Troubling Gender: Introduction to Feminist Theory   

What do we mean by the term “gender”? Is “gender” different from “sex” or “sexuality”? If so, how? This course explores these foundational questions by offering a survey of some of the major theoretical trends and critical texts within feminist theory. This class will chart how feminist theorists have defined these terms for different intellectual and political ends. While the history of feminist theory is diverse and capacious, this course will chart four major theoretical orientations within feminist theory—Liberal Feminist Theory, Marxist Feminist Theory, Critical Race Feminist Theory, and Psychoanalytic Feminist Theory—in order to ask about the insights and limitations of each. In the final unit of the course, we will turn to the status of feminist theory “now,” especially insofar as it intersects with questions of sexuality, sexual identity, and queerness.

While this class takes gender, sex, and sexuality as its primary objects, we will also engage with broader questions about history, race, biology, culture, nationality, politics, and art. Our inquiry will be thoroughly interdisciplinary as it explores the various fields that feminist theorists come from and speak to. For instance, what does science tell us about the relationship between gender and sex? Has this relationship changed historically or varied based on cultural location? Throughout the course, we will put these critical questions into conversation with our own everyday environments to see the purchase that gender, sex, and sexuality have for our daily life.

This course is designed for women’s studies majors or non-majors interested in a thorough survey of the foundational texts and questions in feminist theory. The assignments for this course include readings and discussions, bi-weekly blog posts, three critical summaries, and one final glossary of key terms.

Visual Pleasure: Gender and Film                        

In her landmark 1975 article, Laura Mulvey provocatively argues that “cinema satisfies a primordial wish for pleasurable looking,” but that “[i]n a world ordered by sexual imbalance, pleasure in looking has been split between active/male and passive/female.” For Mulvey, the pleasure of cinematic spectacle is an unequally gendered experience. But, what is gender? How does film participate in its representation and construction? Are visual pleasures always a product of sexual imbalance and objectification? And how do we as viewers participate in the gendered dynamic of a film? This course aims to address these questions and many others by exploring the relationship between gender, film, and viewership that Mulvey proposes, thinking both with—and against—her claim that visual pleasure is linked to women’s objectification. This course thus introduces students to the fields of gender and sexuality studies through the medium of film. As a particularly 20th century form of media, film occupies a privileged relation to our modern understanding of gender, sex, and sexuality. In this course, we will watch an array of different films—drama, noir, melodrama, documentary, comedy—and analyze their representation of gender, sex, and sexuality. In combination with these films, we will also read critical analyses of film that will prompt us to consider the relationship between pleasure and gender, between the visual and race, between patriarchy and (cinematic) spectatorship, and between mystery and femininity.

 

Films for this course will include: Rear WindowRope, Bound All About Eve, All About My MotherFar From Heaven, But I’m a CheerleaderHedwig and the Angry InchParis is Burning, and Deep Throat. We will read critical selections from Judith Butler, Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, Laura Mulvey, D.A. Miller, and Mary Ann Doane. 


Criminal Minds

Television shows like CSILaw and OrderCastle, and The Mentalist have all gained their notoriety through their depiction of the excitement, mystery, and sensationalism of crime. They detail the "crime-scene" for viewers, marshal evidence, rationalize motives, and eventually probe the riven psyche of the accused. This genre uses the allure of the unknown—the “who done it?” effect—to motivate the exploration of different kinds of crime and consequently the different “types” of criminals that commit them. This course aims to unpack the construction of criminal “identity” as it is produced through various kinds of writing.   Thus, this course explores writing—both critical and creative—through the multiple narratives of crime and criminality that we will encounter throughout the semester. Not only will we use these narratives to prompt questions about how criminality is constructed by certain presumptions about gender, sexuality, race, class, psychology, poverty, etc., but we will also think about what each text teaches us about writing and the construction of a compelling case (i.e. an argument). Each text we read will employ evidence in order to make its case, and we will use these examples to explore the different disciplinary expectations about the relationship between claims and evidence. Through the assignments in this course (including peer-review, blog posts, close-reading, and comparative analysis) students will develop their skills as writers and arguers. In writing, students will learn how to critically engage with the work of others, develop a main claim, and situate their argument within a specific disciplinary context. To do this, we will engage with different genres of representation relating to crime and “criminal psychology,” including case studies, novels, short stories, film, and journalism. 

Texts will include works by Conan Doyle and Poe and films like Silence of the Lambs and The Talented Mr. Ripley.

Twentieth-Century British Literature & Culture

In the twentieth century, Britain witnessed a number of historic transformations. It saw the unparalleled material and psychic devastation of WWI; the achievement of women’s suffrage; the height of the colonial British Empire; the rise of international fascism; the onset of a second genocidal World War; the postwar shift to decolonization; the consolidation of a Welfare State; the “Cold War” standoff with “Eastern” communisms; and the increasingly rabid spread of technology and globalization. These changes were accompanied by equally significant experiments in literary and artistic production as writers and artists alike pushed the limits of form and narration, upending prior conceptions of selfhood, modernity, nation, progress, and representation. In this course, we will read prose and poetry by a variety of authors throughout the 20th century who understood themselves as “British.” Working chronologically, we will explore how the rise and fall of Empire, the ravages of World Wars, and the emergence of competing (non-capitalist) political economies gave shape to their literary and artistic productions. Topics we will discuss throughout include: transformations in gender identities and the role of women in society; secularism and religion; war and mass death; colonialism; and class hierarchies.

