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“Launius and Hassel scaffold feminist analysis in a way that makes its underlying components highly accessible to novice students. This textbook provides students with a critical framework, while giving the instructor the flexibility to select companion texts for each of the threshold concepts.”

— Ann Mattis, Assistant Professor of English and Gender, Women’s, and Sexuality Studies, University of Wisconsin—Sheboygan

“Launius and Hassel are the mediums of metacognitive awareness in the field of Women’s and Gender Studies, distilling threshold concepts so that students can become active agents in critiquing and shaping our gendered world. This book should be foundational in any Women’s and Gender Studies program.”

— Tara Wood, Assistant Professor of English and instructor in Gender Studies, Rockford University

“Threshold Concepts is my go-to foundational text for both teaching Women’s and Gender Studies classes and facilitating Safe Zone training. The extensive end of chapter questions and learning roadblocks sections help students process and apply the information. I appreciate that the authors succinctly frame and contextualize complex gender studies topics.”

—Christopher Henry Hinesley, Associate Director, Women’s and Gender Studies, Rochester Institute of Technology


Threshold Concepts in Women's and Gender Studies Threshold Concepts in Women’s and Gender Studies: Ways of Seeing, Thinking, and Knowing is a textbook designed primarily for introduction to Women’s and Gender Studies courses with the intent of providing both skills- and concept-based foundation in the field. The text is driven by a single key question: “What are the ways of thinking, seeing, and knowing that characterize Women’s and Gender Studies and are valued by its practitioners?” Rather than taking a topical approach, Threshold Concepts develops the key concepts and ways of thinking that students need in order to develop a deep understanding and to approach material like feminist scholars do, across disciplines. This book illustrates four of the most critical concepts in Women’s and Gender Studies—the social construction of gender, privilege and oppression, intersectionality, and feminist praxis—and grounds these concepts in multiple illustrations.

The second edition includes a significant number of updates, revisions, and expansions: the case studies in all five chapters have been revised and expanded, as have the end of chapter elements, statistics have been updated, and numerous references to significant news stories and cultural developments of the past three years have been added. Finally, many more “callbacks” to previous chapters have been incorporated throughout the textbook in order to remind students to carry forward and build upon what they have learned about each threshold concept even as they move on to a new one.

Christie Launius directs and teaches in the Women’s and Gender Studies program at the University of Wisconsin, Oshkosh. She has taught the introductory course for over 20 years at six different institutions. She is also active in the field of working-class studies; she is the book review editor for the Journal of Working-Class Studies and served as president of the association from 2014 to 2015.


Holly Hassel has taught in the Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies program and the English department at the University of Wisconsin Colleges since 2004. Her work on teaching and learning in women’s studies has been published in multiple books and journals. She is editor of the journal Teaching English in the Two-Year College.


Titles of Related Interest Feminist Theory Reader: Local and Global Perspectives Carole McCann and Seung-kyung Kim

Women Science, and Technology: A Reader in Feminist Science Studies, Third Edition Edited by Mary Wyer, Mary Barbercheck, Donna Cookmeyer, Hatice Ozturk, and Marta Wayne

Transforming Scholarship: Why Women’s and Gender Studies Students Are Changing Themselves and the World, Second Edition Michele Tracy Berger and Cheryl Radeloff

Reproduction and Society: Interdisciplinary Readings Edited by Carole Joffe and Jennifer Reich

Gender Circuits: Bodies and Identities in a Technological Age, Second Edition Eve Shapiro

Pursuing Intersectionality, Unsettling Dominant Imaginaries Vivian M. May


Threshold Concepts in Women's and Gender Studies

Ways of Seeing, Thinking, and Knowing

Second Edition

Christie Launius and Holly Hassel


Second edition published 2018 by Routledge 711 Third Avenue, New York, NY 10017

and by Routledge 2 Park Square, Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon, OX14 4RN

Routledge is an imprint of the Taylor & Francis Group, an informa business

© 2018 Taylor & Francis

The right of Christie Launius and Holly Hassel to be identified as authors of this work has been asserted by them in accordance with sections 77 and 78 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reprinted or reproduced or utilized in any form or by any electronic, mechanical, or other means, now known or hereafter invented, including photocopying and recording, or in any information storage or retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publishers.

