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Unformatted text preview: INTRODUCTION TO THE COURSE
Welcome to Women’s Studies! This course introduces students to the critical study of gender
and how it has increased our understanding of women, men, and their changing roles.
Recognizing the diversity of women's experiences, the course examines the historical and
contemporary contexts of social injustices facing women in Canada and globally.
Women’s Studies first began to be offered in the universities in the 1970s, to use academic
research to find out about the perceptions and experiences of women and to correct omissions,
trivializations and misconceptions that existed. Today, Women’s Studies is a well-established
field with an enormous amount of scholarly research to its credit, in fields as diverse as literature,
psychology, science, history – indeed, practically every academic discipline. However, its focus
has shifted away from a simple “study of women” to critically examine: cultural constructions of women, gender and sexuality, and the fluid and shifting
nature of gender as a social construct
the importance of gender in structuring our institutions, work, perceptions and
varied theoretical approaches to the study of women, gender, sexuality and
the diversity of women, in particular the intersection of gender with class, race,
sexual orientation and other variables to create complex power relations
the contexts and ideological origins of knowledge and the relationship between
knowledge and power in society. Women’s Studies also attempts to promote social responsibility by considering the
interconnection between knowledge production, personal experience and political activity, and to
validate student contributions and voices.
In general, this course moves from a focus on Canadian women to a more global analysis of how
the lives of diverse groups of women living in countries around the world are connected in
today’s global economy.
The first three units of this course provide some important background to Women’s Studies as an
academic discipline and outline some theories and activist practices that have been used by
women to challenge social injustices in the past and present. These three units also explain key
terms and concepts within Women’s Studies that tend to have a lot of emotional baggage and
thus can be troubling for beginning students (such as feminism, oppression, patriarchy and
sexism). Such language is used by feminist scholars to identify, raise awareness of, and
challenge various inequalities.
Units 4 - 8 discuss a variety of Canadian gender issues. Unit 4 and 5 explore women’s
experiences performing unpaid caregiving work and wage labour. Unit 6 considers how the
North American beauty ideal shapes the bodies and behaviours of women and may have a series
of negative effects on women’s physical and mental health. In Unit 7, we move into a wider Introduction to the Course WOMN 1005 EL-10: Unit 1 p. i discussion of health issues facing women today and various successes of the women’s health
movement. Unit 8 explores diverse forms of violence against women and the ways that women
have survived and healed from abuse.
Units 9 - 11 explore how key factors of identity, including sex, gender, sexuality, and race, are
shaped by social forces. When reading these units, you are encouraged to develop a complex
understanding of sex, gender, sexuality, and race that moves beyond binary oppositions (e.g.
male/female, man/woman, heterosexual/homosexual, white/black). These units will also discuss
how our bodies and desires are shaped by social forces.
In Unit 12, we will begin our analysis of gender on a global scale. In addition to discussing the
impact that globalization has had on the lives of women living in countries around the world, we
will also consider the ways that women have resisted social injustices in both the economic south
(i.e. “developing countries”) and the economic north (i.e. “developed countries”). For instance,
we will consider the work women are doing to fight against the environmental destruction that is
caused by transnational corporations and to claim their property rights (Unit 14). In Unit 15, we
will explore the struggles experienced by women from the economic south who migrate to
perform domestic work in countries in the economic north, and how these women are fighting
for recognition and rights. Our study of militarization and conflict in Unit 16 will focus on the
resilience of female survivors of war and genocide, and how gender norms are both reinforced
and undermined during times of conflict. In Unit 17, we will discuss how stigma differently
shapes the lives of women living with HIV/AIDS in the economic north and the economic south,
and the impact that global socioeconomic inequalities have on access to HIV/AIDS treatment.
