ENGL 555 A: Feminist Theories

Re/visioning “Feminist Theory”

Meeting Time: 
TTh 1:30pm - 3:20pm
DEN 259
Alys Weinbaum
Alys Eve Weinbaum

Syllabus Description:

Zoom link for seminar and office hours



Re/visioning Feminist Theory

Professor Alys Weinbaum


This course explores how feminist theorists return to earlier work/formulations (by other feminist theorists and sometimes their own) in order to revise understanding of the central questions that animate feminism and envision new forms of critique—of power, politics, political economy, governmentality, sex/gender systems, racial formations, subjectivity, epistemology, and what has ubiquitously come to be referred to as “intersectionality.”  Put otherwise, this quarter we will explore re/vision as a feminist theoretical method and political praxis that articulates (in the sense of joins) theory and politics, and elaborates (in the sense of expands and expounds) feminism as a sociocultural and sociopolitical imaginative project that has been transformed across time. 

Ideally this course will provide a deepened understanding of a selection of feminist offerings from the late 1970s and early 1980s through to the present--though this course is not designed as a survey of so-called Second and/or Third Wave feminism (is such a course possible?) or as a canon building exercise meant to cement the centrality of feminist “classics” or “foundational” texts.  I have not selected readings because I agree with them, or even especially like them, but because they make me think or somehow challenge me.  With this in mind, I characterize this course as having a twofold aim:  1) to (re)turn to particular, writings--some widely read, many now historical, and others less well known--to inhabit or sit with them long enough to appreciate their complex mediation of the context in which they were written and thus the questions (and sometimes the events) into which they sought to intervene;  and, 2) to understand how feminist re/vision expands upon and/or potentially forecloses insights afforded by earlier offerings. In short this course provides neither a progress narrative nor an account of successive waves but rather a portrait of intellectual and political complexity and negotiation. Overall, as we move through readings we will build a genealogical understanding of debates and questions as we seek to understand where, when, and how particular thinkers entered a discussion, how debates unfolded (or, perhaps, how they were dropped or disavowed), and, not least, how feminist theory is necessarily conditioned by, and often has value attributed to it based upon the circumstances in which it is produced and those in which it is received.


Note on the schedule of readings

Please note that readings are subject to change to keep the seminar responsive to emergent concerns and evolving emphases.  It is your responsibility to keep abreast of all changes and to come to each class properly prepared.  Changes will be discussed in class and announced on Canvas.  Some supplementary/alternative materials are already listed on the syllabus and included in the Canvas “files.”


Note on getting the reading done

I’ve tried to keep the reading to roughly 50-100 pages per class meeting.  I’d suggest rather than doing the readings the night prior to class you read and reread throughout the week.  This leaves you time to digest what you have read and also to write up notes for yourself and our discussion board (see below).  I realize that it is hard to pace oneself in this way with all the myriad things on our plates, but I hope you will try this alternative practice.  I’m always attempting it myself!


Some readings to get you going

I have drawn on a range of authors as I’ve developed my understanding of the titular concept metaphor for this course:  “Feminist Re/vision.”  It may help you to check these out in order to get a sense of the thought process behind the syllabus.  We will not dedicate a seminar to these texts, but can always bring them in as we go, if we choose.


Patricia Hill Collins, “The Social Construction of Black Feminist Thought” (1989)

Grace Hong, “The Future of Our Worlds:  Black Feminism and the Politics of Knowledge in the University Under Globalization”(2008)

Roderick Ferguson, The ReOrder of Things: The University and its Pedagogies of Minority Difference (2012)

Robyn Wiegman, “Love and Repudiation in the Feminist Canon” and other essays collected in Jennifer C. Nash and Samantha Pinto eds., “Stories that Matter Now:  Feminist Classics and Feminist Desire in the Contemporary Classroom,” special issue of Feminist Formations 32.1 (Spring 2020)


Schedule of Readings and Assignments

Week 1

Thurs, Sept 30

Introduction to seminar



Week 2 

Tues, Oct 5

Jack Halberstam, “Gender” from Keywords for American Studies (2007)

Luce Irigaray, “This Sex Which is Not One”; “The Power of Discourse and the Subordination of the Feminine”; “Women on the Market”; “Commodities among Themselves”; “When Our Lips Speak Together” from This Sex Which is Not One (1977)

