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What is Woman? Sex, Mind & All Dangerous Things.

March 25, 2013

Microsoft Word - SummerSessionII_CALL_Poster.docThis course will look at the multiple construction of sex and womanhood from the 18th century to when social networks, gaming, and the digital domain pushes for the rethinking and reconstruction of the notion of identity and gender in the 21st century.  In other words, we will look at the witch, the hysteric, the invert, the courtesan, the wife, the concubine, the ‘proper lady,’ the maid, the harlot, the midwife, and every other label on womanhood that one may think of.

We will read from a selection from works of fiction (including erotic stories), poetry, excerpts of memoirs, essays, magazine articles, infomercials, blogs, and other public social networks that women use, both in the Western and non-Western part of the world, in order to chronicle the private and public lives of the women engaging in intellectual, domestic, sex work, and other forms of less conventional labor.  We will also explore the idea of motherhood and the family, ideology and lifestyle choices, and how these shape the woman’s conception of the self.  However, it is important to remember that there is no grand universal of womanhood as a social norm beyond that of common biology.  Even then, the notion of common biology is complicated if we take into consideration intersex and transsexual individuals.

As a counter as well as complement to the ideas of womanhood in the First World, we will consider how colonial and postcolonial forces (and ideals) shape the notion of womanhood in the Third World, with particular attention to some of the postcolonial nations of Southeast Asia such as Malaysia, Singapore, the Philippines, Indonesia, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Myanmar, and how the increasing accessibility of Internet and information has structured, converged, or diverged the economic and social classes inhabited by women from both the First and Third Worlds.

The class will begin by reading selections from A Vindication of the Rights of Woman by Mary Wollstonecraft as an early exposition on feminist observations, to be then followed by excerpts from Letters of a Javanese Princess by Raden Adjeng Kartini, as an ‘eastern’ counterpart, even though they were writing more than a century apart.  The epistolary narrative, a form by which many women communicated their intellect and most intimate thoughts, allows us to peer into the veiled lives of these women, and also witness the politics by which they are engaged through writing.

The process of writing the self and the body takes a more active turn when we begin to engage as players in a story set in 1913 in Greenwich village, that cauldron of political upheaval, suffragism, raciality, and labor movement. This role-playing game will have students taking up various roles and positions, and ‘act out’ the lives of the characters for at least 1.5 to 2 weeks of class time, with out of class preparation to get into character. The players will attempt to win the game by having the score weighted in their favor. At the same time, preparation for their roles and the game would constitute the kind of research and writing preparation that will count towards their final grade.

As the class emphasizes on continuous assessment and ‘intensive’ out-of-class preparation particularly for the role playing game, there will be no final paper.

Learning Goals

By the end of the course, you will:

1.  Have a clearer notion of the social, biological, and cultural construction of gender and how that is viewed across different disciplines within and outside your studies.

2. Have stronger cross-cultural awareness when it comes to how knowledge frameworks and ideologies are developed.

3. Know where to begin looking for resources in the humanities and social sciences to help you build a focused-project on all social issues relating to gender, race, labor, culture, and capital.

4. Be able to write position papers and essays that question your assumptions, belief systems, and ideologies in relation to gender, race and personal subjectivity.

5. Be able to use different styles and forms of writing to work through different problems in the humanistic and social scientific disciplines.

Learning Objectives

In the longer term, you will be:

1. Developing critical learning skills to construct the necessary knowledge for accomplishing certain tasks or solving certain problems.

2. Breaking down of assumptions that you come to class regarding various biological and social construction of gender.

3. Differentiating, comparing, contrasting, and evaluating the different areas of ‘factual’ and ‘expert’ opinions, ideas, and arguments that you will encounter even when they lie outside your disciplinary training.

Assessment Rubric
Presentation By Each Student
On the non-game weeks, each student will be asked to select a text and be responsible for leading the discussion on the text that they have selected. They will be responsible to pick a specific format by which they want to do the discussion (handouts with questions to spur discussion, chair a forum or roundtable, show a media and then handing out the talking points that connect back to the text). They should email the other students, and instructor, ahead of time to inform them of the format and preparation needed. 30%

Participation Preparation

Other students not presenting at that time must come prepared with questions and comments, and also in accordance to the instructions of the discussant leader 15%

Journal writing
Each student should keep a journal entry of what they learn every day in class, and to share their reflections with their peers at the end of each week. Minimum length should be about 200 words. Students are to submit a summary of their entries for all the four weeks at the end of the semester. Minimum 500 words, Maximum 1000 words. 10%

Role-Playing Game
This is to be determined and re-assessed by the instructor, dependent on the number of enrollment. 45%

Extra credit will be given to each student who takes on certain voluntary responsibilities beyond the stated requirement of the course This will be discussed at the beginning of the class

Draft Weekly Schedule, to be revised and finalized, with more details, a week before the class starts
Week 1
To Think Like a Woman
–   Woman and her Memory: An essay from Toril Moi’s What is a Woman and excerpts from Freud’s Fragments of an Analysis of a Case of Hysteria
–   The Biology of Gender and the Gender of Biology: looking at excerpts from the work of Anne Fausto-Sterling Sexing the Body, Foucault’s History of Sex vol 1, Londa Schiebinger’s Nature’s Body: Gender in the Making of Modern Science and Barbin, Herculine. Being the Recently Discovered Memoirs of a Nineteenth-Century French Hermaphrodite.
– At the end of the week, we will be watching a docu-film about sexuality, queerness, labor and gender that will be determined.

Week 2
Once Upon a Time in Labor, Gender, and Identity.
–  Greenwich Village 1913 (Reacting to the Past Game)
–  Reading of A Vindication to the Rights of Woman and Letters of a Javanese Princess.

Week 3
What is a Woman Once Upon a Time
– Greenwich Village 1913 (Reacting to the past Game)
– Readings from We Must Choose Life:Writings by Namibian Women on Culture, Violence, HIV, and AIDS and also excerpts from an ontology of representation of colonial womanhood in the Malay Archipelago.

Week 4
We will be reading selected articles and also consider other representations  from a cross-cultural perspective.
–    Fetishizing the  Woman: fashion, beauty, body-modification, relationships, and ‘reality’ TV.
–    From Ladies Home Journal to Cosmos: Guides and Tips to being a ‘Real’ Woman
–    Wives, Courtesans, Concubines and other ‘Paid’ Sex.
–    Gendered.Technology.Work: From Human ‘Computers’ to the Cyborg (this will explore the labor and body of womanhood within scientific and other “intellectual” enterprise)
–    ‘Love’ Labor: The Romance of Motherhood and the Cycles of Domestic Identities.
–     Life of the Mind, Life of the Body: From “Home” Work to “Waged” Labor
–     Investigating into the different forms of social media, blogs and DIY self-publishing for constructing identities.

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