WGS.101 | Fall 2014 | Undergraduate

Introduction to Women's and Gender Studies


Course Meeting Times

Lectures: 2 sessions / week; 1.5 hours / session


There are no prerequisites for this course.

Course Description

“We take our stand on the solidarity of humanity, the oneness of life, and the unnaturalness and injustice of all special favoritisms, whether of sex, race, country or condition.” - Anna Julia Cooper

“Gender equality is more than a goal in itself. It is a precondition for meeting the challenge of reducing poverty, promoting sustainable development and building good governance.” - Kofi Annan

This course offers an introduction to Women’s and Gender Studies, an interdisciplinary academic field that explores critical questions about the meaning of gender in society. The primary goal of this course is to familiarize students with key issues, questions and debates in Women’s and Gender Studies scholarship, both historical and contemporary. Gender scholarship critically analyzes themes of gendered performance and power in a range of social spheres, such as law, culture, education, work, medicine, social policy and the family.

Throughout the semester, we will “question gender” in multiple ways:

  • Why has gender been a primary organizing principle of society?
  • How do “gendered scripts” for dress, appearance and behavior emerge among different social groups and in different societies and historical periods?
  • How do we explain the sexual division of labor and the unequal social status of women and girls and those activities and roles deemed “feminine” in society?
  • In what ways does gender intersect with race, ethnicity and sexuality?
  • How do gendered structures of power and authority operate?
  • What factors contribute to the formation and success of movements for and against gender equality and fluidity?
  • Can we imagine a future in which we largely ignore gender or envision gender and sexuality in more expansive, fluid or egalitarian ways?

This term you will become acquainted with many of the critical questions and concepts feminist scholars have developed as tools for thinking about gendered experience. In addition, we will explore the complex ways in which gender intersects with class, race, ethnicity, sexuality and age within various spheres and institutions of society. Required readings include classic and contemporary women’s and gender studies texts, representing scholarship from a variety of disciplines, as well as political documents and personal narratives of gendered lives. Course topics include: the first and second waves of American women’s / gender rights activism, and gender issues in relation to the law, socialization, education, work, health and reproduction, sexuality, families, and globalization. Through successfully completing this course, students will be better prepared to participate in and contribute effectively to the larger public conversation about the role of gender in society; to apply the critical tools of women’s and gender studies in their academic, personal and occupational lives; and to take more advanced classes in this field.

Course Objectives

Upon successful completion of this course, students should be able to:

  • Understand and engage with central debates in the field of Women’s and Gender Studies.
  • Define and apply basic terms and concepts central to this field.
  • Apply a variety of methods of analyzing gender in society, drawing upon both primary and secondary sources.
  • Apply concepts and theories of Women’s and Gender Studies to life experiences and historical events and processes.
  • Communicate effectively about gender issues in both writing and speech, drawing upon Women’s and Gender Studies scholarship and addressing a public audience.

Required Readings

Gilman, Charlotte Perkins. The Yellow Wallpaper. 1892.Taylor, Verta, Nancy Whittier, and Leila J. Rupp, eds. Feminist Frontiers. 9th ed. McGraw Hill Humanities, 2011. ISBN: 9780078026621.

Schneir, Miriam, ed. Feminism in Our Time: The Essential Writings, World War II to the Present. Vintage Books, 1994. ISBN: 9780679745082.

For further detail on these and additional readings, see the table in the Readings section.

Course Requirements

Introduction to Women’s and Gender Studies, as a CI-H subject, conforms to the following guidelines:

Communication-intensive (CI) subjects in HASS require, by the end of term, at least 5,000 words of writing divided among 3–5 assignments. (The font is 12-point Times New Roman, double-spaced with one-inch margins; one page equals 250 words.) At least one major assignment should be revised and resubmitted. In WGS.101, your first essay will be submitted as a first version and then revised to meet this requirement. In HASS-CI courses, students are also assessed in the area of oral communication (discussion, class participation and oral presentations). See MIT’s Undergraduate Communication Requirement for more information.

Evaluation / Grading

Attendance and participation, and short homework and in-class writing exercises 15%
Current event analysis oral presentation and write-up (2–3 pages) 10%
Short write-up on WGS event / program (film, lecture, reading) 5%
Three major writing assignments 70%

Attendance / Participation / Homework Assignments / Classroom Community

To foster a sense of intellectual community, this course is structured in a format that blends lecture and discussion. It is crucial that students come to class on time, with required texts, well prepared to offer thoughtful responses to the assigned readings. To be effective as class participants, students need to complete reading and writing tasks by the assigned dates.

A vital, ongoing intellectual conversation—which actively questions the meaning of gender in society—is at the heart of the course. Many issues that we address in the course are controversial and students may have or voice very different viewpoints and perspectives. It is critical that we acknowledge and respect one another’s experiences and perspectives so that our classroom is a safe and supportive space to converse productively across our differences.

