“Teaching Gender and Sexuality” workshop notes

“Teaching Gender and Sexuality” Workshop

with Professors Rose Holz, Margaret Jacobs, and Laura Muñoz

What challenges have you had in teaching these subjects and how have you dealt with these challenges?

Holz: don’t really think of challenges as such – teach matter of fact-ly; no need to tip-toe: just put it in there

  • let them start reading it and find out about it on their own
  • true, there will always be some disgruntled students but no need to be limited by this

Munoz: make it part of the knowing of, history of, intellectual exercise, the more students will grab on to it

  • be aware that you are a transmitter, a model of how you approach these kinds of conversations → without it being heightened, fearful
  • + often uses humor to deflect some of the fear of talking about these things

Jacobs: different if the course is specifically geared toward these topics versus working with these topics in a general course, basic history survey

  • demographics will be different depending on the course
  • being upfront with students about the reasons you are taking a certain approach
  • + students also come to classes with certain narratives already in their head (about what women’s and gender history is, what the story contains, how you will treat it)
  • likes to use humor as well to deflect any student discomfort, defensiveness

Munoz: agrees with telling students about your training and how it will impact the way they will approach the course

  • your training will come out naturally in the way you organize lectures anyway

Questions opened to attendees:

What about large courses and how to counter narratives students bring in with them (and particularly resistance to having these narratives complicated)?

Jacobs: example of Native American women, students often come in thinking Native American women were very oppressed

  • starts with a very general discussion of what students think women’s autonomy is → how are they autonomous? What is freedom? What are women’s roles?
    • Students come to understand the roles and status of Native American women = very different from that of European women at the time
  • Often MUCH easier for students to think about these issues within the context of the past

Munoz: need to tell students that everyone’s opinion matters and counts → over the course of the class move into interrogating students during discussion about how evidence supports their opinion(s)

How to make men feel welcome when teaching a mostly female course?

Holz: often jokes about this, lets them know they have a place in her course; has been told she’s “guy friendly”, not entirely sure what this means

Munoz: teaches at a regional university, had a particular course that was mostly white males

  • saw these students as interested in the lives of their female relatives → moves in to build personal connections to the material in this way, esp. using oral history interviews (as assignments)

Jacobs: interesting question – often only think about it when notice classroom composition “outside the norm”

  • a little discomfort is okay → learning experience to suddenly find yourself a minority in your classes
  • gets point of question re: wanting to make students feel welcome, able to participate

What happens when discussing women and gender and a “bomb gets thrown” during discussion in a large class, with very limit time? Don’t want to seem “un-gentle.”

Holz: when it’s issues of women, gender, sexuality = “way simpler” than dealing with issues of race

  • usually opens the floor to see what the rest of the course thinks, leave a heavy pause

Jacobs: often leaves space in class for correctives – so doesn’t feel so rushed

Munoz: depends on your style

  • tends to be pretty casual in her lectures
  • slows down, stops to have the conversation, since it’s important
    • interrogate the student, while emphasizing that you are open to conversation
    • forces student to “stand up to their own flippancy” when/if it comes out

Holz: admits to liking when students have a “backbone” and will question, debate

What about questions, comments that weren’t meant to be flippant or offensive?

Jacobs: classroom should “be a place of dialogue,” even when people say something offensive

Munoz: need to create a culture in the classroom where the students feel like they can share their ideas with you – even when they aren’t certain how to deal with them

Holz: emphasize to students that we need a space in which we can disagree with one another, yet still like each other

Breakout sessions
“Historicizing the Body” with Dr. Jeannette Jones

  • have students respond to a single question in advance of in-class discussion (online, Blackboard) → helps students deal with their tension, discomfort before class
    • “free-writes” for students → things that come to their mind first when see a particular image
  • Anne Fausto-Sterling, “Gender, Race, and Nation: The Comparative Anatomy of ‘Hottentot’ Women in Europe, 1815-1817” in Deviant Bodies, pp. 19-48; Janell Hobson, “Venus and the Hottentot: The Emergence of an Icon” and “The Hottentot Venus Revisited: The Politics of Reclamation” in Venus in the Dark, 19-86
    • + Punch cartoons
    • discuss values white people of the time ascribed to these “deviant” bodies → bestiality, ignorance, hyper-sexuality
  • + case studies re: deviance in female bodies
    • Jacqueline Urla and Jennifer Terry, “Introduction: Mapping Embodied Deviance,” pp. 1-18 and David G. Horn, “this Norm Which Is Note One: Reading the Female Body in Lombroso’s Anthropology,” pp. 109-128 in Deviant Bodies
    • Janell Hobson, “Re-presenting the Female Black Body” (title?) [makes arguments here about influence of the female body on fashion – e.g. the bustle]
  • using a syllabus for Women and Gender Reading Seminar (taught twice in the past)
  • studies American History, also interested in the history of science
  • “intersexed” – hermaphrodites as way to open discussion with students about biological sex as a construction
    • e.g. readings on intersexed children having gender assigned to them through surgery early in life → ideas about what it means to give the choice to the parents rather than the child + why we have this idea that one must “be one or the other”
    • Jones starts with the biological then moves forward from there into other “murky categories” that have nothing to do with biological (inheritance, voting rights, citizenship…)

How do you bring the body into a very basic, introductory history class?

  • Male and female bodies, free versus un-free bodies within the context of slavery → get students to understand the body as a site for inscribing power
  • coverture
  • Native American + white women’s bodies, differences, similarities
  • the gentleman body versus the workingman’s body → primary sources from the 18th century re: workingmen’s bodies – central to way early American and modern Americans thought about the body

history of medicine and science, “well they just didn’t know then,” couldn’t understand the way we understand the body now, how to get students to think historically about the body

  • bring in the social and cultural history of medicine and science → WHO are the people who are making these statements, who is being excluded
  • science’s understanding of certain topics change over time – “science as situated knowledge”
    • show was knowledge not superstition, was “common knowledge”