AU Options – WMST 401 – Contemporary Feminist Theory

AU’s WMST 401, Contemporary Feminist Theory, is a senior-level, three-credit social science course. It is offered through the Centre for Work and Community Studies and has no prerequisites, though WMST 266 is recommended.

Contemporary Feminist Theory gives students the opportunity to learn about feminist theory and women’s movements around the globe, as well as providing ?a critical discussion of varieties of feminism as they pertain to issues such as gender violence, reproduction, work, families, and sexuality.?

Alyssa Fann-Chiang, a Taiwanese AU student, recently completed WMST 401. Fann-Chiang says one factor that attracted her to the class was her previous experience in AU women’s studies classes. She had previously taken several similar classes through AU and ?enjoyed all of them,? she says. ?I thought that this one wouldn’t be that much different in terms of what to expect and what is expected.?

Fann-Chiang’s favourite part of the course was ?the straightforwardness? of the reading materials and assignments. ?Many people worry when they see the word ?theory,? as it usually involves complex, abstract concepts,? she says. ?Even the Study Guide for this course outlines at the beginning that students may find the theories difficult to grasp and reassures us that it is fine if we don’t get it the first time. However, I personally found the course very straightforward.?

Fann-Chiang also feels that the course helped her learn ?how to critically consider? the decisions that face her from day to day. ?For example, I did my research paper on feminist considerations regarding reproductive technologies. While we all welcome the advances made available to us, I think after my paper, I am more capable of considering the various aspects of such technologies. In other words, I feel that if I were to make a decision, it would be a much more informed choice.?

Dr. Donica Belisle, Assistant Professor of Women’s Studies at AU, feels that the course not only helps students ?gain a deep understanding of both Canadian and international feminist theory,? it also aids students to ?develop strong critical thinking, research, and writing skills;? skills which are ?essential for graduate studies and for the workplace.?

This is particularly applicable for Fann-Chiang, who will soon begin her graduate studies. ?I want to focus on gender issues when I do my master’s,? she says, and plans to ?start a career in an international organization dealing with international development/relations, and hopefully in a department dealing with gender issues.?

As an international student, Fann-Chiang says that ?the course was great because it involved feminist movements from all over the world?from Africa to [the] Middle East to East Asia to South America to Europe. It truly includes feminist movements from other places . . . I tend to feel that Asian experiences have not been covered in depth by the feminist discourses in the WMST courses I have completed so far, but this course provides a much more global perspective.?

One thing that Fann-Chiang would like to see more of, ?not just in this course, but in feminism generally,? is detail about ?the experiences of Asian women within Western societies,? and recognition of the different struggles faced by women of various Asian cultures. ?I have not come across that in great detail yet,? she says, ?and in the few cases where I read about Asian experiences in Western societies, I find that Asian women tend to be generalized as a group. However, as we are all aware, there are vast differences between East, South, and South East Asian cultures, which mean there would be experiences and issues specific to these women, as would the experiences of these women in Western societies.?

On the whole, though, Fann-Chiang says that ?the course shows students that the feminist issues of today are incredibly diverse and complex, and it invites greater appreciation and comparison of the feminist discourse. Moreover, it makes a seemingly complex subject very readable and approachable.?

According to Dr. Belisle, Contemporary Feminist Theory ?is a senior-level course that encourages students to think critically and to write effectively.? Though she cautions prospective students that the course ?is challenging,? she notes that it is ?also very rewarding.?

?It’s not as scary as it looks,? says Fann-Chiang. ?I would recommend the course for someone looking for a more global perspective of feminism or just seeking to understand the diversity of feminism.?

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