Dreams of a Common Language: Feminist Conversations across Differences

 

Harvard University

Studies in Women, Gender, and Sexuality (WGS) 97

Fall 2005

Section A: Mondays 1-3 pm

Section B: Wednesdays 1-3 pm

Kates Room, Warren House

 

Prof. Robin Bernstein

email: rbernst@fas.harvard.edu

Office: Barker Center, Warren House 111

Phone: 617.495.9634

Office Hours immediately follow class

To schedule an appointment outside regular Office Hours, please contact Karolin Roecklinger (wgs@fas.harvard.edu)

 

In a globalized economy, feminists around the world are challenged to think and organize transnationally.  To meet this challenge, one needs both a nuanced understanding of the construction of one’s own identity (including its internal contradictions, multiplicities, and instabilities) and analytical tools by which to think about difference, language, politics, and activism.  This course prepares students to realize those goals.  In our first unit, we encounter a variety of theories by which to think about issues of identity and community.  We become adept in using concepts such as essentialism, constructivism, imagined communities, intersectionality, mestiza consciousness, the politics of location, standpoint theory, coalition-building, performance theory, the deployment of sexuality, and historical “waves” of feminism.  Throughout, we foreground current perspectives developed in the fields of transnational feminism and queer theory.  Our second unit focuses on feminist conversations across de-stabilized differences.  Using the concepts mastered in the first unit, we analyze instances in which diverse people have struggled to talk and to organize across nationality, gender, race, class, sexuality, and religion—even as they question the apparent unity of those categories of analysis.  Throughout the semester, we cast our learning into practice as we collectively craft our own conversations across ever-shifting differences.


Texts and Policies

Required Texts (available at the Harvard Bookstore and the Harvard Coop, and on reserve at Lamont Library):

Gloria Anzaldúa, Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza

Gerd Brantenberg, Egalia’s Daughters: A Satire of the Sexes

Bridges Volume 10 Number 1 (2004): Special Issue: Women in the Israeli Peace Movement

Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality Volume I

Susan Hawthorne and Bronwyn Winter, eds., After Shock: September 11, 2001: Global Feminist Perspectives

Nancy A. Naples and Manisha Desai, Women’s Activism and Globalization: Linking Local Struggles and Transnational Politics (New York: Routledge, 2002).

Linda Nicholson, ed. The Second Wave: A Reader in Feminist Theory

 

Required texts on reserve at Lamont Library:

The Boston Women’s Health Book Collective, Our Bodies, Ourselves (1976 AND 2005 editions)

Sourcebook (“SB”)

 

Recommended text (available at the Harvard Bookstore and the Harvard Coop):

Lydia Alix Fillingham, Foucault for Beginners

 

Films:

Fires in the Mirror (United States, 1993)

Las Madres de la Plaza de Maya (Argentina, 1985 [subtitled])

 

Course Requirements and Grading:

Attendance and informed, productive participation                                             35%

Research Workshop (date to be determined)                                                    5%

Schlesinger Library Orientation (date to be determined)                         5%

Paper #1 (5 pages, due October 21, 3 pm)                                                       10%

Our Bodies, Ourselves Presentation (November 14/16)                                   5%

Paper #2 (7 pages, due November 18, 3 pm)                                                   10%

Prospectus for Final Paper (due December 2, 3 pm)                                         5%

Draft of Final Paper (due Monday, Dec. 19, 3 pm)                                           5%

Final Paper (12-15 pages, due 3 pm on January 17, 2006)                                20%

 

The Our Bodies, Ourselves Presentation, Research Workshop, Schlesinger Library Orientation, Prospectus, and Draft are graded “full credit/no credit.”

Late papers will be penalized one third of a letter grade for each day overdue.

Failure to complete any assignment can lower your grade far in excess of the stated percentage.

The assignment for the first paper will be distributed on October 3/5 (depending on your section).  All other assignments will be distributed on October 24/26. 