Trademark notice: Product or corporate names may be trademarks or registered trademarks, and are used only for identification and explanation without intent to infringe.

First edition published by Routledge 2015

Library of Congress Cataloging in Publication Data Names: Launius, Christie, author. | Hassel, Holly, author. Title: Threshold concepts in women's and gender studies : ways of seeing, thinking, and knowing / Christie Launius, Holly Hassel. Description: Second edition. | Abingdon, Oxon ; New York, NY : Routledge, 2018. | Includes bibliographical references and index. Identifiers: LCCN 2017043817 | ISBN 9781138304321 (hardback) | ISBN 9781138304352 (pbk.) | ISBN 9780203730218 (ebook) Subjects: LCSH: Women's studies. | Feminism. | Sex role. Classification: LCC HQ1180 .L38 2018 | DDC 305.42—dc23


LC record available at https://lccn.loc.gov/2017043817

ISBN: 978-1-138-30432-1 (hbk) ISBN: 978-1-138-30435-2 (pbk) ISBN: 978-0-203-73021-8 (ebk)

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Visit the eResources: www.routledge.com/9781138304352





This chapter focuses on distinctions between sex and gender, exploring how gender is socially constructed, and to what ends, as well as how social constructions of gender are shaped by issues of race, class, age, ability, and sexual identity.


Systems of privilege and oppression profoundly shape individual lives. This chapter explains how these systems play out via ideology and societal institutions, and are internalized by individuals.


Intersectionality is at the heart of feminist analysis. This chapter explores how different groups benefit from or are disadvantaged by institutional structures, as well as how overlapping categories of identity profoundly shape our experiences within institutions.


This chapter unpacks how Women’s and Gender Studies prioritizes social change and discusses strategies for bringing about that change.




Preface Threshold Concepts in Women’s and Gender Studies: Ways of Seeing, Thinking, and Knowing is a textbook designed primarily for use in the introductory course in the field of Women’s and Gender Studies (WGS) with the intent of providing both skills- and concept-based foundation in the field. The text is driven by a single key question: “What are the ways of thinking, seeing, and knowing that characterize our field and are valued by its practitioners?” Through extensive review of the published literature, conversations with Women’s and Gender Studies faculty across the University of Wisconsin System, and our own systematic research and assessment of student learning needs, we identified four of the most critical threshold concepts in Women’s and Gender Studies:

the social construction of gender privilege and oppression intersectionality feminist praxis

This textbook aims to introduce students to how these four concepts provide a feminist lens across the disciplines and outside the classroom. The term “threshold concept” is defined by Meyer and Land as a core disciplinary concept that is both troublesome and transformative. As they go on to explain, “A threshold concept can be considered as akin to a portal, opening up a new and previously inaccessible way of thinking about something. It represents a transformed way of understanding, or interpreting, or viewing something without which the learner cannot progress.” A threshold concept is integrative, and when students cross the threshold and grasp a concept, “the hidden interrelatedness” of other concepts within that discipline becomes apparent (Cousin 4).

What Makes This Book Unique


The majority of WGS textbooks tend to be organized around the institutions that foster and reinforce gender hierarchies while also acknowledging the intersections of gender with race, class, and sexuality. Typical examples of these institutions include women and work, the family, media and culture, religion and spirituality, health and medicine, etc. Some focus exclusively on the U.S., while others integrate, to greater or lesser degrees, a global focus. Most also conclude with a chapter on activism. This approach privileges coverage of content over the disciplinary ways of seeing, thinking, and knowing. These textbooks certainly introduce and employ these four threshold concepts, but often as a one-shot definition, with the assumption that students will come to understand the concepts’ centrality through encountering them repeatedly in the context of topical units, without their centrality being made explicit. What Threshold Concepts in Women’s and Gender Studies: Ways of Seeing, Thinking, and Knowing does is not “cover” material but rather “uncover” the key threshold concepts and ways of thinking that students need in order to develop a deep understanding and to approach the material like feminist scholars do, across the disciplines. The advantage of this approach is that rather than the “one-shot definition” that characterizes most texts, students continually learn and relearn how the threshold concept is illustrated across multiple contexts, thus reinforcing their understanding in more substantive ways. Further, foregrounding the “learning roadblocks” that many students encounter as part of the learning process helps circumvent and move more quickly past those misconceptions that keep students from progressing in their understanding of Women’s and Gender Studies.

