This unit will be geared toward my Advanced Placement Literature and Composition class, but could certainly be taught in any survey course of English literature, or a course that examines women’s literature.
One objective, part of the AP Literature curriculum, is to teach historical context. This is always important so that students realize that art is a response to real life, and characters’ lives represent real lives shaped by real events. I also want my students to see connections to their own lives, and that the struggles for equity are not futile, but ongoing and necessary. I would like students also to see that a society that suppresses a group of people, is weaker, not stronger, and oppression is something for all of us to fight. And, I would like to open up some dusty-shelf texts to high school teachers who might not consider teaching them.
This unit will ask students to examine the historical boundaries in law, society, and economics for women in medieval literature, and consider how females depicted in stories from these eras might reveal power and agency that is not revealed in laws or politics. The unit will include the ancient Greek play Lysistrata, poetry from Anglo-Saxon England, Beowulf, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, and stories from Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales.
With this historical pandemic upon us, it seemed vital to give students a writing assignment that could help them process and record what they witnessed: I will ask students to create their own narratives that reflect the power and worth of women revealed as the quarantine took effect. And, I also want to point out to students that what we call “women’s work” is honestly everyone’s work. I want to inspire students to tell a story from their pandemic experiences that might help them argue for better wages, for more political representation for women, for flexible working hours – and see that these things will benefit not just women, but society as a whole.