WGS.110J | Spring 2016 | Undergraduate

Sexual and Gender Identities


Course Meeting Times

Seminars: 1 session / week, 3 hours / session


There are no prerequisites for this course.

Course Description

This subject offers an introduction to the history of gender, sex, and sexuality in the modern United States—from the end of the nineteenth century to the beginning of the twenty-first. It begins with an overview of historical approaches to the field, emphasizing the changing nature of sexual and gender identities over time. The remainder of the course flows chronologically, tracing the expanding and contracting nature of attempts to control, construct, and contain sexual and gender identities, as well as the efforts of those who worked to resist, reject, and reform institutionalized heterosexuality and mainstream configurations of gendered power.

Required Texts

All required readings for the course can be found in the table in the Readings and Films section. The average reading load per week is roughly 80–120pp.

Graded Assignments

This subject is conducted as a discussion-based seminar. Assigned readings and films facilitate our in-class discussions. Students are required to submit a one-page response to assigned readings before class each week (students may choose five weeks in which to skip this assignment). In addition to these short response papers, each student is responsible for leading one in-class discussion, writing one short paper, and completing a final research paper on a topic relevant to course themes and materials.

Further information can be found in the Assignments section.

Grading Policy

Attendance and Participation 25%
Weekly Response Papers 10%
Leading Discussion 15%
Short Paper 20%
Final Paper 30%

Resources and Policies

Writing Assistance

The Writing and Communication Center at MIT offers free one-on-one professional advice from lecturers who are published writers and experienced college teachers. They offer assistance with all types of academic, creative, and professional writing—including papers, applications, theses, and CVs. They also offer oral presentation assistance and help with all English as Second Language issues (from writing and grammar, to pronunciation and conversation practice).

Cheating and Plagiarism

MIT has strict policies against plagiarism. In academic writing, it is considered plagiarism to draw any idea or any language from someone else without adequately crediting that source. It doesn’t matter whether the source is a published author, a website without clear authorship, a website that sells academic papers, or another student. Taking credit for someone else’s work is unacceptable in all academic situations, whether you do it intentionally or by accident. In my experience, most cases of plagiarism are not intentional, and instead arise out of confusion concerning what counts as plagiarism and how to avoid it. To protect yourself from accidentally becoming a plagiarist, and to learn more about what constitutes plagiarism, read Academic Integrity at MIT: A Handbook for Students or contact me directly.

Note on Content

Over the course of the term we will discuss events and concepts that may be disturbing or traumatizing to some students. Please read the syllabus closely before the start of the term. If you suspect that specific material is likely to be emotionally challenging for you, I’d be happy to discuss any concerns you may have before the topic comes up in class.


Unit 1 – Ebbs and Flows: Gender and Sexual Identities as Moving Targets
1 Thinking Historically about Gender, Sex, and Sexuality  
2 Before the Modern Era: Race, Reproduction, Love, and Intimacy  
Unit 2 – The Tempest: Contesting Sexual Order, C. 1900–1920
3 Sex and the City: Working Class Sexuality and the Politics of Reproduction  
4 The Birth of Feminism and the Women’s Suffrage Movement  
Unit 3 – Locks and Dams: Creating and Policing Boundaries, C. 1920–1960
5 Regulating Sexuality during the Jazz Age, Depression, and War  
6 Creating, Containing, and Resisting “Normal” in Cold War America Short paper due
Unit 4 – The Flood: Breaking Barriers, C. 1960–1980
7 Sexual Revolutions and the Emergence of Second Wave Feminism  
8 Feminism as a Mass Movement and the Flowering of Gay Liberation  
Unit 5 – Changing Tides: Gender and Sexuality as Battlegrounds, C. 1980–2000
9 Culture Wars I: The Rise of the Religious Right and the AIDS Epidemic Final paper description due
10 Culture Wars II: Pornography, Representation, and Sexual Harassment / Violence  
Unit 6 – Sexuality and Gender in the 21st Century: Diverging Currents?
11 New Trajectories in the Politics of Gender and Sexuality  
12 Student-Led Discussion and Closing Thoughts Final paper due

Course Info

As Taught In
Spring 2016
Learning Resource Types
Written Assignments