In Threshold Concepts in Women’s and Gender Studies, we make the assumption that ways of seeing, thinking, and knowing in Women’s and Gender Studies must be made transparent to students, and that learning will be done most effectively if students understand the course goals, the pedagogical approach, and the potential roadblocks to understanding. We contend that the work happening on the part of the instructor and the work happening by students should not be “parallel tracks” that each negotiates independently, but part of the teaching and learning conversation itself, happening in and about the content, as part of the work of the classroom.



Threshold Concepts in Women’s and Gender Studies is organized strategically and conceptually in a reverse pyramid structure. That is, each threshold concept is introduced at a broad level as the key idea of the chapter, while subsequent chapter components add layers of depth and specificity. Each chapter contains the following elements:

Opening Illustration: The opening illustration engages readers in the topic—typically these are drawn from historical, cultural, biological, or current events topics. A Feminist Stance: We use the framing concept of a “feminist stance” (Crawley, et al.) to help students continue to understand the nature and strategies of a feminist approach with each chapter they read. Our intent is not to suggest that there is a singular, monolithic feminist stance, or what that stance is; instead, we draw attention to what a feminist stance does —employ a critical lens using the threshold concepts. Definition of the Threshold Concept: Each chapter focuses on one of four threshold concepts. The chapter opens with a definition of the threshold concept, drawing from established and relevant research across interdisciplinary fields of study. Framing Definitions and Related Concepts: More specificity is offered by related concepts, or other explanatory terminology by scholars in the field that help students see how the threshold concept is supported and illustrated by related terms. Learning Roadblocks: Once students have an initial grasp of the concept and its related terms, the chapter introduces common “learning roadblocks” or misconceptions that many students encounter which prevent a full grasp of the idea. These misconceptions are directly addressed along with tools that can serve as a “check for understanding” so students are able to understand not only why these learning roadblocks crop up but also where their own learning is in relation to the roadblocks. The goal of this feature is to help students identify common


misunderstandings that prevent them from “crossing the threshold.” Anchoring Topics: To further develop students’ understanding of the threshold concept, each chapter includes a discussion of it in relation to three anchoring topics: work and family, language, images, and symbols, and bodies. These three anchoring topics were chosen because of their centrality to feminist scholarship and activism. Selected issues within the anchoring topics are discussed through the prism of the particular threshold concept in an effort to help students develop a scaffolded, nuanced, and complex understanding of the cluster of related issues within the anchoring topics. Case Study: The case study offers an in-depth and analytical perspective on one key issue that should crystallize students’ understanding of the concept. Case studies have been selected based on relevance to the threshold concept, and to represent a broad range of interdisciplinary issues. Evaluating Prior Knowledge Activities: As Ambrose and colleagues have observed, students’ prior knowledge (particularly commonsense understandings or everyday use of discipline-specific terms) has a strong impact on how students absorb new knowledge. Activities that ask students to evaluate prior knowledge, to monitor their progress, and to develop a metacognitive understanding of their knowledge building stem from this learning principle. Application Exercises and Skills Assessments: Gender and women’s studies classrooms typically emphasize several key related values focused on participatory learning: validation of personal experience, activism, reflexivity, action orientation, and local–global connections (see Crawley et al., 2008; Stake and Hoffman, 2000; Markowitz, 2005; Maher, 1987; Shrewsbury, 1993). This praxis orientation (see Blake and Ooten, 2008) is reflected in application exercises and skills assessments for each chapter in which students are invited to connect disciplinary and interdisciplinary knowledge with lived experience. Discussion Questions: Consistent with the signature feminist pedagogies of Women’s and Gender Studies classrooms that focus


on collaboration, interconnectedness, and creating a community of learners (see Hassel and Nelson, 2012; Chick and Hassel, 2009), this book adheres to the convention of providing discussion questions for each chapter. Writing Prompts: The text includes writing activities that encourage students to process, reflect on, and integrate the course material. Works Cited and Suggested Readings: In this edition, we have separated the Works Cited section from the Suggested Readings. Because the text is intended to serve as a critical introduction to key concepts and not as a reader, we provide suggested, relevant readings that instructors can use to support and develop students’ learning. In this way, we imagine the book to be part of a customized course in which the instructor can structure the curriculum around key ideas, then provide a deeper learning experience for students by adding primary documents, classic essays, or online texts to the course that reflect the instructor’s specific learning goals and area of expertise.

