WOMS 43O.P3 / WOMS 430H.P2 / POLS495.1

Northern Illinois University


Spring 2005                                                                 Prof. L. Kamenitsa;  Office: ZU 310

MW 2-3:15                                                                  Tel: 753-7053; E-mail:

DuSable 252                                                                Office Hours: M 3:30-4:30; W 12-1 & by appt.


                                                                                    TA; Sandi Caldrone; Office: Reavis 103

                                                                                    Tel: 753-1038; E-mail:

                                                                                    Office Hours: M 12:30-1:30, T 12:30-1:30



            This course gives students an opportunity to explore and analyze current issues regarding women and gender that appear in the news and popular media every day.  The goal is to bring a critical, analytical eye to the presentation of these issues, the images of women and men, and the accompanying assumptions about roles and biology.  The issues discussed will be far ranging and determined in part but what shows up in the media this semester.  What the issues have in common is not their topic, but rather their topicality.  Most women’s studies and political science courses focus on a specific topic and thus do not afford the opportunity to examine current developments as they happen, nor to make connections between seemingly disparate developments.  In this course, we’ll try to make those connections between, for example, developments in politics, mass media, popular culture, and research in medicine or other sciences.

            The course is structured as a seminar.  That means it will consist primarily of discussions rather than lectures.  The professor and TA will help guide the discussions, but the responsibility for making them work falls squarely upon the students (see Preparation and Participation section below).  The material will be divided into two complementary halves, pursued simultaneously.  One half includes four recent books about women and/or gender that the entire class will read and discuss (usually on Wednesdays).  In keeping with the course goals, all books are written for general audiences rather than as academic texts.  We will use all of those critical analysis skills students have been developing in courses to examine these books and the issues they raise. The other half of the course includes regular -- indeed rigorous -- monitoring of the news and other media for contemporary articles about women and/or gender.  Students, as well as the teaching staff, will submit article suggestions each week. From those suggestions, the staff will compile a list to be read by all students and discussed in class the following week (usually on Mondays).  This will provide each student an opportunity to shape the direction of the course. 




All books have been ordered via the bookstore in HSC and the Village Commons Bookstore.   They are also available at and may be found in other local bookstores.


1.   Douglas, Susan J. and Meredith W. Michaels. The Mommy Myth: The Idealization of Motherhood and How It Has Undermined Women.  New York: The Free Press, 2004.


2.  Walker, Rebecca, ed. What Makes a Man: 22 Writers Imagine the Future. New York: Riverhead Books (Penguin), 2004.


3.  Angier, Natalie.  Woman: An Intimate Geography. Anchor Books: New York, 2000.


4.  Hays, Sharon. Flat Broke With Children. Oxford University Press, 2003

5.  Regular monitoring current media. Students are required to monitor several news and other media sources each week to find articles and stories related to this course.  This monitoring is designed to keep the student informed about current issues and developments and to supply her/him with suggestions for articles to be read by the entire class (see Annotated Article Suggestions and Media Monitoring below). 


6. Assigned current media articles (posted weekly on BLACKBOARD).  Each week a specific set of articles will be chosen for class discussion.  These collections of articles will comprise an essential and required portion of the course reading assignments for the entire class.  Some of these articles may be photocopied and distributed in class, but most will be accessible only via BLACKBOARD or the internet.  Students should make arrangements for regular access to the internet immediately (available to all students through the university at no charge.)



GRADING:                Preparation/Participation:          35%

            Short reflection papers:             25%

            Research paper:                        25%

            Final essay:                               15%




The seminar format makes it exceptionally important that each student comes to each class session prepared to discuss the material with others.  If you are not prepared or do not participate, the course will not work.  This portion of your grade is designed to reward those who come to class and engage in prepared participation.


1. Participation in class discussions of books and articles.  Each student is expected to do assigned reading and come prepared to discuss the material.  All students should come prepared with questions and comments for the group.  (Feel free to write them down in advance if you tend to go blank when speaking to a group.)  All students will be expected to respond to others’ questions and comments in generating lively discussion of the assigned material and related issues. Students who are regularly monitoring news media should also be able to relate class discussions to other topics in the news.  Key to the assessment of your participation will be the following types of questions: Has the student done the assigned work?   Has the student thought about the readings in advance of our discussion?   Does the student articulate insights and questions in ways that move the group’s discussion forward and contribute to analytical thinking and synthesis?  In other words, this component of your grade will not just assess the quantity of your participation, but also the quality of it.   Occasionally, discussion questions will be posted along with the reading assignment on Blackboard.  In those cases, students should come prepared to discuss those questions too.


