Sophomore Seminars

Leaving Patriarchy: A Course for All Genders

ENGLISH 24Q

This is a creative writing course for writers of all genders who are interested in thinking about patriarchy and how to resist it.

What is patriarchy, first of all? That’s a question it would take us a long time to fully answer, but we can start with this: patriarchy is the institutionalized political-social system of male dominance, and patriarchy is also an ideology, an unquestioned set of values and beliefs held by many, many, many people.

Why has patriarchy lasted for thousands of years? Our course will aim to complicate the obvious answer, which is that men benefit from patriarchy, that it is in men’s interest for patriarchy to endure, and that men themselves are the means of its endurance. We will investigate the ways in which patriarchy is bad for all of us. We will explore the ways in which all of us are implicated in its perpetuation. We will ask ourselves: Do we all have the reasons and the resources to leave patriarchy—and can we start to leave it right now?

This is a good time for me to mention that if you identify as a man and you are not sure what role you could have in the dismantling of patriarchy, a system that supposedly does nothing but protect and reward you—then this course is for you! (I am using the word “man” here as if it means the opposite of “woman,” but the notion of gender as a binary is itself an artifact of patriarchy! We will be turning, among others, to visionary trans and queer voices to lead us beyond the binary notion of gender.)

Our course is focused on resisting patriarchy not through political action (though that’s necessary too), and not through scholarship (though that’s necessary too), but by confronting its means of perpetuation in our everyday lives. We will:

  • Read works of scholarship and literature that investigate patriarchy as a human relational problem

  • Write fiction and nonfiction in which we:

    • investigate the ways patriarchy has shaped us
    • challenge ourselves to resist its manifestations in our relationships
    • envision a future without patriarchy
    • begin to live that future right now.

Perhaps most crucially, we will practice creating a space in which all of us can speak authentically and without fear of judgment about our experiences of a fraught topic. Creating such a space will require commitment, generosity, and grace from each of us. It will also be our communal act of resistance.

In this course, you can expect to distribute your time in roughly the following way:

  • 3 hours/week in synchronous class meetings via Zoom

  • 3 hours/week reading

  • 3 hours/week writing

Most weeks, you will write a “micro-reflection”—a brief brainstorming exercise, essayistic or creative, in response to a prompt. You will also write a 6- to 10-page final paper.

We will be sharing our work with one another on a regular basis; however, this course is not a workshop course. Our focus in sharing will be supporting one another in our investigations and creating community.

Meet the Instructor(s)

Nina Schloesser Tarano

"I’ve been teaching creative writing at Stanford for eight years. Recently I’ve become passionate about the study of creativity itself—what it is, where it comes from, and under what conditions we are most freely able to access it. I’m in awe of our amazing human ability to increase our well-being through play, and I’m excited to see what may come of the intentional use of our play—in this case, our writing—to think about a major problem like patriarchy."

Nina Schloesser Tárano was born and grew up in Guatemala City. She received her MFA from Columbia University. Her work has appeared in Fence and The New Inquiry Magazine. She came to Stanford in 2010 as a Wallace Stegner Fellow in Fiction, and has been a lecturer in the Creative Writing Program since 2012. She lives in San Francisco with her wife, her sister, two children, and three dogs.