Wednesday, January 12, 2011
The writing on the wall, er, stall
One week from today, I will teach my first class in a course designed entirely by me. The only parameters: the class must involve a research component and introduce the students to multiple genres (i.e. other than the academic essay). Most instructors choose a theme or topic around which to build their class. My topic is the Women's Movement. Here is my course description:
will explore how informed writing can affect (and has affected) social/political
WR121: The Sisters Are Doin’ It For Themselves
This course will explore how informed writing can effect (and has effected) social/political change in the United States, as viewed through the lens of the Women’s Movement from the 19th century to the present. This is not, however, a class for or of interest only to women – in the context of this course, women will be considered as a social group with a history of advocating for legal rights and other privileges. We will examine the various waves of feminism, looking at why some movements were successful (the passage of the 19th amendment, granting suffrage) while others were not (the never-passed Equal Rights Amendment), as well as what the label of “feminist” means today. Political cartoons, op-eds, speeches, biographies, and blogs will be among the genres we study, and the course will culminate in a fieldwork-based group project where students will design an advocacy campaign for a local women’s organization. No prior knowledge of the Women’s Movement or feminism is required.
Now, when I came up with this, I was under the impression that this year, as it had been in previous years, the freshmen would be able to read the various section descriptions and select a topic that interested them. I was also assuming I'd have a class of mostly women, like last semester (ratio of women to men was 13:1). However, neither of these assumptions is true. For the first time, freshmen advisers slotted students randomly into sections regardless of their majors/interests and according to my class list, I will have 6 men and 9 women in my class.
Upon learning these things, I initially freaked out and considered going with a different topic. Oh God, I thought, what if I get a bunch of kids who think Hillary Clinton is a feminazi? Or think women should remain barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen?
But I'm sticking to my guns, folks. My boss supports me, though acknowledges that making my course palatable and accessible to a variety of 18-year-old viewpoints will be, to say the least, a challenge. But as one friend reminded me, making freshmen write about something outside their comfort zone is not a terrible objective. My junior year in college, I took a Women's Studies course to fulfill a requirement and I was way more into it than I thought I would be. Do I have a secret agenda to make all my students militant feminists? No. But do I think it's important for college students, regardless of gender, to learn about the victories and defeats of one of the most significant, complex and (arguably) ongoing American social movements? Absolutely.
And while I'm not superstitious, something happened to me yesterday that I'm interpreting as a sign that I made the right choice. I found something tucked away in a book from college -- a transcription of graffiti from a ladies room bathroom stall of the (no longer existent) Cross Campus Library at Yale. I stared at this graffiti conversation and watched it evolve over several semesters before finally deciding to write it down. And yesterday, I found the scrap of notebook paper. The graffiti "debate" was as follows and try to imagine lots of different handwriting, Sharpie colors etc:
When do I turn into a woman?
What is a woman?
When you kiss a frog
When you sway your hips
When you decide or discover you are one
When you have a child <----that's ridiculous, not all women can have children
or want to
It's when you love yourself
When you can look back & want to move forward
I found this so compelling then and reading it again now, am still struck by it, especially the last comment, the one that silenced the other scrawlers: When you can look back & want to move forward. Isn't that why we study the history of anything?