Since our class functions as an intellectual community, it is essential that students attend class faithfully. More than two absences may affect the final grade; a student cannot pass the course with over five absences. Three latenesses count as an absence. In the case of absence, it is the student’s responsibility to contact a classmate about class material and obtain any handouts or assignments that were distributed.

Active participation in large and small group discussion is necessary to receive full credit for the attendance and participation component of the final grade (15%). Homework assignments, together with in-class writing exercises, also count for part of this grade.

Three Major Assignments

Each student will be responsible for submitting three major writing assignments over the course of the semester.

Each essay should be typed, double-spaced, Times New Roman 12 point font, with one-inch margins; one page equals 250 words.

Essay assignment prompts will be distributed at least two weeks in advance of the due dates. Each essay should demonstrate understanding of key concepts in the course by framing a clear argument in response to the essay question and supporting that argument with specific examples and quotations from relevant course readings. The first essay, a comparative rhetorical analysis of primary historical texts, should be 1500–1750 words (6–7 pages).

The next two essays will be 1750–2000 words (7–8 pages) each. The second essay offers the choice of a comparative analysis of classic literary and political texts or a case study of an individual analyzed within the framework of gender socialization literature. The third major assignment asks students to write an informational narrative for a museum exhibit on historical and contemporary dimensions of gender and work, drawing explicitly upon secondary sources; the print text is supplemented by an exhibit of visual sources such as photographs, charts, graphs, maps, art work, etc.

Please note that you are required to schedule an appointment with the writing advisor during the process of planning for and writing one of your major writing assignments. You can schedule your appointment at any point in the writing process: brainstorming, crafting the first version or revising. Students are encouraged to schedule an appointment with the writing advisor during the writing and revising of their first essays.

Current Event Analysis: Oral Presentation

Each student will do one oral presentation, an analysis of a current event relating to class readings and lectures / discussions. Students will work in pairs to research and present an interpretation of a current event news article of their choice pertaining to the week’s topic. Your task is to make connections between concepts presented in an assigned reading(s) and lectures and a contemporary example in the news. This assignment requires close reading of the news item you choose, presenting your analysis in a coherent way to the class, along with several follow-up discussion questions. Students should plan to consult the instructor as they choose current events topics to research. Oral presentations should be about 15 minutes. Each student pair will also receive a joint letter-grade and written evaluation of their oral presentation. Students are encouraged to read a major newspaper regularly to increase their awareness of media coverage of contemporary gender issues.

Reflection Assignment: Women’s and Gender Studies Event

Students are asked to attend one Women’s and Gender Studies (WGS)-related event (lecture, film, reading) during the semester and write a short piece (250–500 words or 1–2 pages) reflecting on this event and its relationship to course content. (WGS-related events will be announced in class.) This exercise will be due two weeks after the WGS event.

Writing Objectives

Throughout the semester, I will encourage student writers to:

  • Address an intelligent, public audience in a graceful style, providing key information necessary to understand an argument.
  • Develop ideas in an interesting, original and coherent manner.
  • Support arguments with appropriate evidence and use and cite sources thoughtfully and correctly.
  • Employ clear, concise language that uses the conventions of English grammar, punctuation, word usage and source citation.
  • Structure arguments carefully with clear introductions, transitions, middles and conclusions.

Writing Center; Writing and Communication Resources

In addition to consulting with the writing advisor, you can visit the Writing and Communication Center for help with your writing for the course. The Center offers free one-on-one professional advice from lecturers who are published writers about all types of academic, creative, and professional writing and about all aspects of oral presentations. To access many pages of advice about writing and oral presentations, go to Comparative Media Studies / Writing’s Links page.  

Policy on Academic Integrity

Academic integrity is the foundation of all scholarship, because being able to trace how our ideas have developed in relation to other people’s theories, research, and evidence, as well as our own, is what ensures the soundness of our research. Thus, university communities have a collective investment in ensuring that the practices of academic integrity are thoroughly learned and carefully practiced.

As members of this class and the larger scholarly community, you are expected to abide by the norms of academic integrity. Everything you submit must be your own work, written specifically for this class. While a good deal of collaboration is encouraged in and out of class, all sources—of ideas as well as words and images—must be acknowledged according to the conventions of academic citation. Willful disregard for these conventions—i.e., plagiarism—can result in withdrawal from the course with a grade of F, and / or suspension or expulsion from the Institute.

The booklet, Academic Integrity at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology: A Handbook for Students (PDF), explains these issues in detail, and you are responsible for understanding its contents. You can also visit the Academic Integrity at MIT website. We will also work on citing sources in class and discuss ways to acknowledge them properly. When in doubt, consult with me or with the writing advisor.

Course Info

As Taught In
Fall 2014
Learning Resource Types
Written Assignments
Instructor Insights