Feminist Theories

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Course TypeCourse CodeNo. Of Credits
Foundation CoreSHS301105/SHS3101054

Semester and Year Offered: 1

Course Coordinator and Team: Bindu K.C, Mary John and Seema Kazi

Email of course coordinator: bindukc[at]aud[dot]ac[dot]in


Course Objectives/Description:

This course is designed to provide students with a genealogy of feminist theories and concepts, by examining the history of ideas on and different theoretical and disciplinary approaches to the study of women and gender. How has women’s oppression been theorised by deploying new concepts or theoretical frames?

What sorts of debates and contestations have characterised such theories, whether in India or elsewhere? How have various strands of social thought (liberal, materialist, Marxist, psychoanalytic, poststructuralist, postcolonial, etc.) influenced conceptualizations of women and gender and how have feminists responded to key social thinkers from these perspectives? Course readings will include approaches to theorizing patriarchy, women, sex and gender as analytical constructs; the relationship of women and gender to other relations of difference/hierarchy/power, such as class, race, caste, nation, disability, among others; questions of universality, community/culture and so on; masculinity and femininity as social constructions; theorizing on sexualities and sexual identities; and feminism itself as a contested political term. One of the key aims of the course is to understand the linkages between core theoretical movements that have influenced feminist scholarship over the past several decades, and the challenges that they pose for the practice of feminist inquiry and modes of theorizing across the disciplines and in the Indian context.

Course Outcomes:

  1. Identify major trends and theorists in Women’s and Gender Studies
  2. Become familiar with key concepts in feminist theories and the debates associated with them.
  3. Become familiar with significant writings in feminist theories both in India and elsewhere
  4. Learn how to identify arguments from key texts, present them orally and in writing through assessments.

Brief description of modules/ Main modules:

Introductory Module on Feminism, Liberalism and Marxism.

  1. Laski, Harold (1949). The Rise of European Liberalism, London: George Allen Unwin.
  2. Phillips, Anne (1987). Feminism and Equality: Readings in Social and Political Theory, Oxford: Basil Blackwell
  3. Wendel, Susan, 1987. A Qualified Defense of Liberal Feminism. Hypatia 2(2):
  4. Higgins, Tracy, 2004. Gender, Why Feminists Can't (or Shouldn't) be Liberals. Fordham Law Review 72 (5): 1629-1641.
  5. Various chapters of Allison Jaggar Feminist Politics and Human Nature (1983)

Brief description of modules/ Main modules with readings:

1. Women and Patriarchy.

This module will look at how the notion of patriarchy emerged as a category in both western and indian contexts, and discuss its usefulness both historically and today. (the readings by Uma Chakravarti, Gerda Lerner and Sylvia Walby are all available in the CWDS photocopied spiral bound volumes available in both libraries.)

Chakravarti, Uma. 2009 [2006]. "The Formation of Patriarchy and the Subordination of Women." Pp. 66-80 in Gendering caste through a feminist lens. Kolkata: Stree.

Lerner, Gerda. 1986. "The Creation of Patriarchy," pp.212-229 (Ch.11) in The Creation of Patriarchy. New York, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Sangari, Kum-Kum. 1995. "Politics of Diversity: Religious Communities and Multiple Patriarchies," Economic and Political Weekly, Part-1: 30(51):3287- 310; and Part 2: 30(52):3381-89. Exerpted in Mary E John (ed.) Women’s Studies in India: A Reader, Penguin 2008.

Walby, Sylvia. 1990. “Introduction/Patriarchy,” pp. 19-21; and “From Private to Pubic Patriarchy,” pp. 173-202 in Theorizing Patriarchy. Oxford, UK and Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell.

2. Sex/Gender

This module will explore the varied explanations for differences based on sex and gender while also examining the distinction and relations between these terms. Whether the cause of such differences is sought in other dualisms—such as nature/culture or the public/private—there is disagreement about the universality and nature of such distinctions. We will look to non-Western societies to examine the sex-gender distinction and to question the centrality of gender to society, and at practice based theories of gender that are less deterministic than those that draw on the body as synonymous with sex.(We will return to re-theorizing of ‘gender’ again when we address postmodernism & post-structuralism.)

