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English 590: Feminist Theory and Gender Studies

This course will examine debates from feminist theory and gender studies that offer some insight into the ways that gender has left its mark on literary history and culture. We will also actively engage with the questions facing feminist theory and womenís studies about the nature and possibility of the category “women.”

Course Requirements

The work that we will do together this semester depends on your active contribution to the class. Participating in class means showing up on time, being prepared to discuss the reading, and being willing to take part in class activities. I can’t stress enough how important your participation is to your grade.  As part of your class participation, I encourage you to bring in items from newspapers, issues from other books you are reading, or images from popular culture that relate to the course materials. We’ll reserve a few minutes at the beginning of every class for this exchange of information.

The response papers may address any selection from the reading and any points from class discussion. The goal of the response is to explore an idea or text that interested you. These short, two-page papers will give you a chance to make a more composed response to the material and also help you feel your way toward a final paper topic. The final paper will be a place to synthesize ideas from the course and determine what you found most helpful in the range of theories we will survey. You will need to prepare a prospectus for the final paper and seek out at least one professional conference where you would like to present your work. We’ll discuss the paper in more detail as the end of the semester approaches, but my hope is that we can organize a small “mini-conference” at the end of the semester, a plan which is contingent on the size of the class.

To get you started on the first response paper, you might want to consider your own working definition of feminism and how that comes to bear on literature or writing about literature in your academic career. Examine some of the moments in texts from the first unit of the course that support your definition, as well as some that complicate your definition or simply don’t fit it.

We will choose a film to study in September as a class. While I want to make sure that we have a sound project at hand, I am very interested in the films, past or current, that you find most relevant to issues of gender and sexuality.

Breakdown of the Grading System

Class participation:    30%
Reading responses:   40%
Final Paper:               30%

Required Texts

  • Virgina Woolf, A Room of One’s Own
  • Toril Moi, Sexual/Textual Politics
  • Feminisms: An Anthology of Literary Theory and Criticism, ed. Warhol & Price-Herndl
  • Toni Morrison, Sula
  • Mary Shelley, Frankenstein
  • Judith Butler, Gender Trouble
  • Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality, Vol. 1
  • Frances Burney, Evelina differences: A Journal of Feminist Cultural Studies (Women’s Studies on the Edge, Fall 1997)


The following sites offer various kinds of information, all of which have the potential to be helpful. The content on these sites varies from time to time, so please let me know if you encounter technical problems or content errors.