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 Gender, Sexuality, and Society  posted by  duggu   on 11/26/2007  Add Courseware to favorites Add To Favorites  
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Paxson, Heather, 21A.231J Gender, Sexuality, and Society, Spring 2006. (Massachusetts Institute of Technology: MIT OpenCourseWare),  (Accessed 07 Jul, 2010). License: Creative Commons BY-NC-SA

A sign for a unisex bathroom.

A sign for a unisex bathroom. It captures the symbolic, ideological, and institutional nature of the gender/sex dilemma. (Photo courtesy of Ryan Jerz.)

Highlights of this Course

This course features thorough lecture notes, a detailed list of all assigned readings, and a diverse collection of related resources.

Course Description

This course seeks to examine how people experience gender - what it means to be a man or a woman - and sexuality in a variety of historical and cultural contexts. We will explore how gender and sexuality relate to other categories of social identity and difference, such as race and ethnicity, economic and social standing, urban or rural life, etc. One goal of the class is to learn how to critically assess media and other popular representations of gender roles and stereotypes. Another is to gain a greater sense of the diversity of human social practices and beliefs in the United States and around the world.




Classes will integrate lecture and discussion. Occasionally we will break into small groups for more concentrated discussion. Some lectures will directly engage our readings while others will integrate background historical and theoretical information.

Course Requirements


You must attend class and participate in discussions; this part of the course, including Reader Responses (see below), will account for 25% of the final grade. Writing Reader Responses will help you feel prepared to speak up in class; if a student does not volunteer, she or he may be called upon to speak. You are expected to keep up with all assigned readings. Students who miss more than 3 classes will lose credit.

Reading Responses

Reading responses consist of a couple paragraphs describing your reaction to one or more of the readings for that session. Do not summarize, but rather give us your response to the reading. These should take no more than 30 minutes to write. While reader responses are not individually graded, they will be factored into the overall evaluation of your performance. You will write five over the course of the term. You will be encouraged to post these on the online class forum prior to the class for which they are due to share your thoughts with your classmates.

Argumentative Essays

You will write 3 papers, each counting for 25% of your final grade. The first paper will address the relationship between gender/sexuality and political economy. The second paper will discuss a socially/politically controversial topic concerning gender/sexuality. The third paper may examine the role of gender and sexuality in the construction of personal identity, and can include personal reflection. There is no final examination.


Participation and Reader Responses 25%
First Paper 25%
Second Paper 25%
Third Paper 25%

Communication Intensive

This is a Communication Intensive (CI) subject. Your three papers will be 7-8 pages (roughly 2000 words) each. You will rewrite the first two papers in light of the comments received on them. The revised draft is the version that will be graded. Rewriting the third paper is optional. Because this is a CI subject, you will automatically pass Phase 1 of the Writing Requirement if you receive a grade of B or better.

Writing Tutor

We are fortunate to have a writing tutor for this course. You are required to make an appointment with her to discuss the progress of your first paper. You will be expected to meet with the writing tutor before submitting each draft and revised paper to the instructor.


Students will give a 5-10 minute presentation of the third paper, time limit to be determined on the basis of enrollment. Presentations are factored into the participation grade. Rehearsing is advisable.

Due Dates

The first two papers are due in Lec #9 and Lec #17. You will get the papers back no later than one week after they have been handed in, and must submit your rewrite one week later (Lec #12 and Lec #20, respectively). If you plan on revising the third paper, the first version must be handed in by Lec #23. The third paper is due in Lec #25.


Lec # Topics Key Dates
1 Introduction to the Study of Gender and Sexuality: The Sex/Gender System  
Part I: Concepts and Themes
2 Is Sex to Gender as Nature is to Culture? Reading response due in class
3 Cultural Acquisition of Gender as Learned Behavior  
Part II: Gender as a Social Institution
4 Arranged Marriage and Inheritance in Agricultural and Pastoral Societies  
5 Science, Republicanism and The Woman Question Handout paper topics

Make appointment to meet with writing tutor in the next couple of weeks
6 Social Reproduction: Reproducing Formal and Informal Class Relations Reading response due in class
7 Women in the Global Economy (No Lecture)  
8 Gender, Work and Professionalization  
9 Gender and Agency First paper due
10 Appetite, Image, Control  
Part III: Gender and Sexuality as Identity
11 The Invention of Sexuality-based Identities  
12 Coming Out and Leaving the Closet Behind First paper rewrite due
13 Other Genders/Sexualities  
14 Transvestite Lives and Sex Work Reading response due in class
15 Transgender and Transexualism in the U.S.  
16 Intersexuality  
17 Do Western Sexual Identities Travel? Second paper due
18 Sexism, Racism and Violence  
Part IV: Reproductive Politics and Gendered Citizenship
19 De-essentializing Sex/Gender/Kinship Reading response due in class
20 Fetal Images and Abortion Debates Second paper rewrite due
21 Nationalism, Reproductive Politics and Gender  
22 Making Modern Mothers Reading response due in class (can include questions for the author!)

Proposal for third paper due
23 Making Modern Mothers (cont.)  
24 Student Presentations  
25 Student Presentations (cont.) Third paper due   Tell A Friend