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Alien Feminism

Alien Feminism

Why is it that when we think about the genre of science fiction our minds automatically go to Star Wars or Star Trek? It’s 2019 and yet our society, American society that is, is still seduced by the galactic fantasies of white colonialization. With all that feminism has taught us over the years we are still focusing our attention on sci-fi movies such as Star Wars and Star Trek. With so many feminist sci-fi writers such as Octavia Butler and Ursula k. Le Guin we are not focused on their work which actually represents real world problems, such as racism, sexism, and classism, and instead are continuing to glorify colonialism.

Many college English and literature classes focus their readings on the literary canon, focusing on writers such as Shakespeare, Chaucer, and Hawthorne. Therefore, much of the assigned readings for classes and papers are centered around white male authors. Contemporary literature that features authors of various genders (because gender is a spectrum) and races are not often available to undergraduate and even graduate college students. It is important though for the future of our educational system and society to include more college courses that focus on contemporary literature, allowing college students to engage with real societal issues such as race, gender, sexuality, and class.

Instead of turning to the literary cannon to fulfill all student’s literature classes, more contemporary classes should be offered. For example, contemporary science fiction. As mentioned above when we (and I mean we as a society) think of science fiction one of the first things that comes to mind is Star Wars. Because Star Wars has been portrayed in the media heavily over the last couple of decades it is no surprise that many of the youth and even adults focus their attention to the franchise. However, with such powerful female writers such as Butler and Le Guin why are we not popularizing their science fiction? By creating a college class that brings attention to female authors of different races and social backgrounds we can further educate students on political and social issues through a speculative and feminist lens.

In my syllabus, I designed a course called “Alien Feminisms” that would cater specifically to graduate students. The course is designed to introduce students to various female authors of contemporary, speculative science fiction so that they can thoroughly analyze the genre.

The goal of this course is to introduce graduate students to reading science fiction texts through a feminist scope. Before the 1970s the primary audience for science fiction texts (and movies) was white males. Female authors such as Octavia Butler and Ursula k. Le Guin transformed how we read not only science fiction but speculative texts as well. Because most sci-fi allegorizes social injustices, such as sexism, racism, classicism, and homophobia the genre allows for wider audience to be introduced into the larger conversation happening. Feminism plays a large role in sci-fi texts because all of the issues listed above are directly related to feminism. The objective goal of this course is not only to develop a critical understanding of sci-fi utilizing various theories, but to incorporate our own lived experiences to make these texts relatable. Equality in the classroom is essential to create a space where everyone feels comfortable sharing interpretations and personal experiences that relate to the texts. Even though it is impossible to entirely erase the inherit hierarchy that is formed in the classroom, the goal of this course is to attempt to create an equal environment. Because much of the science fiction texts we will be reading is speculative it is crucial to read through them all with a feminist lens.

 

State University of New York, College at Cortland

English Department

Alien Feminisms: The Depiction of Women in Contemporary Science Fiction

Course Overview

In this graduate level seminar, we will explore contemporary science fiction texts written by women. We will analyze speculative sci-fi texts through a feminist scope. Focusing our attention on novels written between the seventies and the turn of the century, we will analyze how social movements involving race, gender, class, and sexuality influence our cultural understanding of what constitutes as sci-fi. Some of the questions this course will attempt to answer is how do these sf texts change our understanding of feminism? Are women represented differently in these texts then they are today? Then they were forty years ago? Why is the term feminism still seen in an alienating way today? What is alien about it? Does our understanding of science fiction change when we incorporate feminism? Analyzing the differences between science fiction written by men and women during the revolutionary time of social movements will help us to understand why feminism is still considered to be “alien” and how these female writers changed not only our own growing perspectives on what feminism is but addresses a wider sf cultural audience as well. Themes looking at Afrofuturism, non-heteronormative sexualities, language politics, queer bildungsroman, and fantastical environments are only some of the elements this class will explore.

Required Texts

  • Joanna Russ, The Female Man
  • Nalo Hopkinson, Midnight Robber
  • Octavia Butler, Dawn
  • Marge Piercy, Woman on the Edge of Time
  • Ursula k. Le Guin, The Matter of Seggri
  • Suzette Haden Elgin, Native Tongue
  • Elizabeth A. Lynn, A Different Light
  • Virginia Kidd, Millennial Women (we will read excerpts)

Course Requirements

  • Participation (15%)
  • Blog Posts (15%)
  • Article Analysis (20%)
  • Discussion Leader (10%)
  • Final Project (30%)
  • Presentation (10%)

Assignments

Participation (15%)

Because this class is a discussion based seminar attendance and participation are crucial to develop our critical thinking and analytical understanding of these sci-fi texts. Participation can include asking questions on confusing part of the text, answering other student’s questions, bringing the class to a section of the text, referencing another student’s idea or blog post, actively listening, or commenting on someone’s blog post on the discussion forum.