Scott, Joan Wallach. 1988. "Gender: A Useful Category of Historical Analysis." Pp. 28-52 in Gender and the Politics of History. New York: Columbia University Press. (In the CWDS Photocopied Reader)

Ortner, Sherry. 1996b. "Making Gender: Toward a Feminist, Minority, Postcolonial, Subaltern, etc., Theory of Practice." Pp. 1-20 in Making Gender: The Politics and Erotics of Culture. Boston: Beacon Press.

Oyewùmí, Oyèrónké. 1997. “Preface,” pp. ix-xviii; and “Visualizing the Body: Western Theories and African Subjects," pp. 1-30 in The Invention of Women: Making an African Sense of Western Gender Discourses. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Harrison, Wendy Cealey. 2006. "The Shadow and the Substance: The Sex/Gender Debate." Pp. 35-52 in Handbook of Gender and Women's Studies, edited by Kathy Davis, Mary Evans, and Judith Lorber. London: SAGE Publications Ltd. (in the CWDS photocopied Reader available in both libraries.)

3.Caste, Race and Intersectionalities:

this module will look at the relationship between issues of race and gender, and caste and gender in western and Indian contexts and discuss the usefulness of the concept of intersectionality.


  • Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics and Violence against Women of Color, by Kimberle W. Crenshaw, pdf Paper.
  • Relating to Privilege: Seduction and Rejection in the Subordination of White Women and Women of Color by Aida Hurtado. Signs, Vol. 14, No. 4, (Summer, 1989), pp. 833-855;
  • Angela Y. Davis, The Myth of the Black Rapist, in Women, Race and Class.
  • Uma Chakravarti, Gendering Caste from a Feminist Lens.
  • Leela Dube, Caste and Women in M.N. Srinivas ed. Caste: Its Twentieth Century Avatar (OUP 1996). Excerpted in Mary E. John (ed.) Women’s Studies in India: A Reader.
  • Dalit Women Talk Differently: A Critique of 'Difference' and Towards a Dalit Feminist Standpoint Position,by Sharmila Rege. Economic and Political Weekly. Vol – 33, No. 44, October 31, 1998. p.WS39-WS46;
  • Dalit Women Talk Differently, by Gopal Guru. Economic and Political Weekly. Vol – 30, No. 41-42, October 14-21, 1995.p.2548-2550.

4.Class and Development Module:

There will be two classes looking at how women and gender issues have firstly been related to questions of class and also to those of development.


  • Heidi Hartmann “The Unhappy Marriage of Marxism and Feminism: Towards a More Progressive Union” in Lydia Sargant (ed.) Women and Revolution, Boston: South End Press, 1981.
  • Lourdes Beneria and Gita Sen “Accumulation, Reproduction and Women’s role in Economic Development: Boserup Revisited” in R.E. Pahl (ed.) On Work: Historical, Comparative and Theoretical Approaches, New York: Basil Blackwell, 1988.
  • Miriam Sharma, Caste, Class and Gender: Women’s role in Agricultural Production in North India, working paper, 1984.
  • Bina Agarwal, “Why do women need independent rights in Land?” in Women’s Studies in India: A Reader (ed.) Mary E. John, New Delhi: Penguin, 2008.
  • Rajni Palriwala and Neetha N., “The Political and Social Economy of Care in India” in Shahra Razavi and Silke Staab (eds.) The Political and Social Economy of Care, New York: Routledge, 2011.
  • Mary E. John, “Feminism, Poverty and the Emergent Social Order” reproduced in Raka Ray (ed.) Handbook of Gender, Delhi: Oxford University Press 2012.

5. Feminism, Colonialism and Nationalism

  1. Tagore, Rabindranath (1918). Nationalism, London: Macmillan and Company.
  2. Berlin, Isaiah (1998). Rabindranath Tagore and the Consciousness of Nationality in The Sense of Reality: Studies in Ideas and their History, New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
  3. Chatterjee, Partha (1989). ‘Colonialism, Nationalism and the Colonized Women: The Contest in India’, American Ethnologist 16 (4): 622-633.
  4. Basu, Aparna (1995). Feminism and Nationalism in India 1917-1947, Journal of Women's History 7 (4): 95-107.
  5. Yuval-Davis (1997). ‘Theorizing Gender and Nation’ in Gender and Nation, London: Sage.
  6. Das, Runa (2004). ‘Encountering Cultural Nationalism, Islam and Gender in the Body Politic of India,’ Social Identities 10 (3): 369-398, Carfax Publishing (Taylor and Francis).