Goals of the Book

As coauthors, our goals for this book have been to provide a text that reflects what we have learned about student learning needs in Women’s and Gender Studies throughout our collective years of teaching in the field as well as current thinking in the field and in higher education more broadly about what it means to learn within a discipline or interdisciplinary area. The organization of the text around threshold concepts is intended to reflect what Lendol Calder calls an “uncoverage” model, one in which students learn to think, see, and know like feminist scholars rather than absorb a body of knowledge to be “covered.”

As a result, our intent is to help students learn those ways of knowing and then be able to apply them to new subjects, in the way that feminist scholars do. We have tried to reflect in the text some of our shared values as teachers and writers. We have aimed to reflect an up-to-date sensibility


in including recent data and research studies as well as current phenomena. Our tone emphasizes that arguments about sex and gender (and any number of other issues within feminist scholarship and activism) are unresolved, ongoing, and controversial, and the text contextualizes a feminist perspective by explaining what that perspective stands in contrast to.

While we treat each of the four threshold concepts in a separate chapter, which in one sense implies their separability and separateness, they are of course interconnected, and we strive to make those connections explicit within each chapter. In some instances this means returning to the same topic across chapters and highlighting different elements of it. For example, though feminist praxis has its own separate chapter, we have identified the ways that discussions of “problems” within Women’s and Gender Studies can be responded to with action or different ways of thinking. Similarly, though intersectionality has its own chapter, we have attempted to incorporate an intersectional perspective and intersectional analysis throughout the book, addressing the interrelatedness of systems of privilege and oppression as part of an intersectional examination both across and within topics and themes.

Logistics of Using Text

While individual programs and pedagogical approaches may vary, the threshold concepts we have identified are central to the content- and skills- based learning outcomes of a large number of Women’s and Gender Studies programs nationally (see Levin and Berger and Radeloff). As such, we believe that using a text like ours can be helpful in making those programmatic learning outcomes explicit, and can support the assessment plans of programs and departments.

Logistically, one way to use this book in an introductory WGS course would be to assign all five chapters in succession over the first half of the semester before moving on to a varying number of topics (drawn from our anchoring topics or others of particular interest to the instructor) that


would be spread out over the remainder of the semester. In this scenario, all of the threshold concepts would be revisited in the context of each topic.

A different approach to using this book in an introductory WGS course would be to spread the assignment and reading of the five chapters across the course of the entire semester, using one or more topics in relation to each threshold concept. This approach would allow for in-depth time with each individual threshold concept before moving on to the next.

Instructors can find more materials to support their work in the classroom using this text with the eResources (www.routledge.com/9781138304352). Materials available online include the following:

web resources additional suggested readings full text journal articles for use with the text

A Note on the Second Edition

We are grateful for all of the feedback we have received since the book’s publication in January of 2015. We have presented on the threshold concepts approach to teaching the introductory course at state, regional, and national conferences for the past several years, and have had many stimulating conversations with colleagues that have informed our revisions. We also received a wealth of constructive feedback from reviewers that was very useful to us as we began the process of working on the second edition. Overall, this edition includes a significant number of updates, revisions, and expansions. There are new opening illustrations in Chapters 4 and 5, and the case studies in all five chapters are either new or have been revised and expanded. In this edition, we have separated the Works Cited section from the Suggested Readings, and have significantly revised and/or expanded the end of chapter elements for every chapter. We have also, wherever possible, updated relevant statistics, and make numerous references to significant news stories and cultural developments of the past three years, including the 2015 Supreme Court decision, Obergefell v.


Hodges, that legalized same-sex marriage, the 2016 U.S. presidential election, the Movement for Black Lives, and trans* rights activism (and backlash against it), just to name a few. We have also re-organized some sections, added many new examples, edited extensively for clarity, and moved some of the learning roadblocks so that they are more integrated into the relevant section. Finally, we have also incorporated many more “callbacks” to previous chapters throughout the textbook. As we have taught with the textbook, we have found it helpful to remind students to carry forward and build upon what they have learned about each threshold concept even as they move onto a new one.

