ENG 128: Gender in the Humanities is described in the course catalog as: “Examination of gender roles, norms, and stereotypes from a broad range of perspectives within humanities across centuries and cultures.” In this section of ENG 128, we will focus on examining gender roles, norms, and stereotypes as they are fictionalized in fantasy and science fiction novels for children and young adults. We will then juxtapose these portrayals of gender ideologies by analyzing a young adult novel and its adaptation that take place in our “real world.”
Through formal and creative projects, we will investigate how gender ideologies (belief and value systems) are portrayed in these fictional works, how these ideologies affect the characters and societies in these novels, and how these novels in turn affect the gender ideologies of the readers and their (our) worlds. To help connect this general education course content to your own studies more closely, each of you will also consider how our class texts can connect to your majors.
The cumulative emphases of this course include the following goals:
- Cultivate critical thinking and analysis skills through reading and analyzing children’s and young adult literature
- Learn to examine socio-cultural contexts of fictional texts
- Make critical and creative connections between text and self, text and text, and text and world
- Consider how children’s and young adult literature informs and shapes our ideologies about gender roles, norms, and stereotypes
The Hero and the Crown
As Spring 2019 was my first time teaching this course, I was very purposeful with the type of texts I chose to teach this topic. Talking about gender (and sexuality) can be extremely difficult when each student bring their own ideologies on the concept to the classroom. It can be very triggering to some students, as well, which I wanted to acknowledge in my course design. So, to help deal with these aspects of the course, I themed my section as a fantasy and science fiction literature course, with one final realism text as a juxtaposition to the four others. By starting with fictional worlds that don’t exactly mimic the real world, we were able to start off our discussions with some distance to the topics of gender and sexuality before tying it back to our world’s gender politics.
While not all of my students enjoy this type of genre fiction, I stand by this choice in focus for my first attempt at the course. My students could still very clearly see the connections between these fictional worlds and their own lived experiences.
Dumplin’ movie (Netflix)
Access to the internet (for HW and assignment submissions)
Access to a library (Milner is enough)
A one-subject notebook and pen
Optional: Laptop or Tablet
I try to always include a short adaptation unit in my literature courses, to help students see just how “alive” literature is in our culture. It also gives us the opportunity to analyze another medium of literary narratives. In this case, a movie, but I’ve taught TV show episodes before, as well.
Grading and Course Assignments
Gender Autobiography – 10%
My go-to assignment as the semester begins, I’ve written about it at length here. As always, I was amazed by how many extremely personal stories students are willing to share with me when we are just starting to get to know one another.
Discussion Leadership Group Project – 20%
This is another go-to assignment for me, as students tend to really enjoy having the power to lead their own class activity, rather than having me lead all our discussions. If you’re interested in how I grade this assignment, I have a video about that topic. But, basically, it’s a three-person team leading a 20-30 minute literary analysis activity for their classmates. They need to create an activity description and rationale, as well as reflect on the experience after leading the activity. This semester, most of the groups went past the 30 minute cap (which I make clear is completely fine if they get invested in continuing past that point).
Major Connections Presentation – 15%
I’ve written about this activity in a couple of my blog posts (here and here). Basically, since we read five novels and my class is capped at 30 students, six different students were tasked with presenting in connection to each novel. In their presentation, they had to connect some element of the novel with their major(s). I learned so much from these presentations! And the reflections they had to turn in after their presentation made very evident to me how this project helped students invest more in reading that particular novel. I wanted students to see how this class can connect to their lives outside of meeting a general education requirement. I consider it a successful first attempt at designing and assigning this activity.
Side note: While they were not required to connect their presentation to gender, I did offer extra credit points for doing so. Many students took me up on that offer.
Literary Analysis Posts – 15%
Another familiar assignment, if you’ve checked out my other literature course descriptions. In this class, students needed to complete three of twelve post options, and could complete more so that only the three highest grades count towards their course grade. I required them to turn in at least one prior to spring break, as I wanted to make sure they were all understanding the assignment requirements in case they waited until the very end to complete the rest of the posts.
Creative Project – 20%
Rather than writing a final paper, my students were given two options for a final project. Option 1: They could create their own gender ideology for their own fictional world. Using that ideology as their foundational belief, they had describe how that belief influenced four different areas of life for the people in that world (for example, fashion, education, government, romance, friendship, etc.). After their 5-page narrative, they then had to reflect on what connections they see between their fictional ideology and our real-world gender ideologies (1-2 pages). Option 2: Students needed to pick two characters from the novels we read and construct a visual representation of their gender expressions. They couldn’t pick characters from Witch Boy or Dumplin’, since those both already have canonical visual representations. Along with the two visuals, students also had to write two short scenes (2-pages minimum) that shows any character grappling with a gendered activity or conversation. For example, a moment in Cinder’s childhood where she was told to hide her cyborg parts because she would not be considered beautiful if they were showing. Or, a moment is Asher’s childhood when he first saw magic and wished he could learn it (even though magic is only for girls in this society). Along with these creative elements, they also had to write a 1-2 pg. reflections explaining their creative processes and the connections they see to gender ideologies.
Participation – 20%
This grade was divided between written activities (classwork and homework) and verbal participation in class. Each equated to 10% of their course grade. I don’t have a set attendance policy, so these activities help keep students attending class throughout the semester.