Thursday, May 14, 2020

Capstone Project in WGSS ๐ŸŽ“


SPECULATIVE FICTION THROUGH A FEMINIST LENS
- Pretend Syllabus Capstone Project -
Charlotte Victoria | Senior Seminar in WGSS | Dr. Pabรณn | May 13, 2020

Course Description


This course will examine several works of speculative fiction (including fantasy, science-fiction, mystery, horror, and any combination thereof) across media as it relates to gender, race, sexuality, disability, and class. We will look at ways in which marginalized bodies are presented in these alternate-world narratives, and observe changes in representation over time, from the negative to the nonexistent, then onward to the currently burgeoning cultural consciousness of the need for inclusive content, specifically within these genres.
We will discuss what it is about the genres of speculative fiction that have eked out for it such a uniquely important place in the world, as well as the unique challenges that the genres face to be “taken seriously,” and how such challenges tie into feminist concerns. Modern speculative fiction was invented by a woman, after all. The course will aim to guide students from a foundation of what is familiar to them, so there will be opportunities to explore their own interests independently of the assigned texts. The major question this course will ask is what would it mean to raise a generation of spec fic consumers for whom inclusive materials were the norm?


Course Objectives


By the end of this course, students will come away with an understanding and appreciation of feminism’s long-standing position within the genres of speculative fiction, be able to analyze and question works of speculative fiction through a feminist lens.


Credit Hours: 3
Course Texts:
Bodyminds Reimagined by Sami Schalk (Duke University Press)
• Gender Identity and Sexuality in Current Fantasy and Science Fiction, edited by Francesca T Barbini (Academia Lunare)

Grading
Attendance & Participation: 30 points
Intro Presentation: 10 points
Blog Posts: 75 points (must complete 15 @ 5 each)
Midterm Paper: 35 points
Final Project: 50 points
Total: 200 points


Attendance & Participation
Each class session is worth 1 attendance point. Late arrivals lose half a point. You can have 2 unexplained absences. After that, doctor notes are classist but please be in touch about your absence. Please try to contribute to class discussions at least a few times over the semester, even if it is hard to do so. Several class sessions are marked with content warnings for various potential triggers; if you are unable to participate in that class, please notify the instructor in advance and you will be excused without loss of points. Please do not take advantage of this system. It is here to protect and support students who need it.


Academic Integrity
Academic integrity is taken extremely seriously. The instructor is required to report any instances of plagiarism. Please cite sources thoroughly.


Assignments
Intro Presentations: Put together a 5-10-minute presentation (slideshow, talk with visual aids, anything you want) about how specific works of speculative fiction have helped form your feminist awareness. What draws you to speculative fiction? Why does it make you happy, and why is it such an effective means of expression? You may wish to refer to your blog post from Week One for inspiration! This presentation must be accompanied by a 1-2 page reflection to be submitted by the end of the presentations. 


Blog Posts: Students will be required to write 15 blog posts on the Course Blog throughout the semester, logging their experiences and opinions of the course texts. Blog posts will be due at 11:59pm on the day the respective class meets. You can post them either before or after the class discussion. There are 17 total blog post opportunities. You may complete a 16th and 17th blog post for extra credit (up to 10 points) to be applied elsewhere.


Midterm Paper: Write a persuasive essay about spec fic’s practical applications to Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies and/or the feminist movement in general. You must include at least one academic article and one work of spec fic. If you are basing your arguments on works not listed on the syllabus, please send them to me for prior approval at least two weeks before the due date. Papers should be 4 pages long, double-spaced, and set in Times New Roman at 12-point font size and 1” margins. MLA citations are preferred.


