COOL CLASSES: “Women’s Work”

This first-year writing seminar explores the literary history of women’s work and women workers by analyzing poems, fiction, comic books, academic texts, and even Beyoncé videos.

Class Name: “Women’s Work”

Taught by: Visiting Assistant Professor of Writing Elizabeth Blake


Here’s what Blake had to say about her class:

“Women’s Work” both provides a literary history of women’s work and women workers and makes an implicit argument: that the creative and theoretical work of making women’s labor visible is itself a form of feminine labor. We attend to this labor while reading texts by scholars such as Judith Butler, Kimberlé Crenshaw, and Sara Ahmed, and poetry and fiction by writers including Gwendolyn Brooks, Diana Hamilton, and Casey Plett. Students also undertake this form of labor in their own writing, both in the critical essays and response papers they write about the course texts, and in an assignment sequence that begins with interviewing a woman about her work and editing that interview into an oral history, and culminates in a creative project that incorporates language, ideas, or imagery from that oral history. The course texts, which include Muriel Rukeyser’s long poem “The Book of the Dead” and Michelle Tea’s comic book memoir Rent Girl, in addition to more traditional literary and academic texts, are designed to provide a sense of possible forms this project might take.

In addition to our readings, we watch a few films, and even more music videos: each class section begins with a student presentation of a music video that relates to our reading. This semester, we’ve analyzed videos by both Beyoncé and Solange Knowles, Britney Spears, and St. Vincent, as well as many others—Kate Bush’s “Woman’s Work” is coming up. These presentations help us build a shared sense of the music video as a cultural form, provide material examples for thinking through difficult theoretical concepts, and offer students a chance to practice speaking in front of the class and leading discussion.

This class feels especially timely right now, but I didn’t create it in response to the current political climate. In part, its creation was a response to feminist scholar Sara Ahmed’s discussion of the politics of citation; she reminds us that the choices we make about who we teach and who we cite not only respond to an existing scholarly canon, but also contribute to the ongoing evolution of that canon. Stretching the boundaries of that canon to include more women’s voices—especially the voices of women of color, queer and trans women, and working-class women—is important to me. It’s probably more accurate to say, though, that I created the class in response to students’ desire to engage critically with histories and theories of social justice, and their desire to, quite simply, read more women.

Explore other courses offered by the Writing Program this semester. 

Cool Classes is a series that highlights interesting, unusual, and unique courses that enrich the Haverford experience.