21A.231J | Spring 2006 | Undergraduate
Gender, Sexuality, and Society


This section features descriptions for the three major papers of the course.

First Paper

The aim of this paper is to develop a thesis and to argue for it with reference to theoretical and case study materials from our readings.

You are required to meet with the writing tutor about your paper before completing it. Please make an appointment to meet with her next week or the following by emailing her at least 48 hours before you wish to meet. In addition, feel free to see me to discuss your ideas!

7-8 double-spaced pages, regular font (this is 12 pt Times) (roughly 2,000 words). Do not exceed 8 pages. These are argumentative papers - develop your own thesis and argue it by marshalling evidence from our readings and class discussions. Be sure to engage the arguments of and quote at least three of our authors.

Due in Lec #9

Choose one of the following topics:

  1. Gender and Nature: Write an essay about gender and nature, keeping in mind that just as our ideas about gender are culturally shaped and varied, so too are our ideas about nature (you can discuss scientific and religious theories about human nature and the natural world more generally). Organize your essay around a discussion of how particular gender ideologies have been naturalized - explained and legitimated through appeals to a biological and/or divine nature - and with what effects (see especially Hubbard, Fausto-Sterling, Kapsalis, Ehrenreich and English, the 2 readings on infant care, Eugenides).
  2. Gender Acquisition: Individuals learn gender - to identify as a girl or boy/ woman or man, and to be able to act in gender appropriate ways. But children (and adults) do not always conform to these lessons completely, or consistently. Drawing from our readings (Hubbard, Eugenides, Collier, etc.), although one example may come from your own observations of a society, discuss four (4) examples that illustrate different modes of gender acquisition - through socialization (emulating adult or media examples; elicitation, or being treated in gendered ways; education) and ritual (e.g., rites of passage). Evaluate each particular example in terms of how it’s supposed to work (and what it’s meant to convey about gender), and how it seems actually to work (or not) in practice. What means of gender acquisition seems to you to be most powerful? Why?
  3. Gender and Labor: Write an essay discussing how gender relations are, in part, formed, reproduced, and contested in labor relations. Possible theses to develop could begin with - but are not restricted to - the following foci: a contrast between how gender and labor are organized in agrarian versus wage labor societies; a discussion of gaps between ideologies and social realities (lived experiences) of gender and labor in either agrarian or wage labor societies; how gender and labor relations have also been informed by - and reproduced - ideologies about race historically. Your arguments should engage the arguments and data of at least three authors (e.g., Collier Ehrenreich and English, Rapp, Nakano Glenn, Romero, Freeman, Weston, McDowell).

Second Paper

Sample Student Paper (PDF) (Courtesy of Aayesha Siddiqui. Used with permission.)

The aim of this second paper is critically to engage an issue of current social concern and controversy in the U.S. With reference to both theoretical and ethnographic case study materials from our readings, drawing from US and other cultural settings.

First Draft Due in Lec #17

Please consider meeting with the writing tutor about your paper at the rough draft stage - once you’ve completed much of this draft! - and/or when planning your revisions after receiving my comments on your draft.

Papers are to be 7-8 double-spaced pages (roughly 2,000 words). Do not exceed 8 pages. These are argumentative papers - develop your own thesis and argue it by marshalling evidence from our readings, films, class discussions, media articles. Be sure to engage the arguments of at least three of our authors. All papers should speak to intersections of gender, sex, sexuality.

Choose an area of contemporary cultural, legal, political and/or ethical concern or debate:

  1. Sex assignment surgery on infants with ambiguous genitalia or other medical/social. Issue concerning gender and intersexuality or hermaphrodism. See Eugenides, Chase, Nanda, Fausto-Sterling.
  2. Origin stories/explanatory theories of same-sex sexual desire/practice. Critically discuss the search for “universal” causes (both essentialist and constructivist) and/or the significance of personal origin stories for the “sexual lifeways” of individuals. e.g., you could compare vestidas and mayates in working class urban Mexico (Prieur) with gays, lesbians, bisexuals within a segment of US society (see Stein, Katz, Bérubé, Rich), or focus on one cultural setting.
  3. Understanding transgender/transsexualism (see Heyes, etc.) does this challenge or reinforce sex/gender dualisms? you might want to consider this comparatively, alongside intersex (Chase, Fausto-Sterling, Eugenides) or androgyny.
  4. Gay marriage and/or parenting. See Katz, Rich, Stein, Lewin, Yanagisako, Collier and Rosaldo, etc.
  5. Gender and the body - body work and gender performance; the body as resource for gender - is this a predominantly feminine preoccupation? does it work similarly or differently for femininity and masculinity? why? see Counihan, Gremillion, Prieur, Heyes, etc.

Write a paper identifying specific concerns related to one of these topics, analyzing the cultural, historical, and political-economic elements that make this a social issue (its “problematization,” to use Foucault’s term; see Prieur pp. 126-27). To do so, draw on recent news stories, popular magazine articles, op-ed pieces, legal decisions as well as case studies presented in our readings. You will want to describe briefly the key arguments or positions on the issue, but the majority of your paper will be devoted to your interpretation and analysis of it. This means you will want to address the following sorts of questions: WHY this has become an issue of social concern now, at this historical moment, and why are the particular terms of debate as they are? What is at stake here symbolically, materially, and institutionally in these debates or negotiations about gender and sexuality; that is, what are the real and/or perceived repercussions for individuals and for a society? Conclude your essay with a brief discussion of what your analysis leads you to advocate - this could be a specific legal or political action, a line of scholarly inquiry, an education policy, etc.

Third Paper

For this paper, I encourage you to write a paper concerning the subjective, personal experience of having a gendered sense of self, identity, embodiment. This doesn’t have to be your personal experience, per se, but I’d like you to explore how and why people respond in their everyday lives to the kinds of cultural scripts we’ve been tracing. The specific topic is open. Write a paper that you want to write.

You could write about sexual violence, birth control (as private matter and/or subject of state interest), sex ed, pregnancy and ultrasound, the abortion debate and ethics of abortion in the US as compared with Greece, ideologies and realities of “the family” - any of the topics we’ve recently addressed. Or you could propose a topic we haven’t touched on directly: an anthropological analysis of contemporary dating, for instance. In the past, students have interviewed their own mothers or peers about their experiences (e.g., teenage motherhood, parenting a child with disabilities, sex ed, etc.).

Paper Proposal Due in Lec #22

Submit a topic, thesis statement (what you plan to argue) and outline of what you plan to cover. If possible, an introductory paragraph would be nice to get. Also list the articles you plan to use. You must make use of class materials, quoting and engaging the arguments of at least Three authors we’ve read. Authors addressing ’experience’ include Abu-Lughod, Counihan, Stein, Heyes, di Leonardo, Landsman, Layne, Petchesky, etc. Proposals can be emailed to me or submitted in hard copy.

Please consider meeting with the writing tutor. And do come talk with me, before or after class, or by appointment.

Papers are to be 7-8 double-spaced pages (roughly 2,000 words). Do not exceed 8 pages.

If you’re stuck coming up with a topic and approach, please see or email me! I can also suggest relevant outside readings.

Final Paper Due in Lec #25 - our last class. This is a fixed due date (late papers will be docked).

Course Info
As Taught In
Spring 2006
Learning Resource Types
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assignment Written Assignments