WS 141:  Introduction to Women’s Studies


Dr. LeeRay M. Costa                                                                                Fall 2004, Hollins University       
Office: 324 Pleasants Hall                                                                        T/TH 8:50-10:20 am                               
Office Hours:  M/W 3:00-4:30 pm, & by appointment                           Pleasants 203              
Contact Info:  x6254,


“The true focus of revolutionary change is never merely the oppressive
situations which we seek to escape, but that piece of the oppressor which is planted deep within each of us.”
                                                            -          Audre Lorde, Sister Outsider



Course Description

This course will introduce students to the interdisciplinary work of women’s studies in the United States, its intellectual and cultural history, and its changing objectives over time.  It will also introduce students to the major concepts and theories upon which women’s studies proceeds. Throughout the course we will examine various structures of power which construct women in ways that disadvantage and disempower them relative to men, e.g. patriarchy, capitalism, family, heterosexuality, media, development and globalization.  We will also look at how these structures intersect with categories of race, ethnicity, class and sexual orientation.  At the same time, we will consider the myriad and creative ways through which women in different historical and cultural contexts resist and attempt to change these structures of power. In this course we will also explore the relationship between theory and practice as we examine the linkages between the academic field of women’s studies and women’s activism in the US and in international contexts.


A major goal of the course is to stimulate students to think more critically about how systems of gender shape human beings and our place in the world and contribute to the differential experiences of men and women. Readings, class discussions, writing assignments, film/video, and class exercises will provide students with various opportunities to develop critical thinking and gender awareness both in the classroom and in their everyday lives.


NOTE: This course fulfills the requirement of Social and Cultural Diversities under ESP.


Course Objectives:

1.    To teach students to analyze social, cultural and economic issues from feminist perspectives.

2.    To increase students’ awareness of the social construction of gender (femininity and masculinity) and its intersections with race, class, ethnicity, age, sexuality.

3.    To understand categories of difference (especially gender, race, ethnicity, class, and sexual orientation) as historical constructs that change over time, and cultural constructs that change according to locale/place.

4.    To understand the connections between “difference” and personal and group identity.


Required Reading

1.       Shaw, Susan M. and Janet Lee (2004) Women’s Voices, Feminist Visions: Classic and Contemporary Readings. (Second Edition) Mayfield Publishing.

2.       Morrison, Toni (1970) The Bluest Eye. Plume.

3.       Feinberg, Leslie (1993) Stone Butch Blues. Firebrand Books.

Course readings are available on Reserve at Wyndham Robertson Library.


Course Requirements

For this course to be successful and mutually beneficial to all, it requires the full participation of all members of the class.  It is essential that students come to class prepared, having completed ALL the required readings and any written assignments due.  Students should arrive ready to thoughtfully discuss, analyze and share their insights into/confusions about the material.

Attendance is required. Excessive absences will result in a grade reduction. Regular attendance and participation in course discussions are critical to   your learning. On the first day of class we will collaboratively create an attendance policy that outlines grade reductions for number of absences

Class participation is required and is part of your final grade.

Reading assignments are required.  Readings should be read BEFORE the class period in which they will be discussed.  Make sure to read the endnotes/footnotes as well.  Please come prepared with questions.

Assignments must be turned in on-time. No late assignments will be accepted.

Exams and Assignments:

Short Assignments

1.    What is Feminism? Ask five people to define feminism and provide your own definition as the sixth.  1-2 pages, 10%


2.    Interview with a Senior Woman. Ask about her experiences as a young woman. Questions to be developed in class. 1-2 pages, 10%.

3.    Gender Role Violation.  Perform an act that violates expected gender norms. Write a brief paper analyzing your experience and what it suggests about gender rules and expectations. Examples to be discussed in class. 2 pages, 10%

4.    Interview with men.  Interview two men on what it means to them to be men in the United States today.  How do they feel about gender roles/expectations? What would they change about being men if they could? If they have children, how do they teach their sons to be men, and how is that different from what they teach their daughters?  Interview two men who are at least 20 or more years apart in age.  Length: 3 pages. 10%


Midterm:  Take home, essay format.


Group Activism project and presentation:

Together with your group (3-4 students) you will choose an issue that you believe adversely affects the lives of women.  Your assignment is to research the topic and present an Activism Plan that addresses this issue without oversimplifying it.  Some examples are a) creating an organization to work on the issue, b) creating an informative pamphlet or booklet, c) doing street theatre, d) organizing a march and rally, e) organizing a boycott or media campaign, f) presenting a proposal to the university administration, etc… Your research should include library research, Internet research, interviews, and anything else that will help you to a) better understand the problem and b) create a viable activism plan. Remember, the main focus of the presentation is the Activism Plan.

