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Women's Studies, 208 Bartlett, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, MA. 01003
Office: Bartlett 7C * Hours: Tue 11:30am-1:30pm or by appointment * Tel: (413) 545-1958
Wost 187H Introduction to Women's Studies Spring 2001
Tu & Th: 9:30-10:45am at Field 104

Course Description

Placing women's experiences at the center of interpretation, this class introduces basic concepts and perspectives in Women's Studies. Focusing on historical and contemporary issues for women, we will examine women's lives with a particular emphasis on the ways in which gender interacts with race, class, sexual orientation and ethnicity and other socio-cultural factors. The central aim is to foster critical reading and thinking about women's lives and the ways in which the interlocking systems of oppression, colonialism, racism sexism, ethnocentrism and heterosexism shape women's lives,how women have worked to resist and overcome these oppressions, and to explore practical transformational politics.

A note about this syllabus - read it and keep for reference during the semester.

This syllabus is a guide to the course. It includes: (1) course requirements, (2) reading assignments, (3) grading formula, and (4) study questions.

Course Requirements

Written Assignments and Exams

Academic Honesty

My assumption is that students are generally honest. Necessary action, in compliance with official guidelines will be taken against students who commit academic dishonesty. Please read and familiarize yourselves with the University policy statement on academic honesty in the Undergraduate Rights and Responsibilities booklet.

Required Books

Howard Zinn:
A People's History Of The United States 1492-Present. (Revised & Updated Edition) 1995. New York. Harper Perennial.
WOST 187 Reader. 1999. ISBN: 0-390-98689-5. McGraw Hill, Inc.

Books are available at Food For Thought Bookshop, North Pleasant Street, Amherst and also on reserve in the library.

Topics and Questions to Be Covered for the Semester

The Social Construction of Gender, Race, Class & Sexuality, Diversity and Difference

What is "Women's Studies" and who are the "women"? How is "woman" defined? Does "objective knowledge" exist? In what ways do social, cultural, political and economic forces determine the facts? Is there a "woman's perspective"? If there is, how do race, class and sexual orientation impact that perspective? How are women alike? How do women differ? Does the common experience of a patriarchy unite us across our differences? As a concept, oppression has had a long history in contemporary feminist scholarship. What does it mean? Why is it important to think about it? Will the regular methods of scholarship and science be adequate for the task of understanding the diversity between women? Will new tools be necessary? Furthermore, how do we encourage women to relate at the points of their difference to promote growth, creativity, and social change?

What is the ideological foundation of the United States? What is the importance of history? How were European American women's lives shaped by the social, legal, religious and economic forces of the time? How has our knowledge of American Indian women been limited? What is the economic foundation of slavery? What was the experience of African American women in slavery? What were the economic reasons for imprisoning Japanese Americans in concentration camps? How did this affect the experiences of Asian American women?

Social & Political Movements: Abolition & Women's Rights, The Civil Rights Movement, The Second & Third Waves Of Feminism

What is abolition? Who were the people involved in the movement? What were the roles of men and women of different races? Was gender an issue? What was the relationship between African American and European women in the abolition movement and the women's rights movement? What were the economic and political bases for lynching? How do societal attitudes towards African American men and white women contribute to the justification for lynching? What were the goals of the civil rights Movement (CRM)? What were the Jim Crow laws? What was the role of women in the CRM? What did the CRM accomplish? Why was the CRM seen as the "Borning Struggle"? How was the women's movement of the late 1960s and early 1970s shaped by social expectations for women? What can we learn from the successes and mistakes of the movement? What still needs to be done? Where shall we put our greatest efforts? What should be our priorities? How do we revitalize the energy, optimism, and power of the women's movement, and where shall we take it into the future?

Institutions that Shape Women's Lives-Work

What is the nature of women's work? How is it related to societal expectations for women? How do race and class impact on definitions of women's work? Has the work that women have traditionally done been considered work? Where are women in the economy? Do education, individual talents, skills and effort determine women's placement in the work force? Are there still obstacles to women in the work force? What are the consequences and remedial strategies?

Institutions that Shape Women's Lives-The Family & Recurring Issues

How is family defined? What are cross-cultural and historical differences in family form and the role women play in the family? What has been and is the role of the state in maintaining the family? How does racism shape family life? How do economic, political, and social pressures impact families? What role does racism and sexism play in shaping public policy on the family? What are the strategies women of color have developed to ensure that survival? Who is poor? What is the connection between women and poverty? Why single mothers do worst? What's wrong with current poverty policies and what's the unfinished agenda? What kinds of families do lesbians and gay men have? What is heterosexism and how does it impact on homosexual families? How is "good family" defined? How is that definition related to cultural assumptions about sexuality, race, gender and class?

What is the societal basis of violence against women? Why do women stay with men who hurt them? What significant changes have the women's movement made to abused girls and women? Women in this culture live with the reality of rape, what are cultural myths about rape? What is the relationship between rape and cultural definitions of aggressive sexuality for males and passivity for females? How has the activism of feminists affected treatment of rape victims by police and the judicial system?

Institutions that Shape Women's Lives-Health Care, Media, Public Policy, Legal System

What is the basis of our health care system? Who does it benefit? What are the ways in which gender, race and class impact the quality and kind of health care received? What changes in the health care system have resulted from the efforts of women activists? Why is abortion a major issue for women? Has abortion always been illegal? What are the consequences of denying women access to abortion? What do we mean by reproductive rights? What is the justification for sterilization of Puerto Rican women? What are the connections between sterilization abuse, population control and minority women?

Resistance, Alliance and Coalition Building: Platforms for Action

What is resistance? What are the ways in which resistance is impacted by gender, race, class, age and sexuality? How do we continue to work for change that can begin to reverse the dynamic of patriarchal domination by challenging and transforming the way in which we look at ourselves in relation to each other and to the world? What is consciousness raising? How do we raise awareness and understanding, our own and others, for social action and change?

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