Introductory Seminars for First-Year Students

The Feminist Critique: The History and Politics of Gender Equality


Have women and men achieved equality in American society or in other parts of the world? What does gender equality mean, and what are the obstacles to achieving it? Why do subjects such as abortion, rape, and even women's education remain controversial? How does gender inequality relate to race, ethnicity, and sexuality? Do feminists want women to be the same as men, or different, or both? Is feminism purely a Western cultural tradition? Have men been feminists? What is a feminist?

To help you tackle these questions and others, The Feminist Critique will explore the long history of ideas about gender and equality. Each week this small discussion class will read, dissect, compare, and critique a set of primary historical documents from around the world, moving from the 15th century to the present. Writers include Mary Wollstonecraft, Sojourner Truth, John Stuart Mill, Qasim Amin, Audre Lorde, Jonah Gokova, and Gloria Anzaldúa. We will tease out changing arguments about education, the body, sexuality, violence, labor, and politics; map international influences; and work from past dilemmas to future visions. In small groups and breakout rooms students will have the opportunity to interact about their ideas. We will explore new uses of the Zoom and Canvas platforms to enhance our remote learning experience. 

To prepare for our discussions, each week students write short (2-3 page) papers or submit discussion questions in response to the readings. We will occasionally enact historical debates in character. Small groups will work together on our mid-term review and on final projects, which typically propose documents to add to the historical canon. At the end of the course you will have the ability to analyze both past and present conflicts over gender and to propose policy agendas for the future.

Meet the Instructor(s)

Estelle Freedman

"As an historian I'm interested in social movements, particularly concerning gender, race, and sexuality. I graduated from Barnard College and received my Ph.D. in history at Columbia University. At Stanford I co-founded the Program in Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies. My undergraduate teaching has been recognized by a Dean's Award, a Dinkelspiel Award, and a Rhodes Prize. For years students lamented that they wished they had taken my courses earlier at Stanford, so I decided to offer this frosh seminar to begin the conversation from year one. The main text for this IntroSem, The Essential Feminist Reader, grew out of my own teaching. I've also written No Turning Back: The History of Feminism and The Future of Women and Redefining Rape: Sexual Violence in the Era of Suffrage and Segregation, and I'm the co-author of Intimate Matters: A History of Sexuality in America. Teaching "The Feminist Critique" has been a joy and I look forward to the course."