Texts for this class will Include: Forester, Howard’s End (1910); Brooke/Eliot/Owen: War poems; Freud, “Thoughts for the Times on War and Death” (1915); Woolf, Mrs. Dalloway (1925); Waugh, Brideshead Revisited (1945); Ishiguro, The Remains of the Day (1989); Rushdie, Midnight’s Children (1980); Zadie Smith, On Beauty (2005)


Psychoanalytic Theory: 
The Politics of Race, Gender, & Sexuality

Is psychoanalysis dead?  What is the point of psychoanalysis?  Is psychoanalysis even feasible in today’s world?  How is psychoanalysis different from psychology?  Even though psychoanalysis was invented over a century ago, it still has a strong hold on our cultural imagination. From representations of Tony Soprano’s psychotherapy in the hit TV show The Sopranos, to our colloquial use of terms like “id,” “ego,” and “the unconscious,” through the well-known influence that Freud had on Alfred Hitchcock, some of our most cherished cultural objects bear the mark of psychoanalysis. In this seminar we will explore this history of psychoanalysis from its conception at the end of the 19th century through its contemporary theoretical and practical formations. 

In doing so, we will attend specifically to the political implications of psychoanalysis’s claims about race, gender, and sexuality. Throughout the semester, we will also examine the relationship in psychoanalysis between theory and practice, entertaining the possibility that the theories based on clinical practice might have some relation to questions of power and politics, conceived in a global context.  This is an upper-level, reading-heavy course designed for students with an interest in both gaining a foundational understanding of psychoanalytic theory, and learning how to productively critique it. Students need not have any past experience with psychoanalysis, but should come prepared to grapple with dense, complex material. By the end of the course, students will be able to confidently speak to a number of different psychoanalytic orientations and will be familiar with psychoanalysis’s most significant critics, commentators, and contemporary theorists. 

In this seminar we will read some of the classic texts of psychoanalytic theory, including but not limited to: Freud’s Three Essays on a Theory of SexualityInterpretation of DreamsDora: An Analysis of a Case of HysteriaThe Ego and the Id.  We will also read post-Freudian uses of psychoanalytic theory, especially those that engage with issues of gender, sexuality, race, and capital.


Introduction to Critical Methods

This course is designed to provide an introduction to some of the major schools of critical theory and interpretation. Throughout this course, students will learn the unique theories and methods of Feminist Theory, Marxist Theory, and Psychoanalytic Theory as they grapple with different literary and visual texts, here all selected from the Gothic genre. These three theoretical traditions have been especially significant for understanding the Gothic in particular and thus provide students with an array of different interpretive strategies for making sense of the same text. Questions we might ask will include: what is the place of history or historicism in psychoanalytic versus Marxist analysis? How does a gender or sexuality focused analysis expose the limits of marxist or psychoanalytic methodologies? And, how does the specificity of Gothic literature speak back to these theoretical methodologies, pronouncing themes of haunting, possession, and patriarchal heteronormativity throughout? 

We will read critical texts that participate in each of these traditions in order to expand our interpretations of literature, including John Locke, Sigmund Freud, Michel Foucault, Karl Marx, Terry Eagelton, Maria Torok, Toril Moi, Eve Sedgwick, and Jacqueline Rose. We will also read Gothic fiction and watch Gothic films like Wuthering HeightsThe Turn of the ScrewThe ShiningAmerican Horror StoryPsycho, "The Fall of the House of Usher," and Rosemary's Baby


Gothic Hauntings: Fiction & Film

Recognizing the fictive and philosophical importance of the figure of the "ghost," this course aims to examine the various and sundry representations of hauntings throughout the gothic tradition and extend them into contemporary culture more broadly. We will focus on the function of the literary incorporation of ghouls and ghosts, asking how these figures relate to—and destabilize—the normative narrative function of sexuality, gender, time, work, creativity, psychological "health," childhood, and the structure of the family (among others). This course will also pose questions like: What makes a text gothic? How might we use the figuration of the ghost and/or "the haunting" to think about varying manifestations of temporarily?  Of presence, absence, and memory? And how are hauntings, and the narratives they accompany, bound up in certain modern understandings of psychology, madness, interiority, agency, and criminality? 

Authors whose texts we might read include: Walpole, Bronte, James, Poe, Gaskell, Gautier, and Conan Doyle. We will also include contemporary versions of the gothic, such as The Sixth SenseThe Haunting(1963), American Horror Story, and The Shining. These will be accompanied by short readings in Locke, Freud, Gordon, Foucault, Marx, Derrida, and Torok.


Modernism and Sexualities

In this course, we will read texts from the “long twentieth century” as a way of understanding the construction and reification of sexual identity. These texts will range from turn-of-the-century legal and medical case studies, to modernist novels and short stories, to contemporary critical analyses. We will consider all of these texts as representing different kinds of “fiction” and will thus maintain an understanding of the permeability between different ways of knowing and different genres for representing this knowledge. Throughout the class, the main inquiry we will pursue concerns the relation between “modernism” as a temporal and aesthetic category of artistic production and “sexuality” as both a mode of desire and a form of identity. Why, we will ask, is modernist fiction a privileged form for understanding sexuality? What is the relation between desire and identity? And how do questions of race and nationality help constitute individual understandings of desire and sexuality? To the extent that modernism is defined by the decline of Empire and a heightened awareness of globalization and nationalism, this class takes a self-conscious approach to so-called “world modernisms.” By examining these collective “fictions,” students will gain an understanding of the  sexuality, sex, and gender, and will acquire a critical understanding of the relationship between literature and the production of sexuality.

The texts for this course will include novels by Radcliffe Hall, Oscar Wilde, James Baldwin, Margarite Duras, Herman Melville, and Anais Nin. These literary objects will be accompanied by critical selections from the works of Sigmund Freud, Judith Butler, Eve Sedgwick, and Michel Foucault.