Changing Our Minds: Feminist Transformations of Knowledge

By Susan Hardy Aiken; Karen Anderson et al. | Go to book overview
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JERROLD E. HOGLE


6. Teaching the Politics of Gender in Literature:
Two Proposals for Reform,
With a Reading of Hamlet

I

As the redoubtable Newsweek would have it, the mainstreaming of women's issues and women's writing into university courses on literature means "adding female authors to [class] reading lists" and is therefore "easy enough" for instructors who know the requisite books and poems. 1 Such a method, alongside separate courses on women in Western thought, is indeed fairly common nationwide when literature faculties make any effort at all to deal with the new scholarship on women. Still, like the notion of a segregated course, this recipe is a resistance to full-scale change. It almost invariably says "mix, but don't stir"; it assumes that there are "women's concerns" within the spheres and writings of women that need to be addressed but need not necessarily touch or alter the spheres and concerns of men. If a professor of literature teaching a survey course, say, shifts (as I once did) to the problem of female identity only in Wuthering Heights (often the token piece by a woman author in a survey of British literature ), Catherine Earnshaw's fragmentation by male-dominated and male-serving models for female behavior 2 can easily seem an isolated phenomenon, an aberration in the works of the "great literary canon." Other books in the course, and even parts of Emily Bronte's centered on men alone, can remain divorced from the issue of gender restrictions as though such boundary lines affect only women or, for that matter, only some women characters in some books by some women authors. How can such an approach

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