WGST 345/SOCI 345 (Women and Work in Canada) is a three-credit social science course that discusses how, throughout history, women have been unacknowledged and undervalued in working environments. This course aims to highlight the importance of women’s work and analyzes the reasons why women have been exploited, unpaid, or underpaid throughout Canadian history.
WGST 345 / SOCI 345 is a cross-listed course, meaning that this course is listed under two different disciplines (Women’s and Gender Studies and Sociology). There are no prerequisites for this course, though WGST 266 (Thinking from Women’s Lives – An Introduction to Women’s Studies) is recommended. This course also has a Challenge for Credit option, if students are interested.
Students should note that this course qualifies for a reduced learning resource fee of $130. This fee covers the cost of mandatory, Athabasca University-produced learning resources, library services, learning management system support, and learning design and development. All course materials will be provided on the course website.
Women and Work in Canada is made up of three units and three assignments. The first two assignments are worth thirty percent each and can either be an essay or an oral history review. The third assignment weighs forty percent and requires students to write a research paper. There are no midterms or final examinations for this course. The three units within this course cover the topics of advocacy, inclusion and exclusions in work, historical and theoretical perspectives on women’s work; prevailing issues; and transformations in work. To receive credit for WGST 345 / SOCI 345, students must complete the three assignments and achieve a minimum grade of fifty percent on each of them. Also, a course composite grade of at least fifty percent is required.
Dr. Alexa DeGagne has been working at Athabasca University since September 2015 as an Assistant Professor in Women’s and Gender Studies. She has been the course coordinator for WGST 345 / SOCI 345 since October of 2015 and she began tutoring the course in September of 2018. Alongside this course, she coordinates HSRV 421 / WGST 421 (Advocacy from the Margins), WGST 401 (Contemporary Feminist Theory), WGST 460 (Famous Feminists and Their Times: Global History of Feminism), and she tutors SOCI 345 (Women and Work in Canada).
She provides an introduction, stating, “Social justice drives my work as a teacher, researcher and community member. I see the university as a public institution that should serve the community and foster social justice through the sharing of research and knowledge, and the empowerment of students.”
Dr. DeGagne continues, “Focus areas of research and teaching: LGBTQ social movements; queer theory; social movement theory; activism and political resistance; gender, sexuality and politics; equity and social justice; and police and criminalization. I have published and forthcoming works on LGBTQ politics, specifically on same-sex marriage activism in California; the history of LGBTQ politics in Alberta; LGBTQ refugees in the Canadian refugee system; homonationalism and the Canadian criminal justice system; the uses of anger as a tool in LGBTQ activism; and the politics of police in LGBTQ communities.”
She concludes, “My political activism is based in my Edmonton queer community where I have worked with several social justice projects as a community organizer and agitator, public educator, columnist, and queer arts festival co-chair. I am currently a producer and host of GayWire News Radio on CJSR 88.5FM.”
When asked to explain WGST 345 / SOCI 345 to someone who has not yet taken it, she explains “An enduring myth holds that women only recently entered the paid labour force and that before this shift women were relegated to domestic “lesser” work or did not perform meaningful work at all. Yet for centuries on this land that is known today as Canada, Indigenous and settler women’s work has enabled our families, our communities, the economy, and the country to exist and function. This course asks why women’s work, in all its forms, has been unacknowledged and undervalued. The course also seeks to challenge our assumptions about the work that women, transgender people, and gender-nonconforming people have been performing before colonization and throughout the history of Canada.”
Dr. DeGagne continues, “The course incorporates theories of race, ability, sexuality and gender identity in relation to pay equity, job discrimination, harassment, workers’ rights, domestic labour and childcare. Students are asked to apply these theories to contemporary issues in work including sexual harassment and the #MeToo movement; masculinity, race and non-traditional jobs in the Canadian energy sector; disability and work in neoliberal times; LGB and transgender rights in the workplace; and the rights of foreign domestic care workers.”
She provides some insight into the structure of the course, explaining “We all have personal, complex, and important experiences with work and employment. Feminist traditions of storytelling have shone light on the lives and knowledge that historically have been ignored and silenced. Feminist storytelling and oral histories can be deeply personal, and at the same time they can reveal how political, economic, and social systems affect our everyday lives. This course invites students to think about their personal work stories and histories. As they will see, the course incorporates audio interviews with women, and lesbian, gay, bisexual (LGB), queer, and transgender people speaking about their work experiences. These interviews enable students to hear work stories in the voices and with the emotions and words of many different women and LGB, queer, and transgender people. These oral history interviews are meant to inspire students’ personal reflection as they engage with the course concepts, theories, and debates. As is true with our own work lives, each interview touches on themes and ideas from several units in this course; therefore, I encourage students to listen to the interviews at the beginning of the course and to take notes on ideas and themes that peak your interest. For one of the assignments, students are asked to conduct their own interview with a woman, LGB person, queer person, and/or transgender person about their work experiences. The remaining two assignments follow a more traditional essay structure, which examine historical and contemporary issues pertaining to gender and work in Canada.”
As for what type of work ethic students will have to have to be successful in this course, Dr. DeGagne explains that “As with all AU courses, WGST 345 / SOCI 345 requires a certain amount of self-discipline. The course tutors are eager to discuss the course ideas, themes, readings and assignments with students. The course workload is standard for a 300-level course.”
When asked if she had any advice for students who are currently enrolled or about to enroll in the course, she explains “The interviews are a unique part of the course, which can really enrich a student’s experience with the course. I highly recommend that students take the time to listen to them and engage with the interviewees’ stories and ideas (written transcripts of the interviews are available).”
She recommends this course “to all working people who are interested in making their workplaces more equitable and inclusive.”
As for what she thinks students will take away from this course, she states “Spurred on in large part by the #metoo movement, we are currently in a challenging and important moment where many people are discussing equity and inclusion in various workplaces. This course offers a great opportunity to dig deep into those discussions and other issues that affect our working lives.”
Every course has content that may be more challenging to some students, Dr. DeGagne explains what she believes students struggles with most, stating “The course incorporates history, feminist and social theories, and current debates. The material can be complex or challenging at times, but each theory and concept is discussed by using examples, personal histories, and/or multiple forms of media.”
Whether WGST 345 / SOCI 345 is a degree or program requirements of yours, or the content discussed above is of interest to you, this course will have you learning about how women were historically unacknowledged and undervalued in working environments, and how we can aim to make workplaces more inclusive moving forward.