Works Cited

Ambrose, Susan, et al. How Learning Works: Seven Research-Based Principles for Smart Teaching. Jossey-Bass, 2010.

Berger, Michelle Tracey, and Cheryl Radeloff. Transforming Scholarship: Why Women’s and Gender Studies Students Are Changing Themselves and the World. Routledge, 2011.

Blake, Holly, and Melissa Ooten. “Bridging the Divide: Connecting Feminist Histories and Activism in the Classroom.” Radical History Review, vol. 102, 2008, pp. 63–72.

Calder, Lendol. “Uncoverage: Toward a Signature Pedagogy for the History Survey.” Journal of American History, vol. 92, no. 4, 2006, pp. 1358– 1371.

Chick, Nancy, and Holly Hassel. “Don’t Hate Me Because I’m Virtual: Feminist Pedagogy in the Online Classroom.” Feminist Teacher, vol. 19, no. 3, 2009, pp. 195–215.

Cousin, Glynis. “An Introduction to Threshold Concepts.” Planet, vol. 17, 2006, www.ee.ucl.ac.uk/~mflanaga/Cousin%20Planet%2017.pdf. Accessed 5 July 2017.

Crawley, Sara, et al. “Introduction: Feminist Pedagogies in Action: Teaching Beyond Disciplines.” Feminist Teacher, vol. 19, no. 1, 2008, pp. 1–12.


Hassel, Holly, and Nerissa Nelson. “A Signature Feminist Pedagogy: Connection and Transformation in Women’s Studies.” In Exploring More Signature Pedagogies. Eds. Nancy L. Chick, Regan Gurung, and Aeron Haynie. Stylus Publishing, 2012, pp. 143–155.

Levin, Amy. “Questions for a New Century: Women’s Studies and Integrative Learning.” National Women’s Studies Association, 2007, www.nwsa.org/Files/Resources/WS_Integrative_Learning_Levine.pdf. Accessed 5 July 2017.

Maher, Frances. “Inquiry Teaching and Feminist Pedagogy.” Social Education, vol. 51, no. 3, 1987, pp. 186–192.

Markowitz, Linda. “Unmasking Moral Dichotomies: Can Feminist Pedagogy Overcome Student Resistance?” Gender and Education, vol. 17, no. 1, 2005, pp. 39–55.

Meyer, Jan, and Ray Land. “Threshold Concepts and Troublesome Knowledge: Linkages to Ways of Thinking and Practising within the Disciplines.” Enhancing Teaching-Learning Environments in Undergraduate Courses. ET L Project. Occasional Report 4, 2003. https://kennslumidstod.hi.is/wp- content/uploads/2016/04/meyerandland.pdf. Accessed 5 July 2017.

Shrewsbury, Carolyn. “What Is Feminist Pedagogy?” Women’s Studies Quarterly, vol. 3, 1993, pp. 8–16.

Stake, Jayne, and Frances Hoffman. “Putting Feminist Pedagogy to the Test.” Psychology of Women Quarterly, vol. 24, 2000, pp. 30–38.


Acknowledgments We owe a deep debt of gratitude to our faculty colleagues in the University of Wisconsin System Women’s Studies Consortium. This project emerged from conversations among our fellow Women’s and Gender Studies teachers throughout the state of Wisconsin over several years. Their expertise, critical insights, years of teaching experience, and generosity of time and spirit shaped this project from start to finish.

In particular, we thank Helen Klebesadel, director of the Women’s Studies Consortium for her tireless support and advocacy for this book; former UW System Gender and Women’s Studies Librarian Phyllis Holman Weisbard offered research support in the early stages of the project; and we thank both Phyllis and JoAnne Lehman, editor of Feminist Collections, for suggesting that we write a review of introductory WGS textbooks for Feminist Collections: A Quarterly of Women’s Studies Resources, published out of the UW System Office of the Women’s Studies Librarian. We especially thank JoAnne Lehman for believing in the work and making publication possible.

We are also thankful to the UW System Office of Professional and Instructional Development for a conference mini-grant in 2011 that supported bringing together Women’s and Gender Studies instructors to discuss threshold concepts in the field.