You will make a 20-minute group presentation of your activism plan to the class at the end of the semester (this time limit is firm!). You will also turn in a final report to the professor of 3-5 pages describing your contributions to the group project (i.e, one paper per student).  A one-page proposal of the project is due early in the semester and your topic must be approved by the professor. As part of the project you will also evaluate your classmates’ presentations.  More project information will be provided later in class.


·         Grading:


            Short Assignments                                                                   40%

            Group Activism Presentation                                                   25%

            Group Activism Project paper                                                  25%

            Participation & Attendance                                                      10%     


·         Style Guide for Written Assignments:


1.    All papers should be typed, using 12 pt font only (12 pt Times is the preferable font), double spaced, with one-inch (1”) margins on all sides.

2.    Please DO NOT USE COVER SHEETS. I consider this a waste of precious resources. Type your name, course number, paper title and any other identifying information at the top of the first page (single spaced). If you can print your paper front to back (using both sides of the paper) I and the trees will appreciate it.  STAPLE YOUR PAPER. (Please, no paperclips or folders.)

3.    Remember to always KEEP A COPY of your paper in case of an emergency!

4.    Please NUMBER ALL PAGES and using the footer, place your name at the bottom of every page.

5.    USE THE SPELL CHECKER ON YOUR COMPUTER.  Excessive and needless misspelling will result in a reduction of your paper grade.

6.    For citing material in your paper and in the references, please use the Turabian style. Guidelines are available at the campus writing center or on Hollinsnet at (  If you have any questions regarding this style, please ask!


Class Policies & Expectations

By enrolling in this course, you agree to adhere to the following policies and expectations in addition to those cited above and those outlined in the Hollins Honor Code.


  1. You will participate in the course in a manner that is open, honest and respectful of other people’s opinions, ideas and beliefs.  This means allowing others the space to assert their views. Although you may not always agree, there is much to learn by listening to and considering viewpoints different from your own. 
  2. Because you may find that many of the ideas presented in this course challenge your own beliefs and assumptions, it is important to remember that people can agree to disagree.  In other words, the goal of the course is not to “convert” individuals to a particular point of view. Rather, the goal is to present alternative ideas in an articulate and comprehensive way, and to assist students in figuring out their own positions on a particular issue. Thus, dialogue and respectful contestation are likely to be an inherent part of the course.
  3. Issues and personal experiences discussed in the course may often be personal.  Therefore, you agree to respect your classmates’ privacy and to keep discussions confidential.
  4. There is no such thing as a “stupid” or “silly” question.  All questions and ideas will be addressed thoughtfully and respectfully.
  5. The syllabus is subject to change.  Thus, if you choose to be absent from class it is your responsibility to find out if any changes have been made.
  6. Your suggestions and interests are valued.  Therefore, if you have any ideas for videos, readings or specific authors you would like to see included in the class, please discuss them with me during office hours and we will consider adding them to the course materials.
  7. Cheating and plagiarism--including the use of work submitted to another course at Hollins without the consent of both instructors, the use of work by another person, or the use of someone else's words, ideas, or arrangement of ideas without giving proper reference to the author--is a severe violation of the Honor Code. This applies to all electronic sources found on the Internet (including term papers for purchase), to all on-line databases, and to all other published materials. Cheating or plagiarism will result in automatic failure of the course. Thus, please be very careful about your research and citation practices.  If you are ever in doubt, please ask!
  8. If you have any special learning needs, please notify the professor immediately. It is your responsibility to discuss special learning needs with the instructor.  Every attempt will be made to address your needs accordingly.  Please do not wait until after the middle of the semester to discuss your needs with the professor.
  9. If you are having any problems in the course, please come and discuss them with the professor during office hours or by making an appointment. Problems should be addressed right away, and not put off until after exams or until the end of the semester.


A Feminist Classroom

In this course we will endeavor to maintain a feminist classroom.  Some of the policies outlined above aim to cultivate a feminist atmosphere in the classroom.  The following excerpt further outlines the major principles of feminist pedagogy. We will discuss these ideas on the first day of the course and modify them accordingly.


Feminist Principles of Classroom Interaction (from Nancy Schniedewind, n.d., Feminist Values: Guidelines for Teaching Methodology in Women's Studies, Radical Teacher, 18, pp. 25-28)


v      Development of an Atmosphere of Mutual Respect, Trust, and Community in the Classroom:

When women have opportunities to come to know each other as people, speak honestly, take risks, and support each other in the classroom, feminist values of communication, community, equality, and mutual nurturance are reinforced.

v      Shared Leadership:

Feminist values argue for replacing hierarchical authority with participatory decision-making. This does not imply structurelessness, but structure that is democratic.

v      Cooperative Structure:

      A classroom based on cooperative norms is desirable from both feminist and educational perspectives.

v      Integration of Cognitive and Affective Learning:

      Feminism values both intellectual and emotional capabilities. Feminists struggle to change the overly rational premises of male-dominated social relations and institutions and to incorporate priorities appreciative of human needs and feelings.

v      Action:

      As long as we live in a sexist society, feminism inevitably implies taking action to transform institutions and values.


