What I am teaching this semester: Women and Violence in Contemporary Literature and Texts


I am often asked “What are you teaching this semester?” I love that question.  I try to check my geek nature at the door and only offer a few sentences in response.  My friend Jason’s recent blog post about what he is teaching inspired me to consider doing the same.

I first had the idea for teaching a course about female protagonists that enact violence during my final years at Lehigh University where during one’s last semester, one gets to develop a course based on their (yes, singular they.  I have a post coming about that in the next few weeks…) research interests.  This opportunity is a blessing in that it allows young scholars the chance to formulate ways to translate their research interests into a class for undergrads, not an easy task.  I learned many lessons teaching that course, and the one I learned the most resoundingly is that I wanted to continue with such an investigation.

I am lucky to have been hired at a place that wanted me to develop new courses in my field, and so I quickly developed a graduate level course on Postcolonial Theory and Texts and an undergraduate course called Women and Violence in Contemporary Literature and Texts.  Both were much needed courses as our offerings were just starting to reflect a strong showing of marginalized voices.

After much wrangling, I came to this course description:

“This course will investigate the complex relationship women around the world have with violence. Though formerly only regarded as those in need of protection, women who perpetrate violence have forced a shift in gender roles ascribed to violence. Looking at written and visual texts that depict women as both victims/survivors and perpetrators of violence will allow students to discuss the ways women’s shifting role in violent movements and in texts has changed both the gender ideology and political climate in a rapidly globalizing world. This course work will look at the ways women’s relationship to violence is constructed and question ideas that women are “naturally” non-violent. While this course does not condone the use of violence, it does study ways women use violent tactics to resist oppression, enact revenge, and find a voice.”

I probably say once a week that I am not advocating violence for resistance but asking students to consider what happens when we see only violence as a means of resisting oppression.

I will try to post more in depth what we do in the following weeks, but for now here is the list of course texts (since so many people ask for such lists to inspire their personal reading).


Woman at Point Zero

Hunger Games

Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

Gone Girl

Foxfire (Oates)

The Attack (Khadra)

Bitch Planet (1-5 collected)

…along with eight films I will share at a later date.

This week, we started the class by reading “When Women Become Terrorists” and CNN’s coverage of Tafsheen Malik.  The students discussed the ways she was described as a mother and wife–a “female” terrorist.  Quickly students started to see that the ways we consider terrorism are gendered–and we began to question why that matters.

The second day of the course we read one of my favorite essays, Katha Pollitt’s “Marooned on Gilligan’s Island” in which she argues against difference feminism.  In class we talked about the idea of the “earth mother” and I railed (just a bit) against the dumb idea that if women ruled the world, there would be no war.

This coming week is Mahasweta Devi’s “The Hunt” and Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl (I am pretty sure that sentence has never been composed before!).

Flynn’s work is a new addition this semester, along with Bitch Planet.  I am so giddy to add them both.

Thanks for reading.  Looking forward to sharing more in the coming weeks.



  1. marlanaesquire · · Reply


    LOVE! I thought about writing a post about this with the above stuff. What a great course!

  2. […] week I taught Bitch Planet‘s first volume (numbers 1-5) in my Women and Violence in Contemporary Texts course.  Some students had the hard copy.  Some brought their iPads.  A few read it on their […]

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