Community, Culture and Universalism Module

  1. Kymlicka, Will (2012). Multiculturalism: Success, Failure and the Future, Migration Policy Institute, Washington D.C.
  2. Bajpai, Rochana (2015). 'Multiculturalism in India: An Exception?' Institute of Culture, Religion and World Affairs.
  3. Okin, Susan Moller (1998). ‘Feminism and Multiculturalism: Some Tensions’, Ethics 108 (4): 661-684, University of Chicago Press.
  4. Kukathas, Chandran (2001). ‘Distinguished Lecture in Public Affairs: Is Feminism Bad for Multiculturalism?’ Public Affairs Quarterly 15 (2):

Feminism and Poststructuralism Module

This module will introduce students to some basic orientations to poststructuralism from a feminist perspective using both western and Indian examples;

Readings: Michel Foucault, Judith Butler, Lata Mani, Susie Tharu and Tejaswini Niranjana.

  • Sexualities and Queer Theory
  • This module familiarizes the students with different feminist perspectives varying from regarding sexuality as a site of danger and oppression for women to a site of desire, pleasure and agency. The thrust is also upon understanding the implications of globalised capital in changing the modes and nature of objectification and its effect on the everyday practices.
  • Gayle S. Rubin (1984), “Thinking Sex: Notes for a Radical Theory of the Politics of Sexuality” in Carole Vance (ed.) Pleasure and Danger: Exploring Female Sexuality, New York, Routledge.
  • Mary E. John (2000), “ Globalisation, Sexuality and the Visual Field: Issues and non-issues for cultural critique” in M. John and J. Nair (ed.) A Question of Silence? The Sexual Economies of Modern India, New Delhi, Kali for Women.
  • Charu Gupta (Feb., 2002), “(Im)possible Love and Sexual Pleasure in Late-Colonial North India” in Modern Asian Studies, Vol.36, No.1, pp.195-221.
  • Nivedita Menon(2007), “ Introduction” in N. Menon (ed.) Sexualities, New Delhi, Women Unlimited.
  • Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick (1990), “Introduction: Axiomatic” in Epistemology of the Closet, Berkley, University of California Press.
  • Jasbir K. Puar (2007), “Introduction” in Terrorist Assemblages: Homonationalism in Queer Times, Durham, Duke University Press.
  • Arvind Narrain(2004), “Articulation of Rights around Sexuality and Health: Subaltern Queer Cultures in India in the Era of Hindutva” in Health and Human Rights, Vol. 7, No. 2, pp. 142-164.


  • This module looks at disability as an epistemic category and what it does to feminism and how feminism has dealt with it. It brings out the centrality of corporeality in identity formation. The questions of selfhood and autonomy are problematised along with questions of care, selection in context of abortion, sexuality, marriage, motherhood and labour. Negotiations in the context of state and citizenship are also theorized.
  • Rosemarie Garland-Thomson (Autumn, 2002), “Integrating Disability, Transforming Feminist Theory” in National Women’s Studies Association Journal, Vol. 14, No. 3, Feminist Disability Studies, pp. 1-32.
  • Anita Ghai (Summer, 2002), “Disabled Women: An Excluded Agenda of Indian Feminism” in Hypatia, Vol. 17, No. 3, Feminism and Disability, Part 2, pp. 49-66.
  • Tobin Siebers (Spring/Summer 2006), Disability Aesthetics in Journal for Cultural and Religious Theory, CRT 7.2, pp. 63-73.
  • In this module, Men’s relationship to feminism is problematised and the interface between Masculinity Studies and Women and Gender Studies and ruptures between the two areas are discussed. The significance of detaching Masculinity from men’s bodies is emphasized to comprehend the difference in context of different identity locations.
  • R.W. Connell (Oct., 1993), “The Big Picture: Masculinities in Recent World History” in Theory and Society, Vol. 22, No. 5, Special Issue: Masculinities, pp. 597-623.
  • Stephen Heath (2003), “Male Feminism” in Alice Jardine & Paul Smith (eds.) Men in Feminism, London, Routledge.

Assessment Details with weights:



Date/period in which Assessment will take place



1st written assignment

Early October 2018



2nd oral  assignment

Early November 2018



Final examination

Early December 2018