2. Annotated article suggestions (AAS).  Each week we will be choosing articles to be discussed in subsequent class sessions.   Each student is responsible for suggesting articles.  On most Mondays you will submit a list of two recent articles (from news or other popular media) that you would like to have the group discuss.  For each article, you will provide a short annotation (2-3 sentence paragraph) that explains what the article is about and your argument for why it would be appropriate for discussion in this course.  As the semester progresses and we cover more topics, your annotations should become more sophisticated and go further in tying each article to the course themes. You must provide a full citation for each article, including, whenever possible, an internet address for locating it.  These should be substantial articles written by serious journalists, not ones that occupy only three or four inches of space in one newspaper column. They must also be drawn from a wide variety of sources, including at least five from newspapers of record and at least two from opinion journals, and at least one from intellectual journals (see descriptions in Media Monitoring below.) A sample AAS is posted on Blackboard under “Course Documents.”  Submissions will be made electronically via BLACKBOARD and must be made before class (before 2:00) on the assigned date.  Specific assignment dates are listed in the Course Schedule of this syllabus.


3. Participation the weeks of your short reflection papers.  As noted below, each student will have two weeks when she/he is writing a short paper focusing on that week’s articles.  During those class discussions, students who wrote that week are expected to make a special effort to foster group discussion though sharing insights, asking questions, and pushing the group toward deeper analysis.




            Each student will be assigned two weeks during the semester when she/he will be responsible for writing a short paper (4-6 typed pages) based on that week’s media articles.  Each paper will provide a more analytical and nuanced response to the week’s articles and issues than can normally be provided in class discussion.  For example, a student could provide an analysis of how a given week’s articles relate to broader themes of the course and to articles discussed in previous weeks.  Ideally, the student should try to find common themes in the various articles or other ways to make connections across that week’s readings (some weeks this will be more feasible than others).  The emphasis should be on analysis and connections to themes rather than on summarizing. Students are welcome to discuss their ideas for this paper with me in advance.  Remember to include full, formal citations and a works cited page for any articles to which you refer, including those assigned to the whole class. 

            The weeks you write your reflection papers, you will also be expected to bring your analysis to bear in class discussion of the articles.  Each paper, therefore, should include an additional page (not part of the 4-6 pages) with at least five thought-provoking and discussion-inspiring questions that you will pose to other students during the week’s class discussion of the articles.  Attach one copy of these questions to the paper you hand in at the beginning of class, and keep one copy for your own use during class.  (The questions will be part of your paper grade.  Your asking of them will be part of your Preparation and Participation grade.)

            Short reflection papers are due at the beginning of class on the day we are discussing the articles.  Because they are designed to prepare you for that day’s discussion, they will not be accepted late.




            Each student will write an original paper (8-10 typed pages) based on her/his research and related to one of three books assigned for this course (Douglas/Michaels, Angier, or Hays -- students may write about the Walker book only with advanced permission and a detailed research question).  You will begin by choosing and reading one of the books, then developing your own original research question or hypothesis based on one of the themes, arguments, or findings of that book.  Your question/hypothesis may support, extend, or challenge the author’s claim, but it must be related to the assigned book.  You will then conduct original research to discover what other scholars have found and argued about your topic. Finally, you will write an original paper that answers your own research question or addresses your hypothesis.  Given the nature of the course, you may include news and popular media sources in your research, but the majority of your research should be based on scholarly sources (at least five such sources will be necessary to do this assignment appropriately).   Completed research papers are due on Monday, 4/18 at 2:00.

Each student must schedule a meeting with me before the end of Week 8 to discuss your research question/hypothesis and your research plan. (Students must sign up for an available time slot a few weeks in advance.)   For this meeting, you must prepare a (typed) mini paper proposal that specifies which book you have chosen, which of the author’s themes/findings/arguments you will explore in your paper, your working thesis or research question, and some ideas about sources you intend to consult.