Final Project: Choose your own adventure! For their final project, students will be required to submit one of the following:
  • A storyboard or summary and sample chapter for a work of original feminist speculative fiction, accompanied by a 4-page statement of intent from each student participating in working on the project
  • A traditional academic paper on a topic to be approved in advance by the instructor, 8-10 pages; I suggest more in-depth looks at works mentioned in our course texts
Students opting to do a creative project must submit a proposal and have it approved. They may work as a group or individually. All final papers (for either choice) should be double-spaced, and set in Times New Roman at 12-point font size and 1” margins. MLA citations are preferred.
Schedule


Week One: Introduction to Major Concepts
Blog: Write a 300-word blog post about a piece of speculative fiction (any medium) that you feel has been a force of liberation in your real life (or has been a force to the opposite effect). Please also include how you personally perceive the difference between science-fiction and fantasy (you are not being graded on rightness regarding these definitions, so only write your own ideas here).
Read: “A Book Review: Gender Identity and Sexuality in Current Fantasy and Science Fiction” by Päivi Väätänen (2017)


Week Two (a) and (b): Intro Presentations
We will be sharing our intro presentations all week!


Week Three (a): What Is “Classic” Speculative Fiction?
In-Class Exercise: Write a list of every speculative fiction author you can think of in 5 minutes. We will then take turns sharing our answers to compile a master list as a class.
Read: “Women in science fiction: If Mary Shelley invented the genre why are so few female sci-fi writers household names?” by David Barnett 
Read: “Mary Shelley: Meet the Teenage Girl who Invented Science-Fiction” by Whitney Milam


Week Three (b): a Classic Turned on Its Head
Read: “Lesbian Representation in the Vampire Classic Carmilla” by Alice Burton
Watch: Carmilla Season 1 (you can continue watching Carmilla if you would like!)


Week Four (a): Women’s Utopian Writing
Read: “Inclusion and Exclusion in Some Feminist Utopian Fictions by Karen” F. Stein
Read: “The Book of Martha” by Octavia Butler
Read: Chapter 6 from Herland by Charlotte Perkins Gilman


Week Four (b): ‘Realism’ and Dystopia in Speculative Fiction [CW: rape, gender violence]
Read: “Subversion, Sex, and Violence: Rape as Narrative Tool in ‘A Song of Ice and Fire’” by Lorraine Reuser
Read: “'Game of Thrones': Why Missandei's Death in Episode 4 Is Causing Controversy” by Meaghan Darwish
Watch: Warbringers: Sylvanas
Blog: Classic mystery/horror writer Edgar Allan Poe wrote in his essay “The Philosophy of Composition” that “the death, then, of a beautiful woman is, unquestionably, the most poetical topic in the world” (Poe). How do you see this philosophy continuing to dictate the way stories are told even today? What purpose(s) do we see the death of and violence against women serve in speculative narratives?


Week Five (a): Mid-Century Feminist Science-Fiction Part 1
Read: “The Image of Women in Science-Fiction” by Joanna Russ
Read: “Speculative Fiction and Black Lesbians” by Jewelle Gomez
Blog: Write a blog post responding to the following quote from Jewelle Gomez’s article: Black lesbians, feeling triply targeted as Black, female, and lesbian (each of which also is affected by class), have perspectives that may compete with one another for literary and political focus” (Gomez). You may use either further material from this or other articles, base your response upon lived experience, or both.


Week Five (b): Mid-Century Feminist Science-Fiction Part 2
Read: “Is Gender Necessary?/ Redux” by Ursula K. LeGuin
Read: The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. LeGuin
Blog: LeGuin’s The Left Hand of Darkness deals with androgynous worlds full of people who variably go through male and female stages and are not treated differentially when in any of their three sexual states of being. Explain in your blog post why it is important for feminist speculative fiction to get in the weeds of what might be considered outlandish or uncomfortable in other forums.


Week Six (a): What about Children’s Media?
Read: (or watch a video of someone reading—they’re all over YouTube) Izzy Gizmo by Pip Jones, Not Quite Narwhal by Jessie Sima, and Neither by Airlie Anderson
Read: “Doll Parts: Reflections of the Feminine Grotesque in Frances Hardinge’s Cuckoo Song and Neil Gaiman’s Coraline” By Kim Lakin-Smith
Blog: When was the first time a character who had an ability that made them extraordinary in some way reminded you of yourself? When was the first time you felt surprised by a character being cast as a body you didn’t expect to see there? What do you think it will be like for children of the next generation or so to grow up with more intentional representation, and why is this representation so important to the speculative genres in particular?


