Course Meeting Times

Lectures: 1 session / week, 2 hours / session

Course Description

Is marriage a patriarchal institution? Much feminist scholarship has characterized it that way, but now in the context of the recent Massachusetts Supreme court decision legalizing gay marriage, the meaning of marriage itself demands serious re-examination. This course will discuss history, literature, film, and legal scholarship, making use of cross-cultural, sociological, anthropological, and many other theoretical approaches to the marriage question from 1630 to the present. As it turns out, sex, marriage, and the family have never been stable institutions; to the contrary, they have continued to function as flash points for the very social and cultural questions that are central to gender studies scholarship.

This course is taught as part of the Graduate Consortium in Women's Studies.


  • Renée Bergland, Simmons College, Associate Professor of English
  • Suzann Thomas-Buckle, Northeastern University, Associate Professor of Law, Policy and Society
  • Leonard Buckle, Northeastern University, Associate Professor of Law, Policy and Society


As a seminar participant, you are responsible for getting your hands on all of the materials listed in readings. All of the class materials are fairly easily accessible at the bookstore or the library. Many articles are available on various library databases: you need to find them, print them out, and bring them with you to class on the day that they are assigned.

Of course, once you've found the materials, the fun will really begin. Careful preparation for this class will entail reading the assigned readings, deciding on the central point or points, considering the various texts in conversation with each other, and formulating some opinions and question of your own. Please come to class ready to ask as many questions as you can come up with.

Discussion Leader/Scribe

Every student will lead a discussion on one text at some point during the semester. Students are required to present a bit of background information and to prepare discussion questions. Six days after the discussion (the day before the following class), the student must distribute a paper that summarizes both the background information and the key points from the discussion. The purpose of this assignment is three fold: It is an opportunity to do some focused research, to take on a leadership role in the class, and to create a record of the valuable (and often unpredictable) work of the seminar as a seminar. At the end of term, all of us will know what we have discussed, and where our discussions have led us.

Final Paper

Students are required to write thirty pages on a chosen topic, adhering to discipline appropriate scholarly conventions. The paper is due at the end of term.


Final grades in this seminar are based primarily on students' final papers and their ongoing participation in discussion throughout the term.


Certain professors were responsible for certain weekly class sessions; please refer to the key below for their names.

RB = Renée Bergland

LB/STB = Leonard Buckle and Suzann Thomas-Buckle

1 RB, LB/STB Welcome/Introduction: What are we talking about?
2 RB Early American sex: history and culture
3 LB/STB Marriage in social and legal history
4 RB Narratives of seduction and abandonment (What makes American seduction and sex so very American?)
5 LB/STB Law's way for bastards and their mothers
6 RB Cross-racial marriage
7 LB/STB Cross-racial marriage and redefined marriage (Race and marriage rethought)
8 RB Intimate friendships
9 RB Boston marriage
10 LB/STB Gay marriage (Goodridge)
11 LB/STB Same-sex marriage and beyond
12 LB/STB Family and feminist futures
13 RB, LB/STB Course wrap-up