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Women's Bodies, Women's Selves: Reading the Female Body in Contemporary American Literature, Art, and Film

ENGL 290.601
also offered as: COML 290, GSOC 290
W 5:30-8:30

“To men a man is but a mind. Who cares what face he carries or what form he wears?  But woman’s body is woman.” Almost a hundred years have passed since turn-of-the-century writer Ambrose Bierce composed these lines, but the question of whether women are more than their bodies is, if possible, an even more oft-asked one today. From the media’s increasing focus on the bodies of teenage celebrities to the raging abortion debates, from women writing about illness to women interrogating the beauty myths that define them, the topic of the female body remains an obsession in contemporary culture.  What can we make of this preoccupation with women’s bodies? How can we represent women’s bodies without objectifying them? Most importantly: How might women use their own bodies as a starting point for artistic expression? Can the body be used as a site for women’s thinking, feminist discourse, and activism?


In this course, we will take a multimedia approach to the female body through memoirs, essays, fiction, journalism, visual art, and film.  Possible works might include Lucy Grealy’s Autobiography of a Face, Lauren Slater’s Prozac Diary, Susan Sontag’s Illness as Metaphor, Naomi Wolf’s The Beauty Myth, Emily Martin’s The Woman in the Body, Diane DiPrima’s Brass Furnace Going Out, Audre Lorde’s Cancer Journals, and Eve Ensler’s The Vagina Monologues. Approaching this material from a diversity of theoretical approaches, we will cover fundamental issues such as pop cultural representations of women’s bodies, race and the female body, women and beauty, abortion and women’s health, aging, sex, motherhood, the place of the body in feminist discourse, and physical and mental illness.  


fulfills requirements
Elective of the Standard Major
Sector 2: Difference and Diaspora of the Standard Major
Sector 6: 20th Century Literature of the Standard Major