Thurs, Oct 7

Judith Butler, Chapter 1: “Subjects of Sex/Gender/Desire” from Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity (1990)

Background and supplementary reading:

Sigmund Freud, “Some Anatomical Distinctions Between the Sexes” (1925) and “Femininity” (1933) 

Karl Marx, Chapter 1, Volume 1 of Capital

Judith Butler, Chapter 2 from Gender Trouble


Week 3

Tues, Oct 1

Gayle Rubin, “The Traffic in Women:  Notes on the Political Economy of Sex” (1975)

Thurs, Oct 14

Hortense Spillers, “Mama’s Baby, Papa’s Maybe:  An American Grammar Book” (1987)

Background reading:

Gayle Rubin with Judith Butler, "Interview:  Sexual Traffic" (1994) 

Barbara Christian, "A Race for Theory" (1987)


Week 4

Tues, Oct 19

Audre Lorde, “I am Your Sister:  Black Women Organizing Across Sexualities” (1985)

Cathy Cohen, “Punks, Bulldaggers, and Welfare Queens:  The Radical Potential of Queer Politics?” (1997)

Thurs, Oct 21

Jack Halberstam, “An Introduction to Female Masculinity:  Masculinity without Men” from Female Masculinity (1998)

Marquis Bey, “The Trans*-ness of Blackness, and the Blackness of Trans*-ness” (2017)

Kai M. Green and Marquis Bey, “Where Black Feminist Thought and Trans* Feminism Meet:  A Conversation” (2017)

Background and supplementary reading:

Gayle Rubin, “Thinking Sex:  Notes for a Radical Theory of the Politics of Sexuality” (1984)

Evelynn Hammonds, “Black (W)holes and the Geometry of Black Female Sexuality” (1994)

Riley Snorton, “Introduction” and Chapter 2 “Trans Capable: Fungibility, Fugitivity, and the Matter of Being,” Black on Both Sides (2017)


Presenters week 4:  Laura and Jake


Week 5 

Tues, Oct 26

Andrea Long Chu, Females (2019)

Thurs, Oct 28

Maria Lugones, “Heterosexualism and the Colonial/Modern Gender System” (2007)

Supplementary readings:

Denise Ferreira da Silva, “Towards a Black Feminist Poethics:  The Quest(ion) or Blackness Towards the End of the World” (2014)

Neferti Tadiar, “Ground Zero” (2016)


Presenters week 5: Kait and Mica



Week 6 

Tues, Nov 2

The Combahee River Collective, “A Black Feminist Statement” (1977)

Kimberlé Crenshaw, “Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex:  A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory and Antiracist Politics” (1989)

Thurs, Nov 4

Jennifer Nash, “Introduction.  feeling black Feminism” and “a love letter from a critic, or notes on the intersectionality wars” from black feminism reimagined after intersectionality (2019)

Background and supplementary readings:

Kimberlé Crenshaw, “Mapping the Margins:  Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence against Women of Color” (1991)

Zillah Eisenstein, “Constructing a Theory of Capitalist Patriarchy and Socialist Feminism” (1978)

Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, How We Get Free:  Black Feminism and the Combahee River Collective (2017)


Presenters week 6: Anne and Missy


Week 7

Tues, Nov 9

Sirma Bilge, “The fungibility of intersectionality:  An Afropessimist reading” (2020)

Jasbir Puar, “ ‘I’d Rather Be a Cyborg Than a Goddess’:  Becoming Intersectional in Assemblage Theory” (2012)

Thur, Nov 11

Veterans Day, no class

Background reading:

Donna Haraway, "The Cyborg Manifesto"

Patricia Hill Collins and Sirma Bilge, Intersectionality (2020)


Presenters week 7: Kexin and Yixuan


Political Economy, Re/production, Revolution?