FINAL ESSAY (Take-home): 

This final essay question will require you to synthesize, analyze, and probably prioritize themes and issues covered in the course.  It will provide you with an opportunity to demonstrate what you have learned about the connections between issues and their importance for understanding women and gender in the U.S. today.  It will be turned in during the last week of classes (Wednesday, 5/4) so you can share your insights in class discussion.


NOTE: All written assignments must be typed or word-processed, double-spaced.  No tiny or giant fonts or margins allowed (12 pt fonts and 1 inch margins are best).  Assignments are due at the beginning of class on the specified date. This means that work turned in after 2:05 on the due date will be considered late (this also applies to AAS assignment submitted to BLACKBOARD).  Late assignments will be penalized one third of a grade for each 24 hour period they are late (A- becomes B+). Late work may be turned in to the main Political Science office (Zulauf 315) during regular business hours. Students doing so should request a dated and timed receipt from the office staff. Work turned in more than one week late will be accepted only at the discretion of the professor.



Any student found guilty of plagiarizing or other cheating can receive an "F" for the assignment and the course.  Criteria for these offenses are described in the Student Judicial Code and the 2004-2005 Undergraduate Catalog.  In any and all written assignments, students must provide full, formal citations any time they use the words or thoughts of another (this also applied to readings assigned for the course).



Students should be in place in the classroom by 2:00. Habitual tardiness will not be tolerated. I’ll make every effort to end each class by 3:15, but if we run over, please be courteous by giving the speaker a chance to finish before gathering papers and books and leaving.

Students should not read materials, shuffle papers, fall asleep, send text messages, or talk to neighbors during discussions or videos.  It’s distracting to the rest of us and rude to the speaker.  Students should not leave the room during class except in case of dire emergencies or with advanced permission of the instructor. Students are not allowed to respond to cell phones or pagers in the class, nor may students leave the classroom to do so.  Please turn them off during class.

Each participant in the course, staff and students, will respect the right of every individual to voice opinions, offer information, & reflect on readings whether or not she/he agrees with what is expressed. Healthy debate is encouraged; disrespect is not.



When you leave the university, where will you get the news and information that will help you be an informed citizen?  One goal of the course is to help you develop a habit of regularly monitoring news media. Another is to have you familiarize your self with the spectrum of media available.  For this course, you need to be reading at least one newspaper of record regularly -- if not daily, at least four times a week (e.g., New York Times, Washington Post, LA Times). Several of the following sources will be useful and should be monitored weekly.  News magazines (Time, Newsweek) and on-line news sources ( are likely to cover stories relevant to this course.  Such sources are also widely read and will likely be where watercooler-pals-of-your-future get their news.  Certain opinion journals (journals that frequently express a distinct political opinion like the New Republic, The Nation, National Review) and, for lack of a better term, intellectual magazines (Harper’s, Atlantic Monthly, New Yorker, Ms.) should also prove useful, as will on-line journals ( and  Add several of these to your regular monitoring list.  Finally, popular magazines (from Vanity Fair to women’s fashion magazines to Rolling Stone) may provide some interesting fodder for our discussions -- keep your eyes open for relevant articles if you are reading these anyway. (Many of the above are available on-line, others can be read in the library.)

            My use of “monitoring” here implies that you are skimming headlines and reading parts or all of several stories.  That is part of your “homework” for this course.  Writing your AAS assignments should first entail actually reading not only the two articles you annotate (in their entirety!) but also reading or skimming several others in the process. This will provide you appropriate context when discussing current articles and topics that other students suggest for this course. Also, as noted above, throughout the semester, your article suggestions should come from a variety of the sources mentioned above and others you discover while doing your homework (see Annotated article suggestions above).




Because they will be selected from student suggestions and current news sources, specific media article assignments cannot be listed below.  They will be posted on BLACKBOARD several days before they are to be discussed in class. The order in which we discuss books may change.  Those and any other changes will be announced in class and/or posted on BLACKBOARD (Bb).