Christie would like to acknowledge the support of the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh Faculty Development Program, which funded her small grant proposal. Holly is grateful to the University of Wisconsin– Marathon County, which awarded her a Summer Research Grant to complete work on this project, as well as to the UW Colleges Women’s Studies Program that has supported her work on threshold concepts in Women’s and Gender Studies in material and immaterial ways. Thanks especially to Susan Rensing who helped us work through some of the initial organizational challenges of the text and provided many helpful suggestions along the way. And a thanks to our reviewers:

Courtney Jarrett


Beth Sertell Daniel Humphrey Jennifer Smith Tanya Kennedy JoAnna Wall Shawn Maurer Danielle DeMuth Desirée Henderson Beatrix Brockman Marta S. McClintock-Comeaux Lynne Bruckner Angela Fitzpatrick Harry Brod Danielle Roth-Johnson Julia Landweber Lauren Martin Murty Komanduri Jocelyn Fenton Stitt Katherine Pruitt Ann Marie Nicolosi Hope Russell Jan Wilson Ball State University Ohio University Texas A&M University Pacific Lutheran University University of Maine University of Oklahoma College of Holy Cross Grand Valley State University of Texas, Arlington Austin Peay State University California University of Pennsylvania Chatham University Coastal Carolina University University of Northern Iowa


University of Nevada Montclair State University Pennsylvania State University Fort Valley State University University of Michigan—Ann Arbor Indiana Univ ersity—Purdue University—Fort Wayne The College of New Jersey Niagara University University of Tulsa

And a number of other anonymous reviewers.

Christie Launius and Holly Hassel


1 Introduction

Figure 1.1 Artist Anat Ronen blends images and words of Malala Yousafzai with imagery of Rosie the Riveter Source: www.anatronen.com

Why "Ways of Seeing, Thinking, and Knowing"?

Women's and Gender Studies (WGS) courses are a common feature on a large number of college and university campuses, with over 700 programs in the United States alone. Many students take an introductory WGS course as a part of their general education requirements, whereas others wind up in our classrooms as a result of word-of-mouth advertising from peers and roommates. A smaller number of students eagerly seek out WGS courses when they get to college after encountering Women’s and Gender Studies


in their high school curriculum. In their book Transforming Scholarship: Why Women’s and Gender

Studies Students Are Changing Themselves and the World, Michele Tracy Berger and Cheryl Radeloff state that "students pursuing questions in women's and gender studies are part of an emerging vanguard of knowledge producers in the US and globally" (5). This is to say, WGS is an exciting, vibrant, and growing field. This textbook aims to introduce you to the ways of seeing, thinking, and knowing that characterize the field and are valued by its practitioners. These ways of seeing, thinking, and knowing can then be used throughout your academic study, not just in WGS courses. More fundamentally, these ways of seeing, thinking, and knowing can be (and perhaps should be) taken out of the classroom and into the world. In fact, the bridging of the divide between academia and the so-called real world is a big part of what Women’s and Gender Studies is all about.

The image at the beginning of this chapter (see Figure 1.1) emphasizes this real-world engagement. The words and image of Malala Yousafzai, a young Pakistani woman, are highlighted because her struggle— to gain access to education for girls in a Pakistani area in which the Taliban has prohibited it—illustrates how feminist ways of seeing, thinking, and knowing are actualized. The image, invoking the historically significant “Rosie the Riveter” pose that has come to symbolize U.S. women’s entrance into the workforce in the mid-20th century, shows the historical roots of feminist movement and how they continue to influence women’s activism for gender justice worldwide.

Using This Book

As you approach this text, we want to direct your attention to the ways that we have organized it in order to provide an introduction to the ways of seeing, thinking, and knowing in Women’s and Gender Studies. Each chapter is structured in purposeful ways in order to introduce you to the definitions of the threshold concept and to offer grounding examples that


will deepen your understanding:

