Sunday, November 16, 2008

Exploring Women's Studies: Looking Forward, Looking Back

The book is a collection of essays by women who were Woodrow Wilson fellows in Women’s Studies, which means they received a grant in support of their dissertation work which had a particular relevance to Women’s Studies. It’s a useful collection of essays, both for the way that it provides a history and background of important questions to women’s studies and the way it demonstrates the trajectory of careers for the scholars contained in the book. I was one of the discussion leaders on this text in my Feminist Literary Theory class and these are the questions that I posed from the book.

  1. 1.Sabrina Barton’s essay, “Feminist Film Theory and the Problem of Liking Characters,” raises interesting questions for both film and for other creative, critical, and theoretical texts. Barton concludes, “I have suggested that creating a context for discussing why we like or dislike characters (heroes, villains, and everything in between) can help to establish a more flexible and accessible approach to feminist film analysis and can do so without sacrificing critical or theoretical sophistication. I would also suggest that differing critical approaches (images of women, Woman as image, cultural studies, and so on) be taught as differing approaches rather than as a one-way line of development in which better models outsmart and make superfluous what has come before” (p. 345.) What do we think about this notion of “liking characters” in relationship to literary texts of all sorts—critical, creative, and theoretical? What does Barton sketch out as the feminist stakes in this question? What do we make of her investment in pushing feminist film theory to engage outside of the academy? Is that important to literary theory as well?

  1. 2.Reading through the anthology, Exploring Women’s Studies: Looking Forward, Looking Back, I was interested in the articles that demonstrate the possibilities of interdisciplinarity in both research and theoretical thinking and, particularly, how those possibilities open up new modes of inquiry. For instance, I was struck by Leila Rupp's article about Drag Queens and how her work as a women's historian turned to include ethnography. I also found Kornbluh's turn in Women's History with the Politics Left IN of talking about maternalist reformers' sexuality. These moves seem to demonstrate one way that Women's Studies can open up disciplines and bring new types of inquiries to scholarship. What opportunities for interdisciplinary work do we see in this text and where to we see barriers to interdisciplinary work demonstrated in the articles? As a related question to this and given the two articles I mention, we may want to return to Professor Smith’s assertion, Queer the Turtle: This couldn’t have happened without feminist theory. The articles of Exploring Women’s Studies begin to provide some intellectual history to the roots of queer theory in feminist theory.

  1. 3.The second task that the anthologists, Berkin, Pinch, and Appel, put to the scholars anthologized in Exploring Women’s Studies: Looking Forward, Looking Back was "to reflect on their own careers, for we believe that the history of the field of women's studies might be glimpsed in such autobiographical reflections." What did you learn from these reflections throughout the book? Did you make any particular observations about these reflections or draw any specific conclusions from them? What do these reflections say and not say about the disciplinary location of Women’s Studies?

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