Honors | Feminist Ideals and Sexual Injustice (HON)
H203 | 28389 | Marcia Baron


MW 11:15 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. in Teter F256

Feminist Ideals and Sexual Injustice

“I myself have never been able to find out precisely what feminism
is:  I only know that people call me a feminist whenever I express
sentiments that differentiate me from a door mat or a prostitute.”
~Rebecca West, "Mr Chesterton in Hysterics: A Study in Prejudice,"
The Clarion, 14 Nov 1913, reprinted in The Young Rebecca, 1982

This course will examine issues in and about feminism, including the
question of just what feminism is. We will contrast two feminist
ideals: a world in which gender loses its salience, and the
terms ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ are listed in dictionaries as
obsolete, and a world in which the feminine is reconceived (and
perhaps the masculine, too), and not associated with weakness,
fragility, and subservience. We will explore this and related issues
through an array of readings from a variety of disciplines. We’ll
begin with Virginia Woolf's A Room of One's Own, and then read an
essay by Alice Walker, "In Search of Our Mothers' Gardens," that
affirms and extends some of Woolf's points but also takes issue with
her. Some short essays by Adrienne Rich will, like Woolf’s and
Walker’s work, suggest the second feminist ideal: one in which
gender is not deemphasized, but the feminine is reconceived. Other
themes and questions we will pursue in this course include gender
socialization and nature/nurture issues. We’ll examine these via
Sandra Bem’s The Lens of Gender (and also see in that work the first
ideal indicated above), as well as John Stuart Mill’s The Subjection
of Women. Other readings will include an essay by Susan Brison,
excerpts from Plato, Aristotle, Freud, and Margaret Mead; an essay
on tensions between feminism and multiculturalism by Susan Moller
Okin, a short story by Thakur (Tagore), and chapters of Martha
Nussbaum's Sex and Social Justice (in particular, those addressing
tensions between cultural relativism and commitments to address
grave injustices). (Nussbaum, incidentally, will be at IU as a
Patten lecturer in February, 2008.) We will also read some of Carol
Gilligan's In a Different Voice, and critical discussions of
Gilligan's work by Michele Moody-Adams and Claudia Card.

The authors include political scientists, psychologists,
philosophers, a poet and essayist, and two outstanding writers of
fiction. The readings are for the most part challenging, and are
quite varied in scope, style, and disciplinary approach. Depending
on the students' interests, we may read some legal literature on
rape, addressing in particular the question of what counts as sexual
consent, and perhaps also discuss the standard of the reasonable
person in criminal law and questions of whether it can succeed in
being gender-neutral.

I also plan to show some films: “The Yellow Wallpaper” (tying in
with the readings by Woolf and Mill), “Yo, la peor de todas [I, the
worst of all]” which also ties in with A Room of One’s Own,
and “Small Happiness,” about gender issues in rural China (and about
the power and function of sexist ideologies).

Requirements will include two papers and a final (essay) exam, and a
(low-key) interview project. This course is open to all Honors
students, with no prerequisites (and no expectation that one
consider oneself a feminist).