                        MONDAY                                          WEDNESDAY

WEEK 1          1/17 MLK Day- no class                      1/19 Introduction


WEEK 2          1/24  Topic: Desperate Women            1/26 Topic: Gender Socialization (Bb)

                                    in Popular Culture (Bb)

                                    Due: AAS 1                           


WEEK 3          1/31  Discuss media articles                  2/2  Douglas/Michaels, Intro-Ch.5, pp.1-172

                                    Due: AAS 2                                                   


WEEK 4          2/7   Discuss media articles                   2/9  Douglas/ Michaels, Ch. 6-Epilogue, pp.173-336

                                    Due: AAS 3               


WEEK 5          2/14 Discuss media articles                   2/16  Hays, Ch.1-4, pp. 3-120

            Due: AAS 4


WEEK 6          2/22  Discuss media articles                  2/23 Hays, Ch. 5-8, pp. 121-240

                                                                                                (Readings on Bb)


WEEK 7          2/28  Discuss media articles                  3/2 Topic: Same-sex marriage

                                    Due: AAS 5                                        (Readings on Bb)


WEEK 8          3/7  Discuss media articles                    3/9  Angier, Intro-Ch. 6, pp.xiii-133

                                    Due: AAS 6                            Meet w/Prof. K before 3/11 - paper topic


March 14 - March 18  **** Spring Break ****  No class meetings


WEEK 9          3/21  Discuss media articles                  3/23  Angier, Ch. 7-13, pp. 134-259


WEEK 10        3/28  Discuss media articles                  3/30  Angier, Ch. 14-19, pp. 260-402

                        Due: AAS 7


WEEK 11        4/4    Discuss media articles                  4/6  Walker (specific chapters TBA)

                                    Due: AAS 8

WEEK 12        4/11  Topic: Masculinity                        4/13  Walker (chapters TBA)


WEEK 13        4/18  Discuss media articles                  4/20  Walker (chapters TBA)

                        Due: Research Papers         


WEEK 14        4/25  Discuss media articles                  4/27  Discuss media articles


WEEK 15        5/2 Discuss media articles                     5/4  Discussion of student final essays.

                                                                                                Due: Final essays


Final Exam Period: Monday, 5/9, 2-3:50.  Course wrap-up and discussion of student final essays.




Most of the assignments and some of the communication for this course will be conducted through the university’s Blackboard Course Server.  It is kind of like a course website that can be accessed only by students enrolled in this course.  The web address for Blackboard at NIU is . You will need your student Z-ID and password to log into Blackboard. If you have questions about Blackboard or logging in, go to and click on “Blackboard.” The system uses your NIU student e-mail account (your Z-number account) as the default e-mail address.  If you wish to receive course-related e-mails at any other address, you need to log in to Blackboard immediately and edit your personal information to indicate the e-mail address you want to use for this course. Otherwise you will not receive communications sent to all students. Do that today!  (On the first Blackboard screen, go to the “Tools” box on the left and click on “Personal Information.”) Blackboard sometimes goes down unexpectedly.  Therefore, do not wait until the last minute to access materials you need on Blackboard.  For example, if a reading assignment for Monday is posted on Thursday, an outage Sunday night will NOT be an acceptable excuse for not completing the assignment.  If you have login problems, contact ITS at 753-8100.



If you enjoy this class and would like to know more about the Women's Studies Program and its undergraduate minor or graduate certificate, please come to Reavis 103 or call 753‑1038 for additional information.              ******************************************************************************


Undergraduate Writing Awards:  Papers written for courses in the Department of Political Science are eligible for the Department’s undergraduate writing award.  Your hard work could earn you $50, a certificate, and a nice line on your resume.  Papers written in calendar year 2005 are due in February 2006. See the Department website for more details.


Statement Concerning Students with Disabilities:  Under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, NIU is committed to making reasonable accommodations for persons with documented disabilities. Students with disabilities that may have some impact on their coursework and for which they may require accommodations should notify the Center for Access-Ability Resources (CAAR) on the fourth floor of the Health Services Building. CAAR will assist students in making appropriate accommodations with course instructors. It is important that CAAR and instructors be informed of any disability-related needs during the first two weeks of the semester.



