Unruly Woman: Course Teaches Students the Power of the Girl

December 3, 2018

By Kerrin Norton '19

Following TIME’s declaration of 2017 as the Year of the Woman, Saint Anselm College’s fall 2018 course catalog reflects today’s wave of female empowerment. With offerings in Queer Media, Media Criticism, and Unruly Women, the English department is keeping up with current culture and with the subsequent requests of students for more relevant, more representative, more current, and simply, more communication courses. Professor Carmen McClish’s CM325 Unruly Women course fulfills all of those requests.

“I decided to create a course on Unruly Women because the topic is very timely given recent Women’s Marches, the #MeToo movement, and the unprecedented number of women running for political office,” says Professor McClish. “Specifically, this course was inspired by a class I taught in the spring of 2018 – Theories of Peace and Justice. In this course, I had 10 outstanding young women who often spoke up about their desire for a course where the writing was by women and centered on women’s experiences.”

Focusing on women who transgress cultural notions of acceptable behavior—who behave in “unruly” ways and challenge boundaries of what is considered appropriate femininity—the course challenges students to reexamine how specific women, such as Audre Lorde, Ntosake Shange, and Melissa McCarthy, have helped shift the definition of femininity and what it means to be female.

The course first introduced students to the material by defining and distinguishing equality and difference, and feminism and womanism. Soon after, students began to look at how class status, sexuality, and gender impact different women's experiences. McClish helps guide her class to take a look at “unruly” artists, writers, and comedians and how they push back against gender expectations of society, while she also pushes students to examine their own ideas and expectations.

“[Outside of the classroom] We [as a society] never talk about women who've changed society or contributed to radical new ideas, so it is quite honestly mind-blowing,” says English major Jenna Lyons ’19. “You learn to look at the world completely differently. Subconsciously, you realize how women are marginalized or silenced because of gender/race/class/etc., but it's one thing to feel this oppression in your daily life and another to actually analyze and take it apart. Knowing that there is actual literature and theory on feminism and social norms and expectations makes you feel much more valid and heard.”

At the end of the semester, students will present a final project on an “unruly” woman of their choice. This project wraps up the course, allowing students to study in-depth a specific woman or group of women that have transgressed confining notions of womanhood.

With a new breadth of knowledge and a sense of empowerment for themselves and for others, Professor McClish’s students will finish up the semester with a new definition of the term “girl power.”