Week 8

Tues, Nov 16

Silvia Federici, “Introduction” and “The Accumulation of Labor and the Degradation of Women:  Constructing ‘Difference’ in the ‘Transition to Capitalism’” from Caliban and the Witch (2004)

Thurs, Nov 18

Silvia Federici, “Part I:  Theorizing and Politicizing Housework” (essays from 1975-1984) from Revolution at Point Zero:  Housework, Reproduction and Feminist Struggle

Evelyn Nakano Glenn, “From Servitude to Service Work:  Historical Continuities in the Racial Division of Paid Reproductive Labor” (1992)


Presenters week 8: Hannah and Kathleen


Week 9

Tues, Nov 23

Rhacel Salazar Parreñas, “Migrant Filipina Domestic Workers and the International Division of Reproductive Labor” (2000)

Melissa Wright, “The Dialectics of Stilled Life” from Disposable Women and Other Myths of Global Capitalism (2006)

Thurs, Nov 25

Thanksgiving break


Week 10

Tues, Nov 30

Tithi Bhattacharya, "How Not to Skip Class: Social Reproduction of Labor and the Global Working Class" from Social Reproduction Theory (2017)

Thurs, Dec 2

Nancy Fraser, Tithi Bhattacharya, Cinzia Arruzza et al.,  "Notes for a Feminist Manifesto” New Left Review (2018)


Week 11

Tues, Dec 7

Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, “Can there be a Feminist World?” (2015)


Thur, Dec 9

Joy James, “The Womb of Western Theory:  Trauma, Time Theft, and the Captive Maternal”


Course Logistics


PDFs of all readings are available in “files” on Canvas.  This said, you may want to purchase or arrange to loan digital or hard copies of works from which we will be treating excerpts so that you can set these within a wider frame.


Contact and office hours

If you wish to set up office hours or get in touch about any issue pertaining to this seminar, please contact me by email.  I will hold “open” (no appointment needed) office hours directly after seminar on Tuesdays (3:30-4:30).  I will also offer office hours on zoom, by appointment.  I will try to reply to email within 24 hours on week days.  Please do not expect response to email over weekends and holidays.


Email:  alysw@uw.edu

My office:  408B Padelford 


Possible change to remote

We will necessarily be flexible this quarter and thus prepared to move from face-to-face to zoom seminar as needed.  I may decide to move our seminar to zoom if someone in this class discovers they have been in close contact with a person who has tested positive for Covid and is awaiting a test result; if someone in this seminar tests positive for Covid; or if similar circumstances emerge in my household.  You should inform me immediately of any changes to your health situation so I can make any necessary changes to seminar format.  For more information see the University’s official policy at the end of this syllabus.


You should check your email at 12-noon prior to each scheduled meeting—I will send an announcement if our course format needs to be temporarily changed on a given day.  No announcement, no change.



For obvious reasons it is more important than ever to keep me informed of any absence and the reason for it prior to the seminar missed.  Contact me by email before seminar, as needed.


Religious accommodation

All requests for religious accommodation will be honored.  No formal request is required; however, I do ask that you notify me of the dates you will be unable to join us at the start of the quarter so that we may work out a plan for you to make up missed work. 


Seminar expectations

I usually start class with a brief framing of the day’s readings.  If there is a presentation my framing will be shorter.  The majority of our seminar time will involve collaborative working through of assigned materials. Consequently, a significant portion of your work for seminar is preparation for and participation in seminar discussion.  I expect all students to be prepared to enter the discussion each time we meet.  This means preparing questions and comments to raise in seminar. Once a week you will post some portion of these to the discussion board (see below).  I do not expect you to have mastered the readings prior to arriving in class, but you should have read and engaged with all materials to the best of your ability and should thus be prepared to discuss specific passages and ideas that perplexed or intrigued you, and to explore the connections among texts.  In short, you don’t need to “get” an entire reading in order to be fully prepared to enter discussion and to engage in collaborative inquiry.



Students will work in pairs to bring deeper understanding of the week’s readings to the group during one week of the course.  This will require 1) some background research on assigned readings (for instance, reading the “supplementary readings,” checking out the books from which texts are excerpted, exploring other works by the author(s), and/or reading key works cited by them); and  2) preparing questions about texts and the relationships among them to share with the seminar and spark our discussion.  The idea is to practice shaping the direction of the seminar by learning to carefully contextualize and plan how best to open up group engagement with the readings.  We will discuss presentations as we go, and will trouble shoot as needed.


