English 520: Feminist Theory (Fall 2021)

Thank you for your patience as we shift this course over from HIST 572 to ENG 520 (or, better still, register for GDRS 500!). We love it when History students end up in our courses, and our graduate students love taking courses in your department. Hopefully, some of you will choose to join me/us this fall. Maybe this information will help: 

  1. Officially, this course is online. However, please note the opportunity to come together for a weekly “lecture” held via Zoom (“Optional Zoom Lecture . . . “). That’s not a required meeting, though many students choose to attend. Not quite the incredible magic that is sitting together in a musty room huddled in deep conversation with one another (I don’t say that fascinously–I’m SO eager to get into those dingy old classrooms again). But ALMOST that kinda magic. Really good stuff. Zoom meetup opens our week together (5-7:00, to give our many teachers time to regroup after school before logging into our class). 
  2. If you cannot attend that meetup, not to worry. They’re always recorded. You’ll watch and contribute asynchronously instead. A much more dynamic way than what I’d been doing: pre-recorded lectures with just me, staring into the void. Much prefer conversation to old-school lecture (talking with other humans rather than talking at them). 

We’ll be taking up feminist theory from a variety of angles, including what feminist theory reveals when applied to humanities content (History! English!). We’ll also discuss why we study “theory” at all and explore the vital relationship between feminist theory and political practice. In other words, feminist theory concerns human rights, and this concern is far more than an academic exercise.  What we’re doing here is more than navel gazing. In this sense, feminist theory is a means to an end–a mechanism through which we can identify how injustice reproduces itself in order to join forces with (or create new mechanisms through which we might) to enact social change. This, my friends, is the heart and soul of what we’re doing here and why that matters. Feminist superstar Patricia Hill Collins calls this “intellectual activism,”the myriad of ways that people place the power of their ideas in the service to social justice” (On Intellectual Activism, 2012).  The thinkers and artists and poets whose words and ideas will feed our conversations together work from this place, all of which force us to rethink our own ways of knowing and being in the world (how do we know what we know about ourselves, one another, connections, the world around us and our place within it). 
Course objectives: 

  • offer a historical overview of feminist thought (e.g., “waves” in feminism);
  • investigate key issues in feminist theory (e.g., intersectionality); 
  • apply it! (feminist analysis of primary texts AND real-world applications for social change)

Central Texts

We’ll use our increasingly sophisticated background in feminist theory to “read” incredibly rich, provocative texts including the following: 

To supplement above, we’ll take up shorter pieces (I’ll make these available in our course shell). For example: we’ll read short, powerful essays together (e.g., Lorde, hooks, Sontag), a bit of poetry (e.g., watch Amanda Gorman perform her spine-tingling, paradigm-shifting poem The Hill We Climb at Biden’s inauguration), a couple choice episodes from podcasts like the stunning NPR series called Anything for Selena, the gripping and infuriating examination of how the controversial book Lolita has been taken up in popular culture (LolitaPodcast), and, of course, Kimberly Crenshaw’s Intersectionality Matters!.  
Group Project: We’ll also read “movements” together via group projects taking up memoirs like Consent: A Memoir of Unwanted Attention (2020), Being Heumann: An Unrepentant Memoir of a Disability Rights Activist 2019, Saguy fascinating, infuriating history of the intersections between racism, sexism called What’s Wrong with Fat?, and Roxanne Gay’s Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body
So, that’s basically it. A lot, I know. But the workload isn’t as overwhelming as this might seem. To break it down, you have: 

  • Two assigned texts we’re going to read together as a class (Reading Feminist Theory and Wayward Lives
  • One text you’ll read with in a smaller group and report back to the rest of us about (see list above). 

The rest: poems, songs, podcast episodes, etc. 
I love teaching this stuff, in large part because of students like you. These conversations have always proven to be rich, compelling, and diverse. Always respectful, but always eye-opening. This will be a safe space for tough talk. If you’re the kind of person who would sign up for a course like GDRS 500 or HIST 572, then you’re the kind of person I’m most eager to draw into these conversations. 
Let me know if you have any questions. Join me/us if you can! If this won’t work for you, no worries. Perhaps we’ll even have other opportunities to work together in the future. I’m not going anywhere anytime soon. 🙂
Yours, Dr. Carter

Shannon Carter, Ph.D. (she/her/hers)
Professor of English
Department of Literature and Languages |  Talbot Hall, Rm. 224
Mail: P.O. Box 3011, Commerce, TX 75429

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