June 9, 2009
Source: Piedmont 2008

Browne, Irene.
Women's Studies

Project Summary

This course is intended to provide students with an overview of the perspectives,
debates and scholarship within the interdisciplinary field of Women’s Studies. The
course is taught as a freshman seminar, with a maximum of 15 students. In the Piedmont
Project seminar, I was struck with the importance of “attachment to place” in creating my
own interest and engagement with issues of sustainability. I explored ways to incorporate
“attachment to place” within the Women’s Studies course, but could not find a satisfying
approach to organize a semester of course materials. Fortunately, I was also inspired by
the readings that we did in preparation for the Piedmont Project. One of the readings
discussed the environmental problems arising from the cultural expectations in the U.S.
surrounding fashion. The author argues that clothes that are out of style tend to be
discarded even if they are in good condition. This practice not only adds to the problem
of waste, but dovetails nicely with feminist debates about sartorial displays and
constructions of gender. For my revised syllabus, I expanded the section of the course
that students find most interesting – culture, beauty, bodies – and I added the topic of
fashion. The course now focuses on the gender and sustainability implications of the
systems of production and consumption that involve body modification and adornment:
body image and body ideals, food, cosmetics, hairstyles and hair products, and fashion.
Within each section, I have incorporated issues of sustainability (readings directly related
to sustainability and the environment are marked with an asterisk on the syllabus).
The other major change in my syllabus is to use ecofeminism as a point of theoretical
leverage for students to delve into key feminist debates. Comparing claims by
ecofeminists with other feminist perspectives, students explore questions concerning
gender inequality; intersections of gender with other sources of social inequality,
particularly race, class and sexuality; and tensions surrounding transnational feminist
organizing. Although the engagement with ecofeminism occurs in Week 1 of the course,
I came to these readings after I developed the section on culture, beauty and bodies.
“Ecofeminism” is thus one guiding set of perspectives for the course, but does not limit
the scope of the approaches that I cover. I am optimistic that the incorporation of
sustainability issues will provide additional tools for students to strengthen their critical
analysis skills, will enable a greater understanding of the issues at the heart of Women’s
Studies, and will motivate students to live a more self-reflective life.

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