 


Course Policies:

This course’s focus on “conversation across difference” structures both our reading and our in-class practices.   Your most important responsibility in this course, therefore, is to collaborate with your colleagues to craft productive discussions.  This responsibility involves two components.  First, you are required to arrive in class having read and thought about all the reading.  In other words, merely gulping down the reading is inadequate.  You should come to class having chewed and digested the material thoroughly.  You are expected to prepare your own thoughts, opinions, and questions before every class.  Second, you must express your ideas in a respectful manner that advances our conversation.  You should think not only about your own comments, but about the overall classroom dynamic: who is speaking more, who less?  How might you contribute to an atmosphere that enables everyone to participate meaningfully?  How do you negotiate disagreements?  What silences emerge, and how might we think about those silences?  Is silence necessarily a problem?  Most importantly, what might a conversation informed by feminist theories look like?  How might we collectively create such a conversation?

On a more mundane note: lateness and unexcused absence detract from our conversation and therefore figure negatively toward your participation grade.  Needless to say, practices that disrespect your colleagues (for example, interrupting, hogging the floor, launching personal attacks, or answering cell phones) obstruct rather than advance conversation; such practices are therefore unacceptable. 

 

Course Schedule

 

UNIT I: THEORIES OF IDENTITY AND COMMUNITY

This Unit introduces a spectrum of ways in which feminists have thought about issues of identity and community.

 

September 19/21.  Dreams of a Common Language

Read in class: Adrienne Rich, “Cartographies of Silence” (The Dream of a Common Language: Poems 1974-1977 [New York: W.W. Norton and Company, Inc., 1978], pp. 16-20)

Listen in class: recording of Judy Grahn reading from The Common Woman Poems and She Who

View in class: images from Judy Chicago’s The Dinner Party

Recommended future reading (distributed in class): Adrienne Rich, “Power and Danger: The Work of a Common Woman by Judy Grahn,” in Judy Grahn, The Work of a Common Woman: The Collected Poetry of Judy Grahn 1964-1977 (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1978), 7-21 and excerpts from Ntozake Shange, for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf (1976, New York: Bantam, 1981), pp. xiii-4, 58-67.

Choose in class: dates for Research Workshop and Schlesinger Orientation

 

 

 

September 26/28.  Essentialism and its Discontents

Simone de Beauvoir, “Introduction” to The Second Sex (in Linda Nicholson, ed., The Second Wave: A Reader in Feminist Theory [hereafter “Nicholson”])

Gerd Brantenberg, Egalia’s Daughters: A Satire of the Sexes (Focus your reading on Part One.  Feel free to skim Part Two, but be sure to read “The Studs’ Tragedy,” “Gro and Petronius—Wom and Manwom,” “Consciousness-Raising in the ‘Fighting Cock’ Menwim’s Group,” and “The Reader’s Final Farewell to Ruth Bram, her Son Petronius and the Others” carefully.)

RECOMMENDED:

Luce Irigaray, “This Sex Which is Not One” (excerpts in Nicholson)

Linda Alcoff, “Cultural Feminism versus Post-Structuralism: The Identity Crisis in Feminist Theory (in Nicholson)

 

October 3/5. Imagining Communities: Nationalism and Transnationalism

Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism. Revised Edition. (London and New York: Verso, 1991), “Introduction” and “Cultural Roots,” pp. 1-36 (Sourcebook [hereafter “SB”])

Arjun Appadurai, “Disjuncture and Difference in the Global Cultural Economy.” In The Cultural Studies Reader, ed. Simon During (London and New York: Routledge, 1993), pp. 220-230 (SB)

Chandra Talpade Mohanty, “Under Western Eyes: Feminist Scholarship and Colonial Discourses” (1986), in Feminism without Borders: Decolonizing Theory, Practicing Solidarity (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2003), pp. 17-42 (SB)

Assignment for Paper #1 distributed in class

 

October 10/12. Borders and Intersections

Gloria Anzaldúa, Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza

Kimberlé Crenshaw, “Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence against Women of Color.” In After Identity: A Reader in Law and Culture, ed. Dan Danielsen and Karen Engle (New York : Routledge, 1995 ), pp. 332-354 (SB)

 

October 17/19.  Standpoint Theory, Situated Knowledge, and the Politics of Location

Nancy C. M. Hartsock, “The Feminist Standpoint: Developing the Ground for a Specifically Feminist Historical Materialism” (in Nicholson)

Monique Wittig, “One is Not Born a Woman” (in Nicholson)

Donna Haraway, “Situated Knowledges: The Science Question in Feminism and the Privilege of Partial Perspective,” in Simians, Cyborgs, and Women: The Reinvention of Nature (New York: Routledge, 1991), pp. 183-199 (SB)

 

October 21. PAPER #1 DUE!  Please submit your paper in the WGS office by 3 PM.

