Political Science 302 A2: Feminist Political Thought

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To save paper and improve access to key texts, all the documents for this course will be posted on this site.

Articles posted are for individual academic use only and must not be reproduced or distributed. Please do not give the site password to anyone not in the class. Go to posted articles.


Final grades will be submitted on December 10 and posted to Bear Tracks soon after. Thanks for all your contributions to the class, and have a great holiday.

Starter documents

1. Syllabus. Syllabus version 2 (includes mention of the optional seventh paper, and correct readings/schedule for November).

2. Reading list (with complete bibliographic references)

3. Handout on how to read theory.

Weekly information

First class: September 5

If you get here in time, read Leslie Feinberg’s short speech/article, “We Are All Works in Progress” (linked below).

Heather Cassils

Week 2: September 10/12

Lecture notes

Video for discussion

Reading questions:

Leslie Feinberg, “We Are All Works In Progress.” This excerpt is from Feinberg’s book Trans Liberation, which is a pastiche of short speeches and commentaries by sex-gender non-conformists.

1. Feinberg suggests that we should all have greater freedom of choice about our gender expression, no matter what our birth sex. Is there anything about your gender expression you would like to change? Do you think women and men are equally invested in changing their genders?
2. Have you ever, like Feinberg, been discriminated against or attacked because of your gender expression? What did this experience mean to you?

Anne Fausto-Sterling. 1993. “The Five Sexes: Why Male and Female are Not Enough.”

1. What are the five sexes?
2. Fausto-Sterling details a number of legal and medical efforts in western countries to make all human bodies fit the two sex model. Why does she think twentieth century physicians, in particular, undertook these efforts?
3. At the end of her article, Fausto-Sterling imagines a world with multiple sexes and “sexualities.” What would need to change to make this world a reality? Do you think it would be a better world?

Jean Renoir Sewing [1898]

Week 3: September 17 (no class on September 19)

Reading questions on Emily Martin, “The Egg and the Sperm”

1. Martin’s thesis statement reads, in part: “In the course of the my research I realized that the picture of egg and sperm drawn in popular as well as scientific account of reproductive biology relies on stereotypes central to our cultural definitions of male and female. The stereotypes imply not only that female biological processes are less worthy than their male counterparts but also that women are less worthy than men.” Does this thesis challenge the idea that a line can be drawn between “sex” and “gender”?
2. What is the alternative “cybernetic” model that Martin defends at the end of the article? Is it less sexist? Is it more scientifically accurate?
3. Can you think of other examples where our stereotypical assumptions about gender might precede and inform our understandings of human bodies and the natural world?

Class notes for Sep 17
Here is a contemporary medical education video (animated, hence particularly subject to narrative control) on human conception. Does it have any vestiges of the stereotypes Martin describes? Are there competing, more contemporary narratives? Can you find any better examples?!

the human clitoris in 3D, yellow

Week 4: September 24/26

Tuesday, Reading questions on Simone de Beauvoir’s Introduction to The Second Sex [1948]

1a. The Second Sex opens with Beauvoir grappling with the question of whether women should identify as women. What options does she run through, and why does she think that “no woman can claim without bad faith to be situated beyond her sex”?
1b. “The man represents both the positive and the neuter” What do you think Beauvoir means?
1c.  What is “the Other”? What, then, is the relation between men and women, and what makes it a specific relation different to other historical relations of power?

2. How, according to Beauvoir, do men profit from women’s alterity? (Why do women accede to or even embrace it?)

Lecture notes


Thursday, Reading questions on Marilyn Frye, “Oppression” [1983]

1. What criteria does Frye offer to enable us to decide whether a particular instance of “frustration or limitation” counts as an instance of oppression?

2. What argument does Frye make against the claim that men as well as women are oppressed by gender categorization?

3. Can you think of any incident in your own life or the life of someone close to you that Frye would argue constitutes “oppression”? Is that how you think of it? Why or why not?

Lecture notes

Simone de Beauvoir

Week 5: October 1/3

Tuesday, reading questions on Sandra Bartky’s “On Psychological Oppression” [1990]:

1. What is psychological oppression, according to Bartky? (Tip: make sure you understand what she means when she says that women are stereotyped, culturally dominated, and sexually objectified.)