Blog Posts (15%)

In addition to participating in class, each student is required to post a weekly blog on our discussion forum on Blackboard. Blog post should be between 250-500 words long. Each blog post should include a quote from that week’s reading, a well thought out interpretation of the deeper social meanings behind the text, and a question that will prompt a robust discussion in class. It is encouraged that student’s make connections between weekly reading assignments, outside scholarly essays, and life experiences to further develop our relationship to these texts. Blog posts will be due by noon on the day of class.

Article Analysis (20%)

At the beginning of the semester a sign-up sheet will be distributed to the class to pick a week that you would like to write your article analysis. For the week you choose you will find a scholarly, peer reviewed article that is in direct conversation with that week’s reading assignment. The article analysis should be roughly around 750 words (going over is fine). The purpose of this article analysis is to get you to engage deeply with the text, find further meaning outside of the text, and to gain experience in what is being said in the scholarly conversation surrounding feminism and contemporary science fiction. Article analysis’s will be due the beginning of class on the week you sign up.

Discussion Leader (10%)

For the week you chose to write your article analysis you will also be required to lead the discussion for that class time. Discussion leaders should spend 5-10 minutes talking about their article analysis, what they found interesting, what they wrote on, how it pertains to the class, etc. Then after discussing the article analysis the student should lead the class in discussion by asking questions, reading over blog posts, or leading an engaging activity.

Final Project (30%)

For the final project of the semester student’s will be required to write a short book chapter that utilizes the elements of feminist science fiction. Borrowing from the female authors we have read all semester, you will be responsible for researching what influenced these authors and will choose to either build a dystopian or utopian society. Over the course of this semester will collaboratively choose a topic to narrow our focus on and will each construct a chapter, ultimately creating one contemporary science fiction book that is relatable to our entire class. This is a creative writing assignment that will allow you to use a mixture of your imagination and understanding of what science fiction is. We will discuss as a class how long the assignment should be.

Presentation (10%)

At the end of the semester you will give a short 10-minute presentation on the book chapter you developed for the final project. Collectively the class will present their book chapters to a panel constituting of various professors and students of the English department. This will allow an opportunity for students to demonstrate their understanding of what contemporary science fiction is and how feminism plays a large role in its development as a genre.

Attendance

Because we only meet once a week, students are allowed two unexcused absences. More than two unexcused absences will reduce your final grade by one-third of a letter grade. If you know you will be missing class please email me in advance.

Plagiarism

This is a graduate level course and under no circumstance will plagiarism be tolerated. All assignments should be entirely your own. The purpose of this course is to develop your understanding and engagement with these texts, so by plagiarizing you will be failing to do so, subsequently failing the class.

Course Schedule

*The course schedule is subject to change based on the student’s interests*

Week 1- January 30th

Course Introduction / Student Introductions

Read- Susan Sontag, “The Imagination of Disaster”

No blog due

___________________________________________

Week 2- February 6th

Read- Russ, The Female Man

Russ, “The Image of Women in Science Fiction”

Blog due by noon

____________________________________________

Week 3- February 13th

The Politics of Gender, Sexuality, and Language

Read- Kidd, Millennial Women – Excerpts “Introduction” by Kidd, “The Song of N’Sardi-El” by Paxson, “Jubilee’s Story” by Lynn, and “Mab Gallen Recalled” by Wilder

Blog due by noon

_____________________________________________

Week 4- February 20th

Afrofuturism

Read- Butler, Dawn (half)

Caporaso, “Alien Evolutions(s) Race, Cyber-Sex and Genetic Engineering in Octavia Butler’s Xenogenesis Trilogy

Blog due by noon

______________________________________________

Week 5- February 27th

Read- Butler, Dawn (finish)

Eshun, “Further Considerations on Afrofuturism”

Blog due by noon

_______________________________________________

Week 6- March 6th

Read- Lynn, A Different Light

Blog due by noon

_______________________________________________

Week 7- March 13th 

Civil Rights and Linguistics

Read- Elgin, Native Tongue

Haraway, “A Cyborg Manifesto”

Blog due by noon

________________________________________________

Week 8-March 20th 

Spring Break

No class-spring break

________________________________________________

Week 9- March 27th

The SF Bildungsroman

Read- Hopkinson, Midnight Robber

Hall, “The Space Between in Space: Some Versions of the Bildungsroman in Science Fiction”

Blog due by noon

_________________________________________________

Week 10- April 3rd 

Queer SF

Read- Piercy, Woman on the Edge of Time

Hollinger, “(Re)reading Queerly: Science Fiction, Feminism, and the Defamiliarization of Gender”

Blog due by noon

__________________________________________________

Week 11- April 10th 

Prep for presentations

Draft of final project due

__________________________________________________

Week 12- April 17th

Queer SF

Read- Le Guin, The Matter of Seggri

Keilty, “Tabulating Queer: Space, Perversion, and Belonging”

Blog due by noon

___________________________________________________

Week 13- April 24th

Prep for presentations

Peer Review each other’s chapters

Second draft of final project due

____________________________________________________

Week 14- May 1st

Presentations

____________________________________________________

Week 15- May 8th 

Reflections on the semester

____________________________________________________

Final project is due by 5/15

 

(Title image courtesy of simisi1 from Pixabay)

 

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