The opening illustration in each chapter invites you to consider how the concept is relevant to day-to-day life, either current events, popular culture, historical moments, or other spaces. We have indicated in each chapter how the concept suggests a "feminist stance," or ways of looking at the world. Threshold concepts are defined, as are related or supporting concepts from research, theory, or scholarship that are critical to understanding the ideas in the chapter. Each chapter includes examples of "learning roadblocks," or the kinds of barriers to fully understanding the threshold concept that students typically encounter. We've drawn from our many years of teaching introductory Women's and Gender Studies courses as well as conversations with colleagues to identify these roadblocks as well as explain why they are common misconceptions, and how students can move past them. In order to illustrate in a fuller way how the threshold concept operates in interdisciplinary forms, each of the concepts is discussed through the lens of "anchoring topics," or key ideas that will root the concept within three overlapping and related areas of inquiry within Women's and Gender Studies: work and family; language, images, and symbols; and gendered bodies. As you engage with each of the chapters, you'll develop not only a new understanding of the threshold concept in that chapter, but an increasingly deepening sense of how each of the anchoring topics is "inflected" by the concepts. Each chapter contains a case study that, like the opening illustration, is intended to bring the threshold concept to life for readers and to help you see how it can be understood through specific cultural, historical, or other phenomena. Finally, at the end of the chapter, you'll find exercises and other ways to test your understanding of the chapter material, to engage in conversation with classmates, to write about the topic, and to apply what you've learned to other contexts.


We hope that this organizational structure will create multiple ways of "trying on" feminist ways of seeing, thinking, and knowing in academic and nonacademic spaces.

Feminism, Stereotypes, and Misconceptions

First and foremost, in order to understand terms like "feminist stance" and the idea that there are feminist ways of seeing, thinking, and knowing, some definitions of feminism are in order. As a term, feminism has a history; according to Estelle Freedman, it was "first coined in France in the 1880s as feminisme," (3) and made its way to the United States by the first decade of the 20th century. It was not used widely in the United States until the 1960s, however. In No Turning Back: The History of Feminism and the Future of Women, Freedman offers a four-part definition of feminism: "Feminism is a belief that women and men are inherently of equal worth. Because most societies privilege men as a group, social movements are necessary to achieve equality between women and men, with the understanding that gender always intersects with other social hierarchies" (7). In Feminist Theory from Margin to Center, bell hooks offers a succinct definition of feminism as "the struggle to end sexist oppression" (26). She goes on to argue that understanding and defining feminism in this way "directs our attention to systems of domination and the inter-relatedness of sex, race, and class oppression" (31). She concludes, "[t]he foundation of future feminist struggle must be solidly based on a recognition of the need to eradicate the underlying cultural basis and causes of sexism and other forms of group oppression" (31). Given these definitions, a feminist, then, is quite simply someone who advocates feminism. Each of the four threshold concepts that this book is structured around is implicit, if not explicit, in both Freedman's and hooks's definitions: the social construction of gender, the concepts of privilege and oppression, intersectionality, and praxis.

Advocating feminism or being a feminist can take many forms; in this book we emphasize the idea of taking a so-called feminist stance, which is to say, adopting a feminist perspective or way of looking at the world. As


Crawley and colleagues assert,

Although feminism is, in substance, always attentive to power differences that create inequalities, particularly those that create differential opportunities for women and men (but also those that create racial and ethnic, class-based, or sexuality-based inequalities), feminism is also an epistemological shift away from a history of androcentric bias in the sciences, social sciences, and humanities. As such, it is not just an "area study" (again, not just about "women") but something much deeper: a way of orienting to academic work that is attuned to power relations, both within the academy and within knowledge construction itself.


We will discuss this at more length in the section on the history of Women's and Gender Studies as an academic field.

It also seems important to address here at the outset any lingering misconceptions about feminism and feminists. Many stereotypes and misconceptions about feminism, feminists, and the field of Women’s and Gender Studies circulate in our culture. These stereotypes and misconceptions pop up in the right-wing blogosphere and so-called lad mags like Maxim, but also in magazines like Time and Newsweek, in Hollywood movies and television shows, and in everyday conversations. Most students taking this course have probably heard quite a few of them. If you're curious about whether your friends, family, coworkers, and others believe those stereotypes and misconceptions, try this exercise: make an announcement on the social media platform of your choice that you're taking this class, and see what sorts of responses are made and what sorts of conversations develop. Chances are, people will supply some of the following (and maybe come up with different ones as well):

