The Poetics and Politics of Gender in France: From French Feminism to Gender Studies

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Course Information
Gender Studies
Terms offered: 
Fall, Spring
Language of instruction: 

This course is intended for students interested in the deconstruction of identity and the analysis of dominant systems, as well as those interested in feminism and gender studies. The transdisciplinary approach will include philosophy, sociology, literature and the arts.

Additional student cost: 

Students must purchase, read and bring to class two paper-back books

  • Ernaux, Annie. L’Evénement. Paris : Folio, 2000.
  • Despentes, Virginie. King Kong théorie. Editions Le Livre de poche, 2006

This course offers a transdisciplinary approach to the question of French feminism, notably after the publication of Simone de Beauvoir’s Second Sex in 1949. We will retrace the genesis of French feminism and analyze the philosophical struggle against what Derrida called “phallogocentrisme,” and Bourdieu’s sociological point of view and “masculine domination.” This will allow us to distinguish the different movements and positions in feminism: Simone de Beauvoir’s universalism, Christine Delphy’s materialism, as well as Antoinette Fouque’s “differentialism.” Consequently, we will analyze the different steps in feminism according to gender, leading to present-day “queer studies.” In addition, with the help of Monique Wittig, the study of political claims and stances will take into account poetic works that are allow for the restructuring of language and its representations. As a result, we will study the notion of “feminine writing” as well as gay and lesbian literature, without forgetting the importance of literary testimony. Artistic revolutions and transgressions will also be considered: Claude Cahun, Niki de Saint Phalle, Colette Deblé, and Orlan. Finally, we will consider present-day controversies associated with these subjects; for example, the relationship between violence and virility, the law against headscarves and the hijab, pornography, the legalization (and abolition) of prostitution, and gay marriage will inform many of our in-class discussions.

Attendance policy: 

Attendance is mandatory. Please note that absences and tardies will prevent you from fully understanding the material of the course and lowers your final grade. In case of illness, please alert your professor and the academics coordinator.

Learning outcomes: 

After this course, students will be able to:

  • Understand feminist theory and the question of gender in a French context
  • Debate and think critically about gender issues and questions
  • Understand contemporary problems in French society (gay marriage, gender equality, the female image in the media, etc.)
Method of presentation: 

Courses are based on lectures and in-class discussions, based on various texts associated with the course program. Students must read the texts indicated on the syllabus (for each lesson!) as well as deepen their personal knowledge by consulting various texts in the course bibliography. Students are asked to purchase and read Annie Ernaux’s L’Evénement (Poche, 2000) as well as Virginia Despentes’ King Kong Theorié (Editions Le Livre de poche, 2006). The course evaluation is based on oral participation, two in-class exams, a critical essay based on a reading, a presentation, a cultural visit associated with the course’s theme(s), and a work of research to be done in association with the professor and to be presented orally at the end of the semester. Information about the essay and the work of research can be found on Moodle.


The course’s Moodle page offers a variety of texts, information, and links associated with the course.

The course workbook and course fact sheet are also available on Moodle. Class excursion/visit information is indicated on Moodle.

Via Moodle, students can order (online) the necessary books for the course. Assignments can also be turned in on Moodle


Field study: 

Mandatory Visit

Discussion/debate about gender in France with philosopher Genevieve Fraisse at the specialist bookstore Violette & Co.

Recomennded Visits

  • The Women’s Library of Marguerite Durand
  • l’Espace des Femmes (bookshop/gallery), 35 Rue Jacob
  • Librairie Violette et cie, “the library of lost boys and girls”
Required work and form of assessment: 
  • 2 Exams- 25% + 25%
  • Essay - 25%
  • LIteraty Analysis or essay concerning a visit - 15%
  • Class participation - 10%

Based on coursework and textual analyses of course readings.

Essay/Literary Analysis
Based on an outing or a reading associated with the course material: women, feminism or the question of gender in a French context. It is to include three parts: introduction-presentation, development-description, conclusions-personal opinion.

Examples of possible subjects:

  • A conference concerning women, feminism, or the question of gender in a French context.

  • An exhibition, a film or other event associated with women, feminism, or the question of gender in a French context.

  • A visit to the Women’s Library of Marguerite Durand (Paris, 13th)

  • A visit to l’Espace des Femmes (bookshop/gallery), 35 Rue Jacob (Paris, 6th)

  • A visit to the Librairie Violette et cie, “the library of lost boys and girls” (102, Rue de Charonne, 11th)

  • A reading (from class, a review, an academic work, a work of fiction) about women, feminism, or the question of gender in a French context. See the bibliography at the end of the syllabus and links on Moodle.

The essay is about developing a personal reflection on the subject of women, feminism, or the question of gender in a French context. It must be an analysis of (at least) 1 book and 2 articles (or chapters in a book). A work session with the professor will be organized to help plan and organize this work.

This critical essay can be based on:

  • Feminism and revolution
  • Literature, gender and “the neutral”
  • Feminism and the new burlesque
  • The Age of Man or the masculine gender
  • Creation and procreation
  • Transvestites
  • Women of color
  • Male homosexuality
  • Literature, the feminine and the Francophone world
  • “Publisexisme” … sexist toys

This will be presented orally, written part to be turned in





Theme 1: French Feminism

  1. Introduction: Feminism in the French context
  2. From universal feminism to the question of “gender”
    1. Class Excursion: Discuss/debate about the question of gender in France, with philosopher Genevieve Fraisse, at the specialist store Violette & Co. (Meeting at 6:30pm at Metro Charonne, Line 9)
  3. The construction of gender
  4. “Differentialist” feminism
  5. Masculine domination
  6. French feminism and the headscarf (1)
  7. Gender representation in the French press
    1. For this course, students must find and bring to class those documents (articles, advertisements, etc.) concerning the representation of gender in the French press. A brief analysis (to be presented orally) is also required.
  8. Mid-Term

Theme 2: Poetics and Politics of Gender

Please purchase the Ernaux and Despentes books mentioned above

  1. Is there a “feminine” literature?
  2. Testimonial literature: Annie Ernaux’s “The Event”
    1. Students should read the work and bring it to class (poche edition)
    2. Individual research project: students should be prepared to discuss their subject of choice, the thesis, a bibliography, and questions related to the essay
  3. The Birth of Lesbian Literature (1)
  4. The Birth of Lesbian Literature (2)
  5. From respect to flight
  6. Sexual genders, artistic genders
  7. Violence, rape, and virility (1): Baise-moi, Virginie Despentes
  8. Violence, rape, and virility (2): King Kong Theory, Despentes
  9. Gender Controversies – The New Prostitution Law
  10. Oral presentations on essays
    1. The presentation should last 15 minutes and should be a PowerPoint. Students should include the outline, the main ideas, citations and images (with references)
  11. Final Exam