Second Update Re: 546 Working Women: New Course Description & Book Info

Dr. Horton has moved at light speed to put together a new description and reading list for ENGL 546. Here is the new description followed by the new book list:

According to a 2020 article in The Washington Post by Dr. Alicia Sesser Modestino, “one out of four women who reported becoming unemployed during the pandemic said it was because of a lack of child care — twice the rate among men.” In this course, we will turn to American literature to help us understand and dissect this alarming statistic.

The concept of American women in the workforce has seen many transformations from 1865 to the present due to various social and political movements. With the passing of the Emancipation Proclamation and the ending of the Industrial Revolution, the period around 1865 saw an increase of women taking positions outside of the domestic sphere. In 2020, as Modestino’s article demonstrates, we are seeing how social media and working from home adds another complex chapter to the history of working women in the United States. We will discuss the social, economic, and racial factors since 1865 that influenced women’s role in the American workforce. We will take a cultural studies approach to this topic – in addition to reading literature (fiction, short stories, poetry, biographies, and essays), we will examine scholarly and news articles, documentaries, films, television shows, and music to help us deconstruct the definitions of “women,” “working,” and “The United States.” We will interrogate the shifting definitions of the term “gender” and start with gender as a concept, a social construction reflecting differentials of power and opportunity.

The goal of this course is for students to understand the literature, history, and benchmarks of major events in the lives of women, as well as challenge American cultural conceptions of work. Throughout the semester, we will discuss the following questions:

  • What is your personal definition of “work”?
  • How does American culture privilege some forms of work while marginalizing others, specifically work performed by women of color?
  • How has the American definition of work changed from 1865 to the present, specifically with the influx of “work from home” positions?
  • What influence did the various waves of feminism have on the American workforce?
  • How do stereotypes of womanhood influence the types of careers women choose?
  • How does American literature reinforce and/or challenge stereotypes of working women?
  • What messages do children and teenagers receive about women’s role in the workforce?

Required Texts:

For students who may not want to buy the physical books, most of these are available for free online or through your local library.

  • Wilson, Harriet. Our Nig: Sketches from the Life of a Free Black. ISBN-13: 978-0486445618
  • Hurst, Fannie. Imitation of Life: ISBN-13: 978-0822333241
  • Martin, Ann M. Kristy’s Great Idea. ISBN-13: 978-1743813294
  • Tademy, Lalita. Cane River. ISBN-13: 978-0446615884
  • Weisberger, Lauren. The Devil Wears Prada: A Novel. ISBN-13: 978-0767914765
  • Cisneros, Sandra. The House on Mango Street. ISBN: ISBN-13: 978-0679734772
  • Ng, Celeste. Little Fires Everywhere. ISBN-13: 978-0735224315

A Netflix account is also required, as we will watch a few documentaries and television shows on this platform. Other texts will be available on Blackboard as PDFs.

Recommended but not required texts:

  • Carey, Elaine. Women Drug Traffickers: Mules, Bosses, and Organized Crime. ISBN-13: 978-0826351982
  • Ware, Susan. Modern American Women: A Documentary History, Second Edition. ISBN: 978-0072418200.
  • Baxandall, Rosalyn Fraad, and Linda Gordon. America’s Working Women: A Documentary History, 1600 to the Present. ISBN: 039303653

There is still one open seat in the course, so anyone who isn’t in the course now and finds this interesting should consider grabbing the last seat. You can add/drop courses from your schedule without issue up until the semester begins on 1/20.