Feminism is dead. This misconception is invoked as a way to try to derail or shut down a discussion of gender inequality, a way to dismiss someone's critique by saying that we no longer need feminism because equality has already been achieved. The most charitable read on this stereotype is that people look at the real gains made by feminism and mistakenly assume that the need for feminism has passed. In this scenario, the person claiming that


equality has already been achieved is likely experiencing the world from a position of relative privilege. The misconception doesn't just get perpetuated on an individual level, however; it is a frequent headline in the news media. In response to Time's cover story in 1998 declaring feminism dead, feminist writer Erica Jong noted that "there have been no less than 119 articles in the magazine sticking pins in feminism during the last 25 years." All of this raises the question, as Jessica Valenti puts it, "if feminism is dead, then why do people have to keep on trying to kill it?" (11). Feminists are ugly, hairy, braless, don’t wear makeup, etc. Emphasis on the ugly. A feature called "Cure a Feminist," which appeared in the November 2003 issue of Maxim, does a good job of illustrating this stereotype.1 It features four images of the same woman wearing different clothing and displaying different body language that purport to show the transformation from feminist to "actual girl." The "feminist" is wearing baggy jeans and a so-called wifebeater tank top with no bra. Her hair is messy, and her arm is raised to reveal a hairy armpit. She also has a cigarette dangling from her mouth, and she is standing with legs apart, with one hand hooked into the pocket of her jeans. By the end of her transformation, she is wearing nothing but a lacy bra and panties with high heels, standing with one hip jutted out and her hand tugging her underwear down. Her hair is styled and she is wearing makeup. The intent of this stereotype is fairly simplistic and transparent, but nonetheless hard to shake. As Jessica Valenti puts it, "[t]he easiest way to keep women— especially young women—away from feminism is to threaten them with the ugly stick. It’s also the easiest way to dismiss someone and her opinions" (8–9). Feminists hate men. The Maxim piece hits this stereotype, too. The implication here is that feminism is a hate-filled vendetta against individual men. The thought bubble coming out of the so-called feminist’s mouth says, "There’d be no more wars if all penises were cut off! Argh!" This misconception is a strategy to dismiss and mischaracterize feminism and feminists, by individualizing feminist concerns and seeing feminism as a battle of the sexes, rather than a


structural analysis of systems of privilege and inequality. A more accurate characterization recognizes that feminism is interested in critiquing and combating sexism and patriarchy, not hating or bashing individual men. Only women can be feminists. It is clear, in the Maxim feature and elsewhere, that the default assumption is that only women would want to be feminists, given that feminists hate men, and that only women stand to gain from feminism. This view is increasingly being challenged, not only because a growing number of men are committed to being strong feminist allies to the women in their lives, but also because men increasingly see the ways in which they are harmed by adhering to traditional masculine norms. These men are stepping outside of the so-called man box and are modeling feminist forms of masculinity.

Feminists are lesbians (or male feminists are gay). This misconception often circulates as a dissuasion strategy that is sometimes referred to as “lesbian-baiting” or “gay-baiting,” that is, as a way of capitalizing on social stigma within some communities to scare people away from openly identifying as feminist or even supporting key principles of gender equity. As philosopher Sue Cataldi has argued, “[t]he use of this word is a scare tactic. It is intended to frighten people away from affiliating with or associating with feminism” (80). In addition to harnessing the social power of homophobia to discredit feminist action and theory, this particular stereotype serves the purpose of reinforcing traditional gender scripts and sexualities. As Suzanne Pharr explains in “Homophobia as a Weapon of Sexism”:

What does a woman have to do to get called a lesbian? Almost anything, sometimes nothing at all, but certainly anything that threatens the status quo, anything that steps out of role, anything that asserts the rights of women, anything that doesn’t include submission or subordination.



Feminism is solely for privileged (read: white, cisgender, straight, middle class) women interested in equality with similarly situated men. This stereotype is a bit different than the others in that it is born out of a history of feminism in the U.S. that is marked by moments of outright exclusion of women of color, working-class women, and lesbians, as well as the downplaying or ignoring of issues important to them. The important point here is to acknowledge this past while also acknowledging that women of color, working-class women, lesbians, etc. have also always been engaged in feminist activism. In recent years, the contemporary feminist movement has made important strides toward becoming fully intersectional, even as it still has a long way to go, as evidenced by the January 2017 Women's March on Washington. While the march was initially referred to as the Million Women's March, intersectional feminists quickly pointed out that this replicated and appropriated the name of a march led by African American women in 1997. After this early organizing misstep, the march changed its name and came to be organized and led by a truly diverse group of women who crafted a deeply intersectