Sunday, August 14, 2011

Ideas and why we should study them

This course is about gender in western thought. What does that mean?

[room for input]

Why Gender? Because we are interested in notions about what it means both to be a man and a woman, and transsexual or intersexed or a hermaphrodite.

Why Western? Because that is the discussion I know - there are other stories and other influences, but this is where most of our ideas came from

Why Thought? Because we want to know what believe believed about gender, gender roles, and gender differences. We also want to know something about what people actually did, but our main concern is what they thought they knew and what how they structured that information to an understanding of reality.

In a recent New York Times editorial I read that "In the past, we collected information not simply to know things. That was only the beginning. We also collected information to convert it into something larger than facts and ultimately more useful — into ideas that made sense of the information [my emphasis]. We sought not just to apprehend the world but to truly comprehend it, which is the primary function of ideas. Great ideas explain the world and one another to us."

Having facts is useless unless we have a narrative into which we fit the facts. The narrative tells us which facts are relevant and which are not, and the narrative tells us how to understand and use the facts. We want to know what use people made of the facts they thought they had and how they put those narratives together.

In this class we will be reading what a selection of people have had to say on the topic of gender and gender relations from Plato onward. The selection is somewhat random, although I have tried to focus on important people and major ideas, and we will sometimes read about people who were talking directly about gender and at other times we will read about people who were talking about other things, and while doing that were revealing some of their ideas about gender.

Some of what we read will be difficult, some of it will make you angry, some of it will be explicit (fuck) - but please keep in mind that we are not trying to determine who is right. We are trying to understand what these people's ideas were and how they affected the society people lived in.

A note on reading:
When you read, try to work through the argument, consider the evidence, and what discussion the author is taking part in. What are they responding to? What are they not saying?

Read Sayers article .... ask questions.

Syllabus - hand out and go through.

Lecture on hunter/gatherers, the Agricultural Revolution and Greek and Roman societies.

For homework, read bulldykes?