Gender, Sexuality & Lit (Large Enrollment, Cross-listed WS 381)

We will be reading contemporary texts (novels,
memoir, poetry) and viewing films coming out of North America that explore
illicit forms of desire—those that transgress heterosexual norms, and/or
represent relationships that cross lines of religion, race or ethnicity,
generation.  As we take up these texts
that explore desire and difference, our starting premise will be that there is
nothing natural or given about what it means to be a man or woman, nor does
one’s biological sex or gender identity predict one’s sexual identity and
desires. At the same time, gender and sexuality are strictly organized and
regulated (even policed) by society and its institutions (governmental, legal,
educational, medical, familial), and there are particular gender and sexual scripts
that we experience pressure to follow. Literature offers us a way to understand
how these scripts are constructed and enforced. It also provides us with
alternatives—with models for resisting and rebelling against proscribed gender
and sexual roles, and for imagining alternatives to them. The works of
literature and films that we will consider in this course, as they explore
sometimes dangerous forms of difference and desire, investigate and offer
insights into assumptions that define dominant understandings of romantic love,
the nuclear family, “coupledom,” masculinity, femininity, and
assumptions that biological sex determines gender identity. The texts also
offer representations of what it means to be a gender and/or sexual outlaw—the
pleasures and liberation that this can afford, and the societal censure and
even violence that can result from expressing illicit forms of desire. As well,
they provide insights into how thoroughly ideologies of gender and sexuality
are connected to those of race, class, generation, region, religion, and
nation. To help us understand these connections and to broaden them, we will
put the books and films for this course into dialogue with contemporary
debates, legislation, and events (i.e., age of consent laws, hate speech codes,
gay bashing, anti-immigration legislation, etc. etc.).


Grades will be
determined by the following components: two in-class midterms (350 points); in-class
activities and quizzes (150 points); a group presentation (50 points); a final
examination with a take-home essay component (450 points).  The distribution given here is approximate.
Missed classes will impact your grade negatively.


TEXTS (tentative listing; texts will be ordered through Revolution Books):

Dorothy Allison, Bastard
Out of Carolina

Margaret Atwood, The
Handmaid’s Tale

Eve Ensler, The
Vagina Monologues

R. Zamora Linmark, Rolling the Rs

Annie Proulx, Brokeback

Juliana Spahr, This
Connection of Everyone with Lungs

Lois-Ann Yamanaka, Saturday Night at the Pahala Theatre


Films (will
be placed on reserve at Sinclair Library; tentative listing):

Boys Don’t



The Hunger

The Namesake