive
_______ a planner
_______ powerful
_______ sensitive
_______ strong
_______ relationship-oriented (makes decisions based on how others
will feel) _______ rule oriented (makes decisions based on abstract
procedural rules)

When you come into class, carry a single stack of papers, with one set
of questionnaires at the bottom and the other at the top.  As you hand
them out, deal off of the top for about half the class, then deal off
of the bottom for the rest of the class, being careful everyone in a
given row has the same sheet.  Ask the students to fill out the form,
but point out that they cannot ask questions.  They must simply follow
the instructions on the sheet.  (I usually have them fill out this
simple survey a day early so I can bring in tabulated results on the
day I want to do the actual discussion.)

As you might predict, the list of masculine characteristics is usually
highly correlated to the list of preferred leadership qualities.  I
usually find 14 positive correlations between masculinity and
leadership and 3 or 4 negative correlations (3 positive and 14
negative correlations for femininity).  This can lead to a lively
discussion of the "invisible ceiling" for women, the catch 22 that
women encounter when they do assume leadership roles, problems of
socialization in our culture, the definitional equations of leadership
and "masculinity" in our culture, and discussion of what constitutes
effective leadership. Since the data evolved from the class itself,
students are much more likely to take the data seriously. I always
bring in census bureau data for differences in income levels for men
and women with education held constant, and have the class discuss the
connection between the results of the exercise.  There are many
directions one can take with the discussion, but it is always lively
-- and I am convinced that EVERYONE understands the notion of the
invisible ceiling after this exercise. Better yet, students comprehend
it without dismissing me as that weirdo liberal.  THEY put the
patterns together.  It works for me.

Keith A. Roberts
Dept of Sociology & Anthropology
Hanover College
Hanover, IN 47243
robertsk  @  hanover.edu

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