 


October 24/26. Identity, Community, and Coalition-Building

The Combahee River Collective, “A Black Feminist Statement” (in Nicholson)

Patricia Hill Collins, “Defining Black Feminist Thought” (in Nicholson)

Michael Awkward, “A Black Man’s Place in Black Feminist Criticism,” in Joy James and T. Denean Sharpley-Whiting, eds., The Black Feminist Reader (Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2000), pp. 88-108 (SB)

Cherríe Moraga and Gloria Anzaldúa, eds. This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color (selections in SB)

Queer Nation Manifestos (http://www.jessanderson.org/doc/qnation.html or SB)

Assignments for all remaining projects distributed in class

RECOMMENDED:

Norma Alarcón, “The Theoretical Subject(s) of This Bridge Called My Back and Anglo-American Feminism” (in Nicholson)

Daisy Hernández and Bushra Rehman, eds. Foreword by Cherríe Moraga. Colonize This! On Today’s Feminism (New York: Seal Press, 2002).

 

October 31/November 2.  Sexuality and Power

Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality Volume I

RECOMMENDED: Lydia Alix Fillingham, Foucault for Beginners

 

November 7/9. Identity and Performance

View before class: Anna Deavere Smith, Fires in the Mirror (on reserve at Lamont Library)

Anna Deavere Smith, “Introduction,” “The Crown Heights Conflict: Background Information,” and “Crown Heights, Brooklyn: A Chronology,” in Fires in the Mirror (New York, Anchor Books, 1993), pp. xxiii-liii (SB).

Judith Butler, “Performative Acts and Gender Constitution: An Essay in Phenomenology and Feminist Theory.” In Performing Feminisms: Feminist Critical Theory and Theatre, ed. Sue-Ellen Case (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1990), pp. 270-282 (SB)

Judith Halberstam, “Mackdaddy, Superfly, Rapper: Gender, Race, and Masculinity in the Drag King Scene.” Social Text 52/53, nos 3 and 4 (Fall/Winter 1997), 105-131 (SB)

In class: each student will select a topic that is addressed in Our Bodies, Ourselves.  Examples of topics include gender identity, abortion, lesbianism, bisexuality, heterosexuality, race, men, birth, sex work, marriage, sexually transmitted disease, etc.  In preparation for the week of November 14, each student will skim the 1976 and 2005 editions of this book (both on reserve at Lamont Library) and come to class prepared to describe the ways in which treatment of the topic changed and/or remained consistent from one edition to the other.  How do these two texts help us think about the idea of “waves” of feminism?

 


November 14/16. Putting it All Together: Feminist Activism, Feminist Theory

View before class: Las Madres de la Plaza de Maya (Argentina, 1985 [subtitled]). You may borrow this video from the WGS office during regular business hours.

Noel Sturgeon, “Theorizing Movements: Direct Action and Direct Theory” (chap. in Marcy Darnovsky, Barbara Epstein, and Richard Flacks, Cultural Politics and Social Movements [Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press, 1995]), pp. 35-38 (SB)

Our Bodies, Ourselves (skim 1976 and 2005 editions)

In-Class Presentations on Our Bodies, Ourselves

 

November 18. PAPER #2 DUE!  Please submit your paper in the WGS office by 3 PM.

 

UNIT II: CONVERSATIONS ACROSS DIFFERENCES

In this Unit, we use the concepts introduced in Unit I to analyze conversations across unstable differences.

 

November 21/23. “Border Wars”?