Week Six (b): Harry Freaking Potter [CW: queer erasure, TERF philosophies, exocitization of Asian women]
Read: “New Book Reveals Political Impact of 'Harry Potter' Series on Millennials” by University of Vermont
Read: “Dumbledore Won’t Be Explicitly Gay in Fantastic Beasts 2—but Why?” by Laura Bradley
Read: “To J. K. Rowling from Cho Chang” by Rachel Rostad
Read: “‘To J. K. Rowling from Cho Chang” by Mordicai Knode 
Blog: Harry Potter has been kind of a mixed bag in the scope of its feminist applications. Was there a work of speculative fiction that helped develop your social awareness? At what point do you have to diverge and go beyond what it taught you? (This work can—but doesn’t have to be—Harry Potter.)


Week Seven (a): Juvenile & YA Literature
Read: Rick Riordan Presents: Read an excerpt of imprint debut Aru Shah and the End of Time
Read: Tomi Adeyemi on Epic Sequel Children of Virtue and Vengeance
Blog: Why does spec fic lend itself so well to building empathy? Respond to the quote from Tomi Adeyemi in the interview: “I had a friend say, ‘What if Harry Potter had been black?’ If the Boy Who Lived was black, then does Trayvon Martin get shot? Because that’s someone you empathize with. Fought for. Cried for. Someone you feel like you’ve gone into battle with. And that extends to the person you see and say, ‘Oh, that guy looks like Harry.’ Humans are that simple.” 


Week Seven (b): the Dead Lesbian List [CW: death of WLW characters]
Read: “GLAAD Report: 2016 Was A Year Of Representation But Also, Mostly, Murder For Lesbians On TV” by Heather Hogan
Read: “Bury Your Gays: History, Usage, and Context”
Peruse: How "Lexa Deserved Better" Became A Rallying Cry For Positive LGBT Representation by Sarah Karlan
In-Class Exercise: Write a list of LGBTQ characters whose creators see them through to a happy ending.
Blog: In 2015 and 2016, the global WLW community placed great trust in the creators of The 100, and were sorely shocked and disappointed by the unexpected killing of Lexa. Why do you think it’s so easy and attractive for marginalized people to place their trust in speculative works?


Week Eight (a): Motherhood & Other Approved Gender Roles in Spec Fic
Read: “The Pram and the Portal: Motherhood as Depicted in Science-Fiction Literature” by Rym Kechacha
Read: “What about Tauriel? From Divine Mothers to Active Heroines — The female roles in J. R. R. Tolkien’s Legendarium and Peter Jackson’s movie adaptations” by Jyrki Korpua
Blog: Can you think of an example (or more than one) of a woman in a role we would call nontraditional for her gender who is not punished for her divergence? How does speculative fiction help its consumers challenge binaristic thinking?


Week Eight (b): Bisexuality in Speculative Fiction
Read: “Badass Bisexual Babes: Shameless Titillation or Empowered Characters Embracing Their True Selves and Sexuality?” By Hazel Butler
Read: “Finding Bisexuality in Fiction” by Robyn Ochs
Blog: Why is it or isn’t the quantity of bisexual representation in spec fic (particularly fantasy and science-fiction) surprising to you?


Week Nine (a): Masculinity in Speculative Fiction
Read: “Where Are All the Queer Men in Sci-Fi?” by Ross Johnson
Watch: The Fantastic Masculinity of Newt Scamander by Pop Culture Detective
Blog: According to Pop Culture Detective, the New York Post said that Newt Scamander was “not a very engaging lead” (McIntosh). Johnson writes, “it’s honestly quite a bit harder to come up with books lead by queer male-identified characters, particularly when we’re talking about science fiction. (Somehow, queer men slide into fantasy worlds rather more easily than they make it onto spaceships.)” (Johnson). Why do you think fantasy welcomes a wider range of masculinity than science-fiction? How, in your experience, has spec fic offered feminist interventions into masculinity?