Schedule of Classes, Topics and Readings:


Day 1: Thu, Sept 2                   Introduction and course overview

                                                What is a Feminist Classroom?; Individual & Group objectives


Day 2: Tue, Sept 7                   What is Women’s Studies? Concepts & Approaches

                                                Shaw & Lee, Chapter 1: pp. 1-57

DUE: Assignment 1, What is Feminism?


Day 3: Thu, Sept 9                   Difference, Privilege and Inequality

                                                Shaw & Lee, Chapter 2: pp. 58-86; Privilege Exercise


Day 4: Tue, Sept 14                  Difference, Privilege and Inequality

                                                Shaw & Lee, Chapter 2: pp. 86-111


Day 5: Thu, Sept 16                 Mandatory Library Visit (Attendance is required)

                                                Meet Kevin Unrath at Circulation desk


Day 6: Tue, Sept 21                  Community Building

                                                Guest Facilitator: Joan Ruelle


Day 7: Thu, Sept 23                  Learning Gender

                                                Shaw & Lee, Chapter 3: pp. 113-132, 137-38, 142-151


Day 8: Tue, Sept 28                 Gender, Race & Class

                                                Morrison, The Bluest Eye, first half (to pp. 109)


Day 9: Thu, Sept 30                 Gender, Race & Class

                                                Morrison, The Bluest Eye, second half (to end)


Day 10: Tue, Oct 5                    Gender, Race & Class - Discussion


Day 11: Thu, Oct 7                    NO CLASS, FALL BREAK


Day 12: Tue, Oct 12                  Work on Group Activism Projects

DUE: Assignment 2, Interview with a Senior Woman


Day 13: Thu, Oct 14                  Sex & Sexuality

                                                Shaw & Lee, Chapter 4: pp. 153-184, 196-197

                                                DUE: One page description of Group Activism Project.


Day 14: Tue, Oct 19                  Gendered Bodies

                                                Shaw & Lee, Chapter 5: pp. 199-219, 222-232, 236-237

Feinberg, Stone Butch Blues, pp. 1-63

Day 15: Thu, Oct 21                  Gender, Sexuality & Class in Context

                                                Feinberg, Stone Butch Blues, pp. 65-153

Video: You Don’t Know Dick


Day 16: Tue, Oct 26                  Gender, Sexuality & Class in Context

                                                Feinberg, Stone Butch Blues, pp. 155-207
Day 17: Thu, Oct 28                  Gender, Sexuality & Class in Context

                                                Feinberg, Stone Butch Blues, pp. 209-301

DUE: Assignment 3, Gender Role Violation


Day 18: Tue, Nov 2                   Floater Day, Tinker Day


Day 19: Thu, Nov 4                   Women’s Health & Reproduction

                                                Shaw & Lee, Chapter 6: p. 239-268

Guest Speaker: Dina Hackley-Hunt


Day 20: Tue, Nov 9             Women’s Health & Reproduction

                                               Shaw & Lee, Chapter 6: 269-285


Day 21: Thu, Nov 11                Family/Mothering
                                               Shaw & Lee, Chapter 7: pp. 287-318


                                                7:00 pm Lecture: Nancy Naples, Place TBA


Day 22: Tue, Nov 16                 Violence

                                                Shaw & Lee, Chapter 10: pp. 424-439, 441-452

Guest Speaker: from The Center at Hollins


Day 23: Thu, Nov 18                 NO CLASS, AAA meetings

                                                Work on Group Activism Projects


November 23 – 26                    NO CLASS, THANKSGIVING BREAK



Day 24: Tue, Nov 30                 Class Presentations

                                                Evaluate classmates & turn in

                                                DUE: Assignment 4, Interview with Men


Day 25: Thu, Dec 2                   Class Presentations                                        

Evaluate classmates & turn in


Day 26: Tue, Dec 7                   Class Presentations

                                                Evaluate classmates & turn in


Day 27: Thu, Dec 9                   Wrap Up: The Future?

Shaw & Lee, Chapter 13: pp. 552-572

                                                DUE: Group Activism Project Paper




The events listed below provide opportunities for you to integrate your curricular and co-curricular experiences at Hollins. They also provide a chance for you to earn extra credit points. Each extra credit assignment is worth 2 points to be added to your midterm grade. For each event attended, you should write a 1-2 page paper on your experience. The paper should address

a)       why the event is relevant to a course in women’s studies,

b)       how the event has enriched your understanding of a particular issue raised either in the class readings, lectures, videos, or discussions, and

c)       your assessment of the event (i.e. your reaction with an explanation of WHY).

If you do not address these three points, you will receive NO CREDIT.


Nov. 11: Nancy Naples Lecture

Other events TBA in class