Any introductory course can give only a sample of the many issues that are explored within a
given field, but it is hoped that from taking this course you will gain a greater understanding of
Women’s Studies and of issues facing women around the world. Our program offers many
courses that explore these and other issues in more depth. If you are interested in investigating
Women’s Studies further, you may want to take a look at our website at:
[ ] Introduction to the Course WOMN 1005 EL-10: Unit 1 p. ii TABLE OF CONTENTS
Unit 1 Recognizing the Diversity Among Women and Feminists p. 1 Unit 2 The Women’s Movement Past and Present p. 19 Unit 3 Introduction to Some Key Feminist Concepts p. 39 Unit 4 Women and Work Part I p. 55 Unit 5 Women and Work Part II p. 71 Unit 6 The Beauty Ideal and the Policing of Women’s Bodies p. 83 Unit 7 Women’s Health and Scientific Discourses p. 103 Unit 8 Violence Against Women p. 127 Unit 9 The Social Construction of Gender and Sex p. 153 Unit 10 Social Forces Shaping Sexuality and Gender p. 167 Unit 11 The Social Construction of Race p. 193 Unit 12 Thinking Globally p. 217 Unit 13 Transnational Feminism and Resistance p. 231 Unit 14 Property Rights for Women p. 257 Unit 15 Women, Work, and Migration p. 273 Unit 16 Gender, Militarization, and Women’s Experiences with War p. 291 Unit 17 Women Living with HIV/AIDS p. 313 Introduction to the Course WOMN 1005 EL-10: Unit 1 p. iii COURSE AUTHOR
This course was designed and written by Dr. Mandy Koolen, Lecturer of Women’s Studies at
Thorneloe University (part of the Laurentian University Federation).
Please note that older versions of the following units were written by the following professors.
Substantial parts of the revised units are their work:
Unit 5 The Women’s Movement Past and Present
Women and Work Part I
Women and Work Part II Introduction to the Course — Dr. Andrea Levan
— Carolyn Djaferis
— Carolyn Djaferis WOMN 1005 EL-10: Unit 1 p. iv UNIT 1 RECOGNIZING THE DIVERSITY AMONG WOMEN AND FEMINISTS OVERVIEW
In this unit we will discuss a central feature of contemporary Women’s Studies — namely, the
importance of attending to the diversity among women. This approach works to counter
generalizing claims that are made about all women as well as particular groups of women. Such
generalizations are troubling since they promote prejudice and discrimination against women.
Within Women’s Studies, discussions of the differences among women take into consideration
factors such as women’s class status (e.g. working class, middle class, upper class, and spaces
between these three); race and ethnicity (e.g. women of colour, white women, mixed-race
women, Aboriginal women, etc..); sexuality (e.g. women who identify as bisexual, lesbian,
heterosexual, queer, etc.); age (e.g. young, middle-age, and older women); and ability (women
who are able-bodied, visibly disabled, or invisibly disabled). The four parts of this unit are:
PART I: Oppression and privilege
PART II: Intersectionality
PART III: Recognizing and respecting the differences among women
PART IV: The “F” word: confronting the stereotype of “the feminist” LEARNING OUTCOMES
Upon completion of Unit 1 you should be able to:
1. Describe how Women’s Studies developed and identify some of the important aspects of this
2. Explain why “oppression,” “privilege,” and “intersectionality” are such important and useful
concepts within Women’s Studies scholarship.
3. Recognize the diversity among women and how attending to this diversity works to counter
harmful stereotypes. Recognizing the Diversity Among Women and Feminists WOMN 1005: Unit 1 p. 1 REQUIRED READING
From the Coursepack:1
1. Gotell, Lise and Barbara A. Crow. “Introduction: What is Women’s Studies?” Open
Boundaries: A Canadian Women’s Studies Reader. Ed. Lise Gotell and Barbara A.
Crow. Toronto: Pearson Prentice Hall, 2009. 1-9.
2. Crenshaw, Kimberlé. “Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and
Violence against Women of Color.” An Introduction to Women’s Studies: Gender in a
Transnational World. Ed. Inderpal Grewal and Caren Kaplan. New York: McGrawHill, 2006. 200-206.
3. hooks, bell. “Introduction: Come Closer to Feminism.” Feminism is for Everybody.
Cambridge: South End P, 2000. vii-x.
From the Internet (D2L):2
4. Young, Iris Marion. “Chapter 2: The Five Faces of Oppression.” Justice and the Politics
of Difference. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1990. 39-65. KEY CONCEPTS IN THIS UNIT oppression
stereotypes 1 In this section of each unit, readings are listed with the full bibliographic information of the original source from
which they were taken. These readings are reproduced in your coursepack. When references are made to these
readings in the unit, the original pagination will be used (i.e., not the page numbers of the coursepack).
