This unit, entitled They Weren’t Always Mad, Sad or Bad1: Transitions into Womanhood based on the seminar The Place of Women: Home, Economy and Politics is intended to create a body of work to present students with an opportunity to gain language to discuss issues related to the transitions from girlhood into womanhood. It is an attempt to expose students to a diversity of short fictional and nonfictional texts examining the definition and role of women. It is hoped that by providing literature and nonfiction text featuring a myriad of female characters, students will be exposed to numerous expressions of the construct of “femaleness.” Using a presentation of dissimilar examples of “femaleness,” students will develop language to critically analyze characters in literature as it relates to the transition experience from girlhood to womanhood. Students will be asked to re-vision a world using their new voice and language defining “femaleness” as refined by their reading, student to student discourse and writing.
How do you help students tell the story of who they are? We all know a story has a beginning, middle and an end but where are our students on this trajectory? What definitions of “female,” girl or woman exactly are they bringing when they come to school? How have they processed the definitions, roles, and images they have been given and/or been exposed to? When you encounter a student how do you know where they are? What does a particular mindset look like? How will they behave if they define themselves in a particular way? As observers of students, what definitions and/or biases do we bring to the table? Are we objective? How reliable is our lens when it comes to assessing our students? And at the end of the day, what is the “correct” point of view to project to a classroom of diverse students? Is there an ideal or standard of womanhood that we should inform our students about?
This curriculum serves to assist middle schoolers develop and explore “femaleness” as a fluid construct of identity. Using literature and nonfiction text, students will be asked to critically analyze female characters, their roles and choices as presented. In New Haven, the current core text being used is The House on Mango Street (THOMS) by Sandra Cisneros, and while this curriculum uses THOMS as a “foundational” text, other texts could serve as viable options. The text serves as a launchpad for whole class and small group discussions. Having a common or a foundational text not only provides students with a shared literary experience from which they can develop a common language, but it also allows students to create a barrier of safety--a level of personal distancing. This personal distancing shifts classroom discussions away from individual experiences that may subject students to judgments that sometimes accompany discussions related to topics of gender and sexuality. Negative judgments would have a deleterious and stifling effect on not only classroom discussions but run contrary to what the curriculum hopes to achieve--a nonjudgmental exploration of women and their roles in the world.
Students will gain voice and language through exploration of the fluidity of the construct of femaleness. The curriculum attempts to expand initial literature inquiries into the female construct by providing students further opportunities to explore, discuss, synthesize and refine ideas using nonfiction texts concerning women, their roles and world placement using various sociological, economic and political lenses. Exposing students to a diversity of voices of and about women through both the dramatic narrative, essays and other multimedia concerning the economics, sociological and political aspects of womanhood should serve as a contextual backdrop which for some students may be a first inquiry into unquestioned acceptance of what it means to be female. The curriculum seeks to compel students to think critically about what it means to be female, look beyond traditional binary frameworks of male versus female, single versus married ideologies and seeks to have them reevaluate what may be familiar female images. It asks students to examine and question the possibility of limitations of their constructs of “femaleness.”
Using reflective writing, small and large group discussions, students will develop voice, and identity, appreciate the multi-dimensions and perspectives contained within the construct of the female and its intersections of sex, class and race. The curriculum forces students not only to gather information about women from fictional narratives and historical sociological, economic and psychological essays but it asks them expend synergistic energy to evaluate various expressions to develop agency, to not be victims and determine their role in the depicting what it means to be “female.”