English R1A

Reading and Composition: Sexual Ethics in Feminism and Fiction

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
8 Spring 2022 Nyiri, Jessy
MWF 3-4 204 Dwinelle

Book List

Defoe, Daniel: Roxana; Dunye, Cheryl: The Watermelon Woman; Fielding, Henry: The Female Husband; Haywood, Eliza: Fantomina; James, Henry: The Turn of the Screw; Rosetti, Christina: Goblin Market; Shaw, George Bernard: Mrs Warren's Profession

Other Readings and Media

Other readings by Immanuel Kant, bell hooks, Gayle Rubin, Catharine MacKinnon, Audre Lorde, Amia Srinivasan, Thomas Laqueur, and Judith Butler will be made available on bCourses.


In this class, we'll read English fiction of the 18th and 19th centuries alongside American feminist writing of the late 20th century to look for answers to the following questions: Can sex be ethical—perhaps even good? Is desire ever sympathetic or benevolent? If not, can selfish sexualities at least be brought together through mutually beneficial exchanges? Do such exchanges make “sexual commerce” seem a little too, you know, commercial for polite society? What other political economies structure and constrain sexual ethics? When prevailing sexual values do more harm than good, what changes might bring about more ethical sexual relations? Would such changes involve changing sex itself? Does that question call for a different answer if “sex” refers to what one is rather than what one does?

This course brings together historically disparate frameworks for thinking about the ethics of sex/gender systems and of sexuality. These unlikely juxtapositions will help us assess the limitations and unintended consequences of the sexual theories we'll encounter. Hopefully, in thinking through constructions that won't work, we will begin to think toward some that could. 

This is a writing-intensive course oriented toward helping students develop complex and precise questions, arguments, and close readings. Regular short responses will accompany a series of formal writing assignments.

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