See your Study Guide for information about how to access the readings that are linked from the course website at
Desire2Learn [D2L]. Recognizing the Diversity Among Women and Feminists WOMN 1005: Unit 1 p. 2 INTRODUCTION: WHAT IS WOMEN’S STUDIES?
Women’s Studies is an academic discipline that arose in North America in the 1970s. During
this time there was a proliferation of political movements that worked to foster social justice,
such as the “students’, civil rights, gay rights, anti-war and women’s movements” (Gotell and
Crow 1). As Lise Gotell and Barbara A. Crow explain in one of the readings for this unit, “In
the 1970s, when many students and faculty became active in social movements …] women
started to demand space for themselves within higher education” (1). Women started to question
why their concerns, experiences, literature, and history were left out of academic study.
Women’s Studies developed as a critical response to “phallocentric knowledge, which treats
men’s experiences as central and representative of the universal” (1).
Before Women’s Studies courses started to appear, it was unlikely that high school or university
students would have the opportunity to read literature or theory written by women. Likewise,
history courses usually focused on famous men who tended to be white and middle to upper
class while leaving out the histories of women and minority groups. Women’s Studies scholars
have done important and influential work to make sure that the voices of women and minorities
are included in academic curricula and to highlight the importance of all academic disciplines
being inclusive in terms of gender, race, class, sexuality, ability, and age. Women’s Studies
continues to be a vital academic discipline because, even today, many university courses focus
on male experiences and writings by male authors and either marginalize or entirely exclude the
voices of women or people from minority groups.
Women’s Studies is an interdisciplinary field of academic study, meaning that it crosses the
boundaries of traditional academic disciplines. Women’s Studies scholars often draw upon
various disciplines of study when developing analyses of a particular issue. For instance, if
studying violence against women, they may perform research in the areas of history, psychology,
science, literature, sociology, criminology, and anthropology. By bringing together diverse
fields of study, Women’s Studies has challenged the traditional “disciplinary organization of
knowledge” within academia (Gotell and Crow 6).
Although Women’s Studies scholars draw on a variety of academic disciplines and study a wide
range of topics, this research is united by an investment in social change. As Gotell and Crow
explain, “An emphasis on social justice and transformation underpins Women’s Studies” (1).
This discipline thus complicates the divide between theory and practice. Scholars of Women’s
Studies often create theory out of their personal and political experiences. Furthermore, their
social activism is often informed by the theoretical texts that they have read. Many Women’s
Studies courses include assignments that provide students with the opportunity to partake in
action for social justice and think critically about their experiences through self-reflexive
As self-reflexivity is a central component of Women’s Studies, in this course you will be asked
to think critically about your personal experiences, belief system, and potential biases, and to
address these in your written assignments. Self-reflexive analysis is important because
Women’s Studies explores how socially constructed norms and belief systems shape the
opportunities of women and influence how women feel about themselves and their abilities.