Judith Halberstam and C. Jacob Hale, “Butch/FTM Border Wars: A Note on Collaboration,” GLQ 4.2 (1998, “The Transgender Issue”), pp. 283-285 (SB)

Judith Halberstam, “Transgender Butch: Butch/FTM Border Wars and the Masculine Continuum, GLQ 4.2 (1998, “The Transgender Issue”), pp.287-310 (SB)

C. Jacob Hale, “Consuming the Living, Dis(re)membering the Dead in the Butch/FTM Borderlands,” GLQ 4.2 (1998, “The Transgender Issue”), pp. 311-348 (SB)

Anita Valerio, “It’s In My Blood, My Face—My Mother’s Voice, The Way I Sweat,” in Cherríe Moraga and Gloria Anzaldúa, eds. This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color, pp. 41-45 (SB)

Max Valerio Wolf, “Now that you’re a white man,” in This Bridge We Call Home: Radical Visions for Transformation, ed. Gloria E. Anzaldua and Analouise Keating (New York: Routledge, 2002), pp. 239-254 (SB)

Please bring Nancy A. Naples and Manisha Desai, Women’s Activism and Globalization: Linking Local Struggles and Transnational Politics to class.

 

November 28/30.  Organizing Across Differences

Isabelle R. Gunning, “Cutting through the Obfuscation: Female Genital Surgeries in Neoimperial Culture,” in Ella Shohat, ed., Talking Visions: Multicultural Feminism in a Transnational Age (New York: The MIT Press, 1998), pp. 203-224 (SB)

Nancy A. Naples and Manisha Desai, Women’s Activism and Globalization: Linking Local Struggles and Transnational Politics (New York: Routledge, 2002).  Read all of Part I (Chapters 1, 2, 3) and Part V (Conclusion), plus a minimum of one essay from EACH of Sections II, III, and IV.

 

December 2. Prospectus for Final Paper due to WGS office by 3 pm

 

 

December 5/7.  Peace, War, and Activism

Adrienne Rich, “Collaborations,” Bridges Volume 9 Number 2 (Fall 2002), pp. 64-66 (SB)

Bridges Volume 10 Number 1 (2004): Special Issue: Women in the Israeli Peace Movement

Sahar Khalifeh, “Comments by Five Women Activists: Siham Abdullah, Amal Kharisha Barghouthi, Rita Giacaman, May Mistakmel Nassar, Amal Wahdan,” translated by Nagla El-Bassiouni, in Suha Sabbagh, ed., Palestinian Women of Gaza and the West Bank (Indiana University Press, 1998), pp. 192-215 (SB)

In class: we will decide collectively which parts of After Shock to read for next week.  Please bring After Shock to class.

 

December 12/14. Locating Ourselves within Global Events

Susan Hawthorne and Bronwyn Winter, eds., After Shock: September 11, 2001: Global Feminist Perspectives (selections decided in the previous week)

In class: we will decide collectively which TWO of next week’s readings we will discuss.

 

Monday, December 19. Draft of Final Paper due to the WGS office by 3 pm.

 

December 19/21. Cyborgs and Transnationalists: Toward Feminist Futures

We will discuss TWO of the following (choices to be determined the previous week):

Chandra Talpade Mohanty, “‘Under Western Eyes’ Revisited: Feminist Solidarity through Anticapitalist Struggles,” in Feminism without Borders: Decolonizing Theory, Practicing Solidarity (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2003) (SB)

Inderpal Grewal, “On the New Global Feminism and the Family of Nations: Dilemmas of Transnational Feminist Practice,” in Ella Shohat, ed., Talking Visions: Multicultural Feminism in a Transnational Age (New York: The MIT Press, 1998), pp. 501-530 (SB)

Patricia Hill Collins, “U.S. Black Feminism in Transnational Context,” in Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness, and the Politics of Empowerment, Second Edition (New York: Routledge, 2000), pp. 227-249 (SB)

Donna Haraway, “A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century: An Ironic Dream of a Common Language for Women in the Integrated Circuit,” in Simians, Cyborgs, and Women: The Reinvention of Nature (New York: Routledge, 1991), pp. 149-181 (SB)

 

January 17, 2006, 3 pm: Final paper due!