We have a requirement for lit majors here at NWU for one class on "Women's Literature." Now, when I see that requirement, I think first and foremost of writing by women. Similarly, when I see a requirement for a class on American ethnic lit, I think of writing by people not in the majority ethnic group in the US. (I'm thinking of primary readings here.)
There's a disagreement, however, among some folks here who want to use primary readings by men and talk about the ways they represent women.
At this point, I'm unconvinced, but I'd like to hear from the wisdom of the blogosphere.
Here's my basic thinking: in any course I teach, I'm likely to talk about the ways the text(s) represent women and men (since most of lit is about representing people, right? And no one is a non-gendered person, just as no one lacks race, culture, ethnicity; my courses also talk about representations of whiteness when appropriate). So students in my Shakespeare class, for example, get opportunities to talk about the ways a man (working in a male dominated theatrical tradition) represents male and female experience. Students have far fewer opportunities to talk about the ways women represent male and female experience, and I think that's my goal in voting for a requirement for women's lit.
I find value in Woolf's argument in A Room of One's Own that men have been writing about women for a long time as if they own knowledge about women, but women's writing about their own experiences is different.
Yet I'm unwilling to essentialize bodies in terms required by ecriture feminine; I think gender experience is cultural AND physical. Add in complications about anonymous or pseudonymous writers; is George Eliot working culturally as a male on some level that makes her writing inappropriate for a women's lit course? Is anonymous really a woman?
Here's another complication: our film courses on Native American's in Film, or Film and African American Experience use films/texts produced, directed, and acted by mostly whites, and find those texts useful in their analyses.
The question matters because we write course descriptions and decide which course will meet which requirements. Do we write the course description as "writing by women" or as "writing about women"? If I do a course on women in Shakespeare, should it count for the women's lit requirement? (I'd argue no at this point, for the reasons I've stated above.)
What do you think, oh voices of the blogosphere?