Recognizing the Diversity Among Women and Feminists WOMN 1005: Unit 1 p. 3 Close and critical reflection upon our life experiences can teach us much about the ways that
boys and girls and women and men are treated differently and can, in turn, help us to develop
creative strategies of challenging this differential treatment and discrimination based on
Women’s Studies courses work to challenge reductive beliefs about women that have been (and,
in many cases, continue to be) disseminated in various disciplines of study, including, for
instance, science, history, and anthropology. Scholars working within the realm of Women’s
Studies have highlighted falsehoods about women that have been asserted as truths, such as the
notion that women have smaller brains than men and are, consequently, less intelligent — an
idea that was used in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries to keep women out of higher
education (Gould 43). The creation and/or dissemination of troubling myths about women by
academic researchers has led Women’s Studies scholars to develop nuanced critiques of the idea
that it is possible for research to be objective (Fausto-Sterling 42). Women’s Studies theorists
emphasize the importance of researchers being self-reflexive about their personal investments
and potential biases and clearly articulating these to their readers. Please read from the Coursepack: Lise Gotell and Barbara A. Crow. “Introduction: What is Women’s Studies” REVIEW EXERCISE
Drawing on the reading by Gotell and Crow and the above description of Women’s Studies,
make a list of some of the key aspects of Women’s Studies as an academic discipline. What do you find most important or interesting about Women’s Studies? What are some of the valuable contributions of Women’s Studies scholarship? Recognizing the Diversity Among Women and Feminists WOMN 1005: Unit 1 p. 4 PART I: OPPRESSION AND PRIVILEGE
Much contemporary Women’s Studies scholarship works to highlight the power imbalances that
exist between various groups of people (e.g. men and women; white women and women of
colour; men of colour and women of colour; heterosexual women and lesbians; and able-bodied
people and people with disabilities). Women’s Studies scholars are invested in developing ways
of challenging prejudiced beliefs and discrimination against women and minority groups. Two
terms that are central to Women’s Studies scholarship are “oppression” and “privilege.” It is
important to have a solid understanding of these terms because in this course we will be looking
at not only how women are oppressed through their sex/gender but also how both women and
men may be oppressed or privileged because of factors such as race, sexuality, class, age, and
ability. Oppression can be defined as “The imposition by one group of unjust constraints upon
the freedom of another” (Tuttle 231). Meg Luxton further explains that “Oppression is the
systematic subordination of a recognized social group … by a dominating group … and the
impact of subordination on the oppressed group. (17). As this definition suggests, the oppression
of certain groups of people (e.g. lesbian, gay, and bisexual people) works to give power and
unearned privilege to other groups of people (e.g. heterosexual people). Please read from D2L (see Study Guide for information on how to access this
Iris Marion Young. “The Five Faces of Oppression.”
According to Young, “all oppressed people suffer some inhibition of their ability to develop and
exercise their capacities and express their needs, thoughts, and feelings” (40). Young
importantly notes that oppression is often “structural, rather than the result of a few people’s
choices or policies” (40). Young argues that groups must experience one of five conditions in
order to be classified as oppressed; these conditions are exploitation, marginalization,
powerlessness, cultural imperialism, and violence. Much of her analysis comes out of Marxist
theory which focuses on class-based oppression, but we can see how her descriptions of the five
conditions of oppression might relate to other types of oppression as well.
Exploitation refers to “systematic and unreciprocated transfer or power from [one group to
another, for instance from] women to men” (50). Those in positions of power often attain this
power by either consciously or subconsciously exploiting groups of people. For example, the
unpaid work many women do in the home has often benefitted men by “releasing them” for
work that is deemed “more important and creative” (51). Marginalization refers to a process in
which certain groups of people are pushed to the margins of society. These people experience
social isolation and exclusion. In this case, “A whole category of people is expelled from useful
participation in social life and thus potentially subjected to severe material deprivation and even
extermination” (53). We can see marginalization operating in the ghettoization of people who
are homeless; these people are often literally pushed to the margins of cities in an attempt to
render them invisible.
Recognizing the Diversity Among Women and Feminists WOMN 1005: Unit 1 p. 5 Another possible condition of oppression is powerlessness in which power is exercised over
certain groups of people “without their exercising it; the powerless are situated so that they must
take orders and rarely have the right to give them” (56). The powerless are often disrespected
and exploited and have little means of confronting this abuse because they lack a position of
authority or access to those in positions of authority. Cultural imperialism refers to the process
wherein the socially dominant group establishes their cultural traditions as the norm and “project
their own experience as representative of humanity as such” (59). An example of the “othering”
of minority groups can be seen in the fact that people living in Canada get Christian holidays off
of work and school but there is little to no mention in the mainstream media of other religious
holidays, such as Eid, Diwali, and Hanukkah.
The last condition of oppression described by Young is violence. Young notes that violence is
“directed at members of a group simply because they are members of that group” (62). Many
oppressed people “must fear random, unprovoked attacks on their persons or property, which
have no motive but to damage, humiliate, or destroy the person” (61). Living under this constant
threat of violence can take a toll on...
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- Fall '19
- Feminism, Feminist theory, women’s studies