Discussion posts

Each week I will create a new discussion board on Canvas.  Everyone should post at least one weekly question or comment (200-300 words) about the readings on either Monday or Wednesday evening (and thus in advance of our seminar meetings).  I’ll read posts in advance of class as this helps me to create useful framing each time we meet.  Please honor the request not to post last minute.  The earlier you post the more time I will have to engage your ideas.


Course papers

You may choose one of the following three options to fulfill the main writing requirement for this course. 

All final papers (or second papers) for this course are due on Monday December 13th, at 12-noon, unless you negotiate an extension in advance.  Other deadlines are hard and are noted below.  Send all papers to my email as regular word docs.  No PDFs.


Option One:  Write two essays (7 pages each, double-spaced) that explore a cluster of readings and the dialogue that emerges amongst them.   The first essay is due at the end of Week 5 and must cover readings drawn from the first section of the course (Weeks 1-5); the second essay is due Dec 13th and should treat a cluster of texts from either the second or third sections of the course.   These essays should offer close engagement with the text(s) in question (3-4 texts should be treated) and should engage the central claims of each.  Essays may focus on one or more of the following:  Re/vision; relationships of theoretical overlap and antagonism; divergence in methodology, style, and political stakes.  Your essays should make clear what you found most useful and most limiting about the readings in relation to questions we are currently treating in seminar, or in relation to a research question you already have underway.


Option Two:  This option is for those who wish to focus in on a particular question or theme by treating relevant materials from the class in relation to it.   This paper is “conference length” (roughly 12 double spaced pages).  It must advance an original argument; however, the argument may still be in process, at a speculative or experimental stage.  In other words, this is a chance to begin work on a new argument that you might end up pursuing beyond the seminar.  If you choose this option, you must submit an formal conference abstract before the start of Week 7 (we will go over how to write abstracts in class).  Papers are due December 13th.


Option Three:  This option is for those who feel ready to set the questions, themes and issues raised in seminar into dialogue with work already done for a prior graduate seminar.  If you choose this option, you need to let me know by email during Week 3.  The existing essay on which you wish to continue your work may not exceed 15 pages.   You will then set up a time to meet with me in office hours during Week 4 to share your plan for expansion in relation to seminar materials, discussion, and themes and questions.   If we both agree that revision of your original essay is germane to this seminar, you will submit both your original paper and a detailed plan for expansion in Week 7.  Article length final papers must not exceed 25 pages.  Papers are due December 13th.


Official University Covid Policy

Students are required to follow the University’s COVID-19 Face Covering Policy at all times when on-site at the University, including any posted requirements in specific buildings or spaces. If a student refuses to comply with the policy, the student can be sent home (to an on or off-campus residence). Student Conduct offices are available for consultation on potential violations of student conduct if needed. University personnel who have concerns that a student or group of students are not complying with this policy should speak with their supervisor, a representative of the academic unit, or report it to the Environmental Health & Safety Department (EHS).  

This class is intended to be conducted in person. Therefore, unless you meet the criteria for an accommodation from Disability Resources for Students (DRS) that allows you to take the course remotely you should only take this course if you plan to attend in-person when we meet in person. 

Please contact UW Disability Resources for Students (DRS) directly if you feel you may be eligible for an accommodation based on your status as an immune- compromised individual or based on other diagnosed physical or mental health conditions that might prevent you from being able to take classes in-person.

All UW students are expected to complete their vaccine attestation before arriving on campus and to follow the campus-wide face-covering policy at all times. You are expected to follow state, local, and UW COVID-19 policies and recommendations. If you feel ill, have been exposed to COVID-19, or exhibit possible COVID symptoms, you should not come to class. If you need to temporarily quarantine or isolate per CDC guidance and/or campus policy, you are responsible for notifying your instructors as soon as possible by email. If you have a known exposure to COVID-19 or receive a positive COVID-19 test result, you must report to campus EHS.

All UW community members are required to notify EHS immediately after: Receiving a positive test for COVID-19; being told by your doctor that they suspect you have COVID-19; learning that you have been in close contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19.

You can notify the COVID-19 Response and Prevention Team by emailing covidehc@uw.edu or calling 206-616-3344.


Last updated: 
September 16, 2021 - 12:52pm