2. How should psychological oppression be overcome?

Lecture notes

Re: cultural domination. David Gilmour story

Thursday, reading questions on Iris Marion Young’s “Five Faces of Oppression” [1990]:

1. Identify, define, and give an example of each of the five faces of oppression.

2. What is a social group, and how does Young contrast it with other collectivities (i.e. aggregates and associations)? How would you characterise “women” as a social group, in Young’s terms, and is this a convincing characterisation? Are “men” a social group in the same way? If not, what differences do you see between the two? (Compare your answers to other contrasting groups: are “heterosexuals” a group in the same way as “gays and lesbians”? Are “Black Canadians” a group in the same way as “white Canadians”?)

Lecture notes.

Demonstrators take part in a protest against Quebec's proposed Values Charter in Montreal on Saturday Sept. 14, 2013. THE CANADIAN

Week 6: October 8/10

Tuesday: reading questions on Judith Butler, “Imitation and Gender Insubordination” [1991].

1. “What does it mean to avow a category that can only maintain its specificity and coherence by performing a prior set of disavowals?” [16]. How does Butler answer this question, and do you agree?

2. “Gender is a kind of imitation for which there is no original” [21]. How does Butler make this case, and why is it politically important that she do so?

Lecture notes

Thursday: reading questions on Talia Bettcher, “Evil Deceivers and Make-Believers” [2007]

1. What are “sexual deception,” “identity enforcement,” and “the natural attitude”?

2. What is the “double bind” in which trans people find themselves, and what are its consequences, according to Bettcher?

3. How does Bettcher relate her analysis of transphobia to sexual violence against women and to racial oppression?

Lecture notes

Artist as a Young Herm, Del Lagrace Volcano 2004

Week 7: October 15/17

Tuesday, catch-up day. No new reading.

Thursday: reading questions on Sandra Bartky, “Foucault, Femininity, and the Modernization of Patriarchal Power” [with guest professor Dr. Catherine Kellogg]

1. What are the “disciplinary practices” in Bartky’s account of Foucault? What new account of power do they provide?
2. Foucault, Bartky points out, doesn’t distinguish between the relation of disciplinary power to male versus female bodies. How does she rework and reapply his account with a feminist twist? What are the disciplinary practices of femininity?
3. Bartky’s examples (“jazzercise” and baggy stockings) are clearly dated. What are the contemporary practices of femininity that might be considered part of discipline? How does disciplinary power work through different axes of identity–not just gender, but also race, class, sexuality?
4. “Why aren’t all women feminists?” asks Bartky [75]. What answer does she provide?

The plan for the Panopticon

Week 8: October 22/24. Part II of the course.

Tuesday: reading questions on Sharon Krause, “Contested Questions, Current Trajectories: Feminism in Political Theory Today.”

1. What are the three trends in contemporary feminist political theory that Krause identifies?
2. In which of the texts we’ve read so far can you see these trends prefigured, or related themes taken up?

Lecture notes

Thursday: Sexual Assault Education and Awareness workshop. No new reading.

Some of my questions: How intense are pressures on university students to be sexual beings, and what does this mean (having lots of sex, having lots of sexual partners, agreeing to whatever sex is proposed or initiated, performing sex for an audience, representing oneself aesthetically as sexually available…)? How widespread is sexual assault at the U of A? Is there a “rape culture” here, as has been said of at least two other Canadian universities this autumn? How effective is the university’s response to sexual harassment and assault of students? What kind of work do you do to prevent sexual assault and who is that work targetting? How do you understand “men’s rights” hostility to feminist-inspired anti-sexual violence work?

Slutwalk Toronto 2013

Week 9: October 29/31

Tuesday: reading questions on Christine Overall. 1998. “Nowhere At Home.”

1. What are the four role conflicts Overall identifies?
2. What qualities or status does Overall suggest determine one’s membership in a particular socio-economic class?
3. What are the strengths and weaknesses, methodologically speaking, of using first-personal narrative as a ground for political theory? What makes this intersectional political theory?

Lecture notes

Thursday: reading questions on Kimberlé Crenshaw, “Mapping the Margins” (1991):

1. What is “identity politics,” and what does Crenshaw think is the most common criticism of it? What does she mean when she says that instead identity politics tends to conflate or ignore intragroup differences [1242]?
2. What are structural, political, and representational intersectionality? Explain how Crenshaw defines and distinguishes these three terms, and be prepared to present an example of each from her lists.
3. Think of a more recent case, which could be from your own experience, of where you have seen intersectional identity politics succeed or fail.

Lecture notes





Week 10: November 5/7

Tuesday: Linda Lopez McAlister, “My Grandmother’s Passing.” NOTE: short paper #5 on McAlister DUE AT THE BEGINNING OF CLASS. We’ll use the questions you have in your papers on McAlister as the basis for a class discussion.

Lecture notes

Thursday: No new reading. Discussion of how theoretical and humanistic research fits with the mission of the research university, and how my own work dovetails with the material of this course.

Week 11: No class November 12 (fall term class break)/November 14

Thursday: Natalie Stoljar, “Autonomy and the Feminist Intuition.”
1. What is autonomy? What is procedural autonomy, and what is substantive autonomy?
2. What is “the feminist intuition” about autonomy?
3. What does Luker’s study of women who took contraceptive risks conclude, and why does Stoljar disagree with this conclusion? Under what conditions do you think “autonomy” is compromised by oppressive conditions, and what difference does this make for feminist political theory?

Lecture notes

Week 12: November 19/21

Tuesday: Saba Mahmood, “Feminist Theory, Embodiment, and the Docile Agent”

1. “Although it would not have been unusual in the 1960s to account for women’s participation in such movements in terms of false consciousness, or the internalization of patriarchal norms through socialization, there has been an increasing discomfort with explanations of this kind. Drawing on work in the humanities and the social sciences since the 1970s that has focused on the operation of human agency within structures of subordination, feminists have sought to understand the ways in which women resist the dominant male order by subverting the hegemonic meanings of cultural practices and redeploying them for their own interests and agendas. A central question explored within this scholarship has been: how do women contribute to reproducing their own domination, and how do they resist or subvert it?” How does Mahmood answer this question with regard to the mosque movement in Egypt?
2. Mahmood’s article is in either tacit or explicit conversation with several other things we’ve read. What is Mahmood saying to or about Butler and Bartky’s Foucauldian analysis? In what ways does Mahmood’s analysis “speak back to” Stoljar’s analysis of autonomy, and indeed against the genre of scholarship in feminist theory that Stoljar represents?

Lecture notes

Thursday: evaluations and catch-up

Week 13: November 26/28

Tuesday: Visit by Linda Trimble, interview and class discussion/exercises on the media representation of women politicians. Note new text, “Melodrama and Gendered Mediation.” SIXTH short paper due AT THE BEGINNING OF CLASS (2pm).

Julia Gillard’s 2012 misogyny speech
“Gender wars” exercise, © Linda Trimble

Thursday: Visit by Lois Harder and interview on gender and sexuality in Alberta politics. Reading, “The State and the Friendships of the Nation.”

Week 14: December 3

Concluding discussion: please bring one artifact, question, experience/anecdote, fact or statistic, that concerns gender and power but remains un- or under-explained for you at the end of the course.

Lecture notes


1. Grading practice for the course, and checklist for effective participation
2. Guidelines on writing short papers
3. Further tips on short papers.
4. Examples of A-grade papers from the class: one on Emily Martin; one on Marilyn Frye.

Articles: for individual academic use ONLY. Please do not reproduce or distribute.

Leslie Feinberg
Anne Fausto-Sterling
Emily Martin
Simone de Beauvoir
Marilyn Frye
Sandra Bartky, “On Psychological Oppression”
Iris Marion Young
Judith Butler
Talia Bettcher
Sandra Bartky, “Foucault, Femininity, and the Modernization of Patriarchal Power”
Sharon Krause
Christine Overall
Kimberlé Crenshaw
Linda Lopez McAlister
Natalie Stoljar
Saba Mahmood
Linda Trimble
Lois Harder

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