            Although we cannot know, in advance, which issues will show up in the news and other media this semester, there are some categories and themes that are likely to appear and that apply to the books we are reading.  Below is a list of such issues and some questions we might ask about them.   These should be helpful in two ways: they should give you ideas about the types of articles that would be most relevant and appropriate for your AAS assignments; and they should give you ideas about the types of questions to ask when you are reading and reflecting upon readings in writing papers and preparing for class.  The list is not comprehensive. I hope students will have others to add to the list.  I have left some space at the bottom of the list for you to write additional ideas as the course progresses.  Several of the categories listed overlap with one another and many of our readings will fall into several of these categories.  Refer to this list often during the semester.


Gender socialization and the nature vs. nurture debate.

            Possible questions:  What assumptions are made about how natural gender roles are or aren’t?  To what extent does biology pre-determine certain gender roles, characteristics, or activities?  To what extent does socialization determine those things?  To what extent does our socialization shape the questions we ask about “nature”?  How is evidence used to support or refute arguments?  


Balancing (paid) work and family.  Issues related to women’s dual roles.

            Possible questions: In articles on balancing work and family, are men discussed too?  What assumptions are made about gender roles?  Who puts pressure on women (or men)?  How are these issues related to our traditional conceptions of workers/employees/etc.?


Women, gender, and the state.  Policy implications of the issues discussed.

Think broadly about the role of the state in regulating certain activities or encouraging/discouraging others through funding government programs, education, or research.

            Possible questions: How is the state involved (or how might it be) in creating, implementing, or adjudicating policy related to this topic?   For example, how might the issue shape (or be shaped by) family policy and how does this relate to reinforcing or challenging traditional gender roles?  How does or doesn’t the state regulate women’s (or men’s) bodies? (Abortion is the issue most likely to spring to mind, but others are just as relevant, from medical intervention cases to in vitro “child abuse” to insurance coverage for certain drugs and not others.)   In other cases, issues that don’t seem to be about gender, say welfare reform, may have numerous gendered dimensions related to the questions just mentioned.


Which women?  Acknowledging and incorporating women’s diversity into analysis

Possible questions: Which women are included, excluded, or ignored in discussing particular issues?  Does a particular finding/theory/analysis claim to apply to all women but really only apply to specific groups of women?  How would the inclusion of other groups of women change the finding/theory/analysis? Are “women” assumed to be white, middle-class, straight, anglo, etc? (These questions all could apply to men too.)


 Science and gender. 

            How do ideas and assumptions about gender shape the questions scientists ask, their interpretation of data, and their presentation of results?  Is the emphasis placed on differences between women and men, or similarities among them?  Is variation within each sex emphasized or ignored?


Equality vs. sameness. Likely to show up in several areas, including public policy, law, employment, and others.

            Possible questions:  How do you treat two people or groups of people equally when they are not the same?   Does acknowledging difference make it more difficult to demand equality? Does it reinforce inequality?  Do various people/experts/groups overemphasize sameness or difference in making their claims?


Feminism: Past, present, and future.

            Possible questions: Do we still need a women’s movement?  Has the women’s movement gone too far?  What other (non-feminist) groups claim to speak for women?  Do they?  Has the influence of feminism gone too far, e.g., sexual harassment, acquaintance rape, etc.?


 Men’s gender

            Possible questions:  Is the fact that men have a gender acknowledged?  How do men acquire a gender?  Why do we focus more on women’s gender and what are the implications of that focus, especially for men?


Women in the labor force: status and challenges

            See references above to equality vs. sameness, public policy, sexual harassment, balancing work and family, and others areas.  What are the implications for the future of your generation?


Sexual orientation & gender.

            Possible questions:  How do assumptions about gender roles and characteristics come into play in discussions about sexual orientation?  To what extent are all men and women assumed to be heterosexual (in a given article, for instance)? 


General questions to keep in mind

- Is there parallel treatment of women and men by the media, by society, by the state?  (This is not asking whether a given reading or issue gives equal time to each sex, but rather whether each sex is treated in a parallel manner when appropriate, e.g., do discussions of “parents” refer only to mothers, or are fathers’ parental identities acknowledged too -- even in an article that focuses on mothers.)

- Does a given reading/policy/whatever challenge or reinforce traditional gender roles or stereotypes?

- What experts are cited?  What evidence is provided?

- Are counter-explanations given consideration?