online syllabus:

electronic reserves:
password (550)

class handouts:

class email

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WGST 550/LITR 592: Feminist Thought

Spring 2009

Dr. Abby Coykendall

acoykenda at

Office Hours: TTH 8:10-8:40

Office Location: Pray-Harrold Hall 603G

~ or email for appointments ~

Tuesday & Thursday 5:30-8:10 PM
Registration # 32643 (LITR) #32642 (WGST)
Pray-Harrold Hall 202



WGST 550 / LITR 592: Feminist Thought

Course Description: Feminist Thought is a course in which you will investigate a wide variety of feminist theory, both past and present, paying especial attention to the historical trends and critical debates most influencing current practice in the field.  We will approach the theoretical texts in much the same fashion as we would approach any other text: at once imaginatively and critically.  We will begin by surveying the so-called “first wave” of feminism which took hold in 18th- and 19th-century Britain and the United States and then move rather quickly to 20th- and 21st-century feminisms in all their variety: from European philosophers like Simone de Beauvoir to contemporary poststructuralists like Judith Butler, from African-American activists like Angela Davis to postcolonial scholars like Gayatri Spivak, from “womanist” authors like Alice Walker to early queer theory pioneers like Monique Wittig, who avers there is no such thing as a “woman” at all.  Emphasized throughout will be the vast multiplicity of feminisms formulated and found throughout the world, as well as the multidisciplinary approaches so valuable in understanding the lived experience of women and the social constructions of gender.  Art, anthropology, history, literature, philosophy, psychology, and a host of other disciplinary lenses will come into play without any one of these approaches necessarily taking precedence over the others.  

Course Objectives: By the end of the semester, you will be better able to

* Craft unique interpretations of feminist works--and, hopefully, of life itself--by exploring new avenues of thought in class, asking challenging questions of yourself, your peers, and the text, and sharing the upshot of these investigations in writing;

* Comprehend the major debates and become conversant in the key concepts of feminist theory, from the modern period to contemporary practice;

* Participate in these debates (and initiate new ones) by responding to critical essays, articulating discussion questions, interrogating the value of a range of critical positions with regard to feminist texts in manifold aesthetic, academic, as well as cultural contexts;

* Engage with the community of scholars and the larger public by acquiring the critical vocabulary and the theoretical wherewithal necessary to understand and influence the scholarly study and real-world practice of feminism;

* Articulate and advance your own critical position vis-à-vis a host of feminist approaches, making clear, compelling, and persuasive arguments about feminist works in essays reflecting the current trends of feminist criticism. 

Course Books and Materials

The following books are available at Ned’s bookstore (483-6400; 707 W. Cross St.), as well as the Halle library under my name “Coykendall” (click on the links below for availability).  We will be using them so extensively, however, that if possible you should go ahead and purchase your own copies.

Feminist Theory: A Reader, ed. Wendy Kolmar and Frances Bartkowski, Second Edition (McGraw-Hill, 2004; ISBN 007282672X)

Anne Fausto-Sterling, Sexing the Body: Gender Politics and the Construction of Sexuality (Basic Books, 2000; ISBN 0465077137)

Andrea Smith, Conquest: Sexual Violence and American Indian Genocide (South End, 2005; ISBN 0896087433)

Judith Butler, Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity (Routledge, 2006; ISBN 0415924995)

The remaining texts can be accessed online and then printed for free in any of the campus computer labs.  See the Electronic Reserves (ER):, password 550.  **Make sure to bring a copy of the required texts that we are covering to class, whether found in the ER or in a book.  You will need everything on hand for group work and class discussions.

Assessment Weights


Homework Tasks & Class Participation

minimum length:

due dates:


Proposal for the Seminar Paper

5 pages

June 5 (9:30 AM)


Conference-Style Presentation on Paper Topic

5-8 minutes

June 11


Seminar Paper

14-20 pages

June 23 (9:30 AM)

Coursework & Assignments

Consult with me as early as possible to brainstorm possible topics for the seminar paper, which constitutes a significant proportion of the final grade with the homework coming in a close second.  Instead of cumulative exams, there will be various kinds of informal assignments due almost every class period to ensure ongoing participation and progress: composing discussion questions, writing informal responses to the theorists, presenting select passages from the outside reading, serving as a respondent for the other students, and even a “show and tell” exercise applying the theoretical concepts from one class to a concrete real-world example of your choice in the next.  Everyone will cycle though these tasks twice over the term, beginning with a different task based on the group number and then doing the rest of the tasks in turn.  See the Homework Assignments handout for more detailed information (/hmwk.htm).  (Note: All of the webpages associated with the course begin with

The groups are simply a way to organize which students do what (and with which texts) each class period: diversifying the topics which we highlight in the discussion, the people responsible for bringing key issues to our attention, as well as the skills and approaches which they use to do so.  Most of the class period will center around the interactive discussion that results from presenting on the homework.  There is no “group work” properly speaking—i.e. working collaboratively with peers on the same assignment—so you do not have to meet with peers outside of class, only contact them on occasion to ensure that you are not doing the same text.  

Grading Scale:





























Instructor Availability

I will be delighted to discuss any course-related questions, interests, or concerns during my office hours in person (603G Pray Harrold) or by phone (487-0147), as well as through email (acoykenda at at any time.  Email is the most reliable way to reach me outside of the office since the messaging system for my office phone is dysfunctional at best. 

Emails with straightforward questions usually receive a reply within a few hours to a day; those with thornier issues will typically receive a reply before the next class period.  Please limit your emails to inquiries which I alone can answer so that I can give more pressing inquiries the attention that they deserve.  If, for example, you are unsure about a due date, consult the syllabus, the handouts (/hand.htm), or the peers in your group (/groups.htm), and then email me if that confusion persists. 

Campus Resources & Safety

At some point in the term, you might consider taking advantage of the Academic Projects Center, located in the Halle Library (Room 104).  This support center, open from 11:00-5:00 Monday-Thursday, assists with the research, writing, and technology skills necessary for success in academic papers and research projects.  Another support center, the International Student Resource Center, located in 200 Alexander (487-0370), is dedicated to second-language students from abroad.

Also consider availing yourself of the campus escort service, Student Eyes and Ears for University Safety, by calling 48-SEEUS (487-3387).  If you sign up for the emergency text-messaging system (, DPS can notify us of any calamity afflicting the class. 


Because this course primarily consists of reading and discussion—rather than facts, figures, or memorization—regular attendance is crucial.  You never need to explain your absences, as I always assume that you have an excellent reason to miss class.  However, as per Department policy, students who miss more than two classes for any reason will not be eligible to pass.  Reserve the allowable absences for illnesses, car accidents, or other emergencies that prevent you from coming to campus and make sure not to exhaust them too early in the term.  When you must be absent, contact the other students in your group (/groups.htm) to share notes or determine what you missed.  All absences up to the second are excused automatically, the missed homework is due on your return, and any changes to the schedule will be sent to the class as a whole by email.


The most essential information—due dates, assignment instructions, clarification of outstanding issues—is given at the beginning of class, so it is essential to come on time.  Try to arrive early just in case you encounter any problems along the way (traffic jams, late busses, no parking).  Arriving halfway into the period or leaving halfway through the period each count as half an absence.  Habitual lateness that interferes with student participation or disrupts the class will eventually be counted as an absence.

Classroom Etiquette

It is important to be mindful of your peers during class time, listening to them with the same respect and attention that you hope to receive yourself.  Once class begins, do not distract your peers by walking in or out of the room unless there is a genuine emergency.  If you have a medical condition requiring you to exit from time to time, bring a formal doctor’s note affirming as such; otherwise, reserve all personal business for the break midway through the class period.  Disruptive exits can be both mental and physical; for example, students discovered using laptops for purposes unrelated to the course will be asked to leave and marked absent.

Academic Integrity

Understanding and avoiding academic dishonesty, and doing all of the coursework on your own, is imperative.  Copying the homework of peers, taking credit for essays that you find on the internet, or recycling your own essays written for other classes for double credit are all forms of academic dishonesty, and for very good reason.  Each interferes with the sole purpose, and the unique benefit, of going to graduate school; namely, the unfettered exercise of an informed mind.  

The worst form of academic dishonesty is plagiarism, which, put simply, is taking either the ideas or the words of another person and reusing them as if they are your own.  You must acknowledge when you make use of concepts and/or expressions of other people without any exception under any circumstance, whether drawing on Wikipedia for mundane (and quite possibly specious) information or channeling the most holy of holy books for heavenly inspiration.  When describing the ideas of someone else in your own words, make sure to specify as such (e.g., “So and so says X … ”); most importantly, when inserting the words of someone else into your writing, make sure to credit that person for the passage and place quotation marks on either side (e.g., So and so says, “X”).  Any writing that lacks these acknowledgements will pass as your own by default, and any writing that thus seems to be your own, without actually being your own, will be plagiarizing the original source. 

Any instance of academic dishonesty will result in an automatic 0% grade for the assignment.  Any second instance will result in outright failure of the course.  There is no excuse for academic dishonesty, nor any exceptions to this policy. 


Online Handouts and Links:

Course Syllabus                                            (

Course Schedule                                           (

Electronic Reserves (ER)                             (

Group Assignments                                     (

Class Email                                                  (novel at

Homework Assignments                              (

Guidelines on the Research Paper                (

Schedule for Conferences                             (



[Syllabus last modified May 2, 2009]