Week Nine (b): Armor :|
Read: “Bikini Armour: women characters, readers and writers in male narratives” By Anna Millon
Peruse: “Thirteen Types of Ridiculous Female Armor In MMORPGs” by Patricia Hernandez
Watch: “Female Armor in Games” video
Exercise: Examine/ interact with a fantasy show, movie, or game and make notes on the differences between what characters of different genders are wearing. Are specific characters in positions of authority? Are all characters of a single gender dressed in ways that seem unrealistic? What types of bodies are dressed in “bikini armor?” Are members of the same gender, but with bodies that look different, even represented?


Week Ten (a): Black Women’s and Nonbinary Speculative Fiction Part 1
Read: “The Future of Bodyminds, Bodyminds of the Future” by Sami Schalk
Read: “Reimagining Ourselves” by Sami Schalk
Read: “Where to Start with Octavia Butler” by Colleen Gibson
Watch: “Octavia E. Butler – Changing Science-Fiction”


Week Ten (b): Black Women’s and Nonbinary Speculative Fiction Part 2
XP: Read “Descent” by Beetle Bailey
Blog: In “Reimagining Ourselves,” Schalk comes to the conclusion that in Black Panther, “disability has been eliminated in Wakanda” (Schalk). So much of speculative fiction deals with the future or with alternate timelines; how does how we locate marginality within these frameworks define a work’s power over wider cultural beliefs? How can we, like Schalk, better learn to apply a more intersectional hermeneutic to spec fic, even works we consider progressive, and why is that important?


Week Eleven (a): Feminist Horror: Oxy-Moron or Essential Art? [CW: racist depictions of Black people]
Read: “We're in a Golden Age of Black Horror Films” by Robin R. Means Coleman
Read: “Critics Survey: What does ‘feminist horror’ mean to you?” by Seventh Row Editors
Blog: Robin R. Means Coleman expounds upon the long and often racist legacy of Black characters in horror films. Alex Heeney writes that horror can be feminist because it “makes visible the invisible.” Jessica Parant argues that “feminist horror gives legitimacy and a voice to the monstrous feminine by allowing women to express where their deepest and darkest internal struggles take them” (Seventh Row). Do you think it’s possible for horror to walk this fine line to be empowering to marginalized folks? Why or why not? Support your arguments with quotes from these or other texts.


Week Eleven (b): Horror: Bodily Autonomy in Orphan Black [CW: violence, suicide, rape, self-harm]
Read: “Five Feminist Reasons to Binge Watch Orphan Black” by Sara Vlemmings
Read: Contemporary Feminism in Orphan Black (2013-2016) by T. K. Ashlyn Chak
Watch: Orphan Black in 4 minutes” on BBC America’s YouTube
Blog: Think back to Sami Schalk’s comments on how “disability has been eliminated in Wakanda” (Schalk). It is clear that Orphan Black endeavored to present progressive content on the axis of sex and gender. How is a human cloning trial an effective framework for feminist sci-fi? In what ways did Orphan Black succeed and fail to live up to feminist ideals? If you are unfamiliar with the show, try watching some more scenes! Look at the way(s) in which characters of color, LGBTQ characters, and disabled characters are treated and how you expect the audience is supposed to feel about them.


Week Twelve (a): Feminist Worldbuilding Part 1
Read: “The Myth of Meritocracy and the Reality of the Leaky Pipe and Other Obstacles in Science Fiction & Fantasy” by Juliet E McKenna
Peruse: Fantasy Worldbuilding Questions by Patricia C. Wrede
Exercise: Take notes on Wrede’s guide to worldbuilding. What surprised you? Make sure to bring your notes to class for today’s discussion!


Week Twelve (b): Feminist Worldbuilding Part 2
XP: Read “For Fantasy Author N. K. Jemisin, World-Building Is a Lesson in Oppression” by Jason Parham and ↓↓↓
XP: Watch video of Jemisin’s talk for Wired, which is embedded in the article
XP: Read “The Ones who Walk Away from Omelas” by Ursula K. LeGuin
In-Class Exercise: We will be plotting out feminist spec fic worlds and/or worlds for feminist spec fic narratives (Omelas is not a feminist world, but it is critical to a piece of feminist writing), so definitely familiarize yourself with Wrede’s guide to worldbuilding!


Week Thirteen (a): 50 Years of Doctor Who
Read: “For Black Doctor Who Fans, the TARDIS Is a Legendary, Loaded Image” by Constance Gibbs
Read: “The Doctor Who Toolkit: Feminism” by Amanda Neumann
Blog: In The Left Hand of Darkness, Ursula LeGuin wrote a world where androgyny was the norm, and male and female states were accessible by all so that no one sex or gender was privileged above any others. How do you think the changes to Who lore (e.g., Time Lords changing sex and gender during Regeneration) brought about in Modern Who stand up to this legacy? and/or Write a blog post describing an ideal feminist “14th Doctor.” Describe the appearance (gender, race, ability, accent, etc.), personality/attitudes (for example, Doctor Who is a pro-British-culture program that never quite addresses the UK’s culpability in the global history of colonialism), and abilities the Time Lord’s next incarnation needs to encompass in order to keep up with the show’s intentional move toward more progressive content.


Week Thirteen (b): Trans Identity in Speculative Fiction
Read: “Tipping the Fantastic: How the Transgender Tipping Point Has Influenced Speculative Fiction” By Cheryl Morgan
Read: “This Made Me Realize Why Nonbinary Representation Is So Important” by HelloFlo
Read: “9 Characters That Destroy Traditional Gender Roles” by Buffy Flores
Listen: Transcendental: an Exploration of affinity, fiction, and identity formation by Elliott Eminizer


Week Fourteen (a) Indigeneity & Decolonization in Speculative Fiction
Read: “7 Books That Explore the Many Worlds of Indigenous Science Fiction & Fantasy” by Ross Johnson
Read: Future Home of the Living God by Louise Erdrich Review – a Fable for Our 
Times” by Louise Welsh
Read: “Five Fantasy Books by Native Authors to Combat J.K. Rowling's ‘History of Magic in North America” by Monique Jones
Read: “Native Authors Invade Sci-Fi: Indigenous Writers are Reshaping Speculative Fiction” by James Ring Adams
Blog: How do you see Indigenous writers using their unique experiences, histories, and positionalities to tell compelling speculative stories? How might the well-established links between sci-fi and futurism be important from a decolonial standpoint? Consider Dillon’s “five subgenres of what she calls ‘Indigenous futurisms’” (Adams) in your response.


Week Fourteen (b) Diverse Ability in Speculative Fiction
Read: “Defamiliarizing (Dis)ability, Race, Gender, and Sexuality” by Sami Schalk
Read: “Disability, Race, and Gender in Speculative Fiction” by Grace Gipson
Read: “I Belong Where the People Are: Disability and The Shape of Water” by Elsa Sjunneson-Henry
Read: “Q&A With Day Al-Mohamed on Fantasy and Queer Disabled Representation”
Blog: Day Al-Mohamed says in her interview that “There is still a view of a future that does not include people with disabilities. Whether that is through “cure” or simply invisibility, it doesn’t matter, the problem is our right to exist. We aren’t seen now, so being seen in an imagined future can be even more difficult.” How does can a work of speculative fiction represent disabled bodies while staying faithful to the likelihood that futurisms include medical advances that might, as Schalk says, eliminate disability? Why do you think disability so often coincides with other axes of identity and especially marginality in spec fic?


Week Fifteen (a) and (b): Class Choice
During the last week of class, we will decide in advance what to talk about as a class. Alternatively, students may bring in a feminist spec fic “artifact” and be prepared to explain and discuss it.


Final Exam Period

We will share our final projects!



Speculative Fiction through a Feminist Lens | Rationale for Syllabus

I wanted to create this syllabus because I would just die to take a class like this. I always felt like a weirdo because it was my love of fantasy and sci-fi (and specifically, my own personal science-fantasy project) that brought me to WGSS and New Paltz. I always thought it was an odd little coincidence that there was so much going on with WLW characters in the genre pieces I consumed. It was only when I got here that I realized feminism has had an active hand in the shaping of speculative fiction since its inception. Feminism, like the genres of speculative fiction, pushes the boundaries of what is possible by constantly imagining differently and better. It’s not an escape: it’s a blueprint, and that’s a really important difference.
Like a lot of LGBTQ people, I realized my queer identity through speculative fiction. In spec fic, boundaries that exist in the real world may not exist in a faraway land or on the deck of a spaceship that is many lightyears and eons removed from the here and now. But what I’ve learned is that smart speculative fiction doesn’t shy away from oppressive histories. You can build any future or alternative reality that you want, but it’s still going to be a commentary on the real world. Feminist speculative fiction leans into this task.
One of the things that I love [read: don’t love] most about being perceived as a girl nerd is constantly being challenged by male spec fic enthusiasts trying to discredit me, and I know that this happens to a lot of people. That’s why I chose to start things off with Mary Shelley, the daughter of Mary Wollstonecraft, who wrote A Vindication for the Rights of Woman in 1792. There isn’t, to my knowledge, a coincidence of age and gender more maligned than the Teenage Girl, and yet a teenage girl, daughter to protofeminist Wollstonecraft, invented the genre of science-fiction when she wrote Frankenstein; or, the Modern Prometheus in the early 1800s. It’s really important to me that men understand this when they yell at me for wearing a 12-foot replica of the Fourth Doctor’s scarf in public because I “don’t know enough.”
While I was assembling my syllabus, I was aware that I wasn’t representing everyone; that’s not possible, although I did my best. I also became aware of how much smaller my view of speculative fiction is. But as I discovered more and more pieces on representation in spec fic, particularly science-fiction, it became easy to remember why I was doing this.
Also important to consider is not only how feminism has helped to shape speculative fiction, but how speculative fiction has helped to shape and direct feminism. They are forever intertwined; so much of feminist literature is speculative.
I wanted to reconcile a need for historical context with a complete lack of desire to dwell in the past for too long; instead of adhering to a linear chronology, I’ve done my best to tie history into each module of the class. For instance, I tied the history of the “bury your gays” trope to the enduring legacy of killing of WLW, particularly well exemplified in the dumpster fire that was 2016.
Although students don’t have to choose a creative undertaking as their final project, I do want to put them at least once into the shoes of a speculative fiction creator. That’s why I set aside an entire week for worldbuilding, the process not only of mapping out physical places, but of choosing the laws and limitations in which a creator plans to work, deciding what social problems exist (especially, in a feminist context, how they inform on real-life issues), and more. There is a 2-hour video of Black woman fantasist and sci-fi writer N. K. Jemisin giving a brilliant workshop to this effect during the worldbuilding module on the syllabus.
I would try to pirate as many PDFs and send as many links as possible, but I do want students of this course to have two physical books with them throughout the semester because the class will involve reading most, if not all, of both. The first is Bodyminds Reimagined by Sami Schalk (Duke University Press), and the second is Gender Identity and Sexuality in Current Fantasy and Science Fiction, edited by Francesca T Barbini (Academia Lunare). I chose these texts because they are rare and brilliant examples of how feminism interacts with the genres. In Bodyminds Reimagined, Schalk discusses groundbreaking things that her fellow marginalized spec fic writers are doing; Gender Identity and Sexuality in Current Fantasy and Science Fiction is a compilation of essays, mostly to the contrary. Both are full of really exciting insights, written by women, and important to consider.
There will be a lot of writing and reflection involved in this course; I really have enjoyed the use of blog posts in this class, so I’ve decided to borrow that. There are 17 blog post prompts throughout the semester, 15 of which are mandatory. 
The final project will either be an 8-10-page research paper on a topic of the student’s choice (pending instructor approval) or a creative project accompanied by a 1-2-page reflection.