Women and Culture

*NOTE: All readings listed in the course descriptions below are subject to change.




Cecelia Lie-Spahn

Women and Culture: Bodies

In this course, we’ll think of the human body as a text we can “read” — one that represents, responds to, and negotiates the relationships between identity and power. Tracing literary depictions of the body from ancient Rome, the trans-Atlantic slave trade, witnesses to los desaparecidos (“the disappeared”) in Latin America, and recent feminist sci-fi and speculative fiction, we will ask: What do these bodily archives make visible to us? How do different genres of literature both define and reimagine bodies in different ways? What do bodies tell us about histories of colonialism, knowledge, resistance, and identity formation? Through our readings and class discussions, we will unpack how the body scripts and resists inscription, produces culture and yet is borne from it. 

Readings are subject to change, but will likely include literature by Ovid, Octavia Butler, Isabel Allende, and Nella Larsen, as well as select texts from feminist, queer, postcolonial, and critical race studies. All required texts will be available in the library and for purchase at Book Culture (not to exceed $50).


Elizabeth Auran

Women and Culture: What is a Woman?

In this section of FYW, we will analyze and interrogate the representation of “woman” as seen in a set of significant literary texts of various genres, epochs, and continents.  We will begin by exploring the constructed, scapegoated Eve canonized in Milton’s Paradise Lost; subsequent readings will demonstrate how women writers attempted to resist and redefine this “self” inherited from Milton. Finally, we will look at contemporary texts that further re-construct and complicate received notions about gender, femininity, masculinity, and sexuality.  In addition to Paradise Lost, literary texts may include excerpts from the Mayan Popul Vuh; Eliza Haywood’s Fantomina; Kristen Roupenian’s “Cat Person”; The Memoirs of Lady Hyegyong; selected poems of Emily Dickinson; Ovid’s tales “Salmacis and Hermaphroditus” and “Philomela, Procne, and Tereus”; selected stories of Luisa Valenzuela; Maggie Nelson’s The Argonauts and Yvette Christianse’s Castaway. Theoretical texts may include writings by Simone de Beauvoir, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie; Sara Ahmed; Judith Butler; Audre Lorde; Terry Castle. We may also connect our readings to current issues/problems in 21st century culture.  (Readings subject to minor changes.)


Meredith Benjamin

Women and Culture: Bodies & Desires

In this section of Women & Culture, we’ll examine a series of questions centered on bodies and desires. How is the body both constructed and policed through narratives of gender, race, class, and sexuality? How are bodies and desire mediated through and represented in language? We’ll consider how bodies become not just sites of objectification or of power but also of pleasure. We’ll think about the politics of respectability, in questioning who can be a subject, rather than object, of desire. In our analyses, we’ll work to challenge fixed or binary understandings of gender and power by asking how these writers engage and challenge the various ways in which the category of “women” is constructed within culture. Texts will include Ovid’s “Tereus, Procne, and Philomela,” Eliza Haywood’s “Fantomina,” selected poems by Sor Juana Inès de la Cruz, Nella Larsen’s Passing, short stories by Luisa Valenzuela and Carmen Maria Machado, and theory texts by Audre Lorde and bell hooks. 


Vrinda Condillac

Women and Culture: Seeing, Surveilling, and Performing 

In this Women and Culture section, we will read texts that raise questions about how gender, race, class and sexuality are performed under the surveillance of culture. We will discuss not only how performance helps to create and stabilize categories that include and exclude, but also how performance can disrupt and destabilize these categories. Literary texts will include Passing by Nella Larsen, Fantomina by Eliza Haywood, poems by Ovid, and the film Paris is Burning. Secondary texts will include Sara Ahmed, Judith Butler, Mary Ann Doane, Frantz Fanon, Michel Foucault, bell hooks, Marjorie Garber, Audre Lorde, Laura Mulvey, and Jack Halberstam.





FALL 2018


Monica Cohen

Women and Culture: Representations of Violence and the Question of Social Justice

The intersection of women and culture often features violent tragedies whose very representation assumes redress, whether a justice of retribution and restoration or simply an act of bearing witness. Using theoretical frameworks from writing by Nancy Chodorow, Judith Herman, Chandra Mohanty, Sherry Ortner, and Gayle Rubin, this section of Women and Culture will analyze a set of significant literary and visual texts that includes the Homeric Hymn to Demeter, Ovid’s “Tereus, Procne, and Philomela,” Eliza Haywood’s Fantomina, Paul Verhoeven’s Elle, Christina Rossetti’s Goblin Market, short stories by Luisa Valenzuela, Toni Morrison’s Beloved, and Asghar Farhadi’s About Elly.

Elizabeth Auran

Women and Culture: Bodies, Power, Voice

Topics will include reproductive power and the body, maternity, courtship, literacy and voice, consent and bodily autonomy, and representation; we may also connect our readings to current issues/problems in 21st century culture.  A tentative list of readings include Hymn to Demeter, selections from Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Sei Shonagon’s The Pillow Book, Kebra Nagast, The Lais of Marie de France, Beaumont’s “Beauty and the Beast,” “The Changed Skin” (West Africa,) Freud’s “Female Sexuality,” selected Andalusian and Elizabethan poetry, and the poetry of Sor Juana de la Cruz. Critical scholarship sources may include Sara Ahmed, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, bell hooks, Audre Lorde, Nancy Chodorow, Sherry Ortner, Gayle Rubin, and Roxane Gay.


Vrinda Condillac

Women and Culture: Borders, Bodies, and Willful Subjects

In this section, we will explore the idea of women and culture by examining ways that institutions wield power by policing bodies through borders. We’ll look at how visible and invisible borders create binaries and dualities that include and exclude, that construct normalcy and difference, that limit the possibilities of what a body can and cannot do, and of who it can and cannot be. But we’ll also analyze how willful characters disrupt these borders by using their bodies in transgressive ways that upend these constructed categories, and thus how bodies can be agents of great resistance in redefining the borders that limit them. Literary texts will include The Hymn to Demeter; Ovid, “Tereus, Procne and Philomela” and “Salmacis and Hermaphroditus”; Marie de France, selected Lais; Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, selected poetry; Nella Larsen, Passing; Edwidge Danticat, selected stories; Carmen Maria Machado, selected stories. Theoretical texts will include Sara Ahmed, excerpts from Willful Subjects and “Complaint: Diversity Work, Feminism, and Institutions”; Gloria Anzaldúa, excerpts from Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza; Michel Foucault, excerpts from Discipline and Punish; bell hooks, “Choosing the Margin as a Space of Radical Openness”; Audre Lorde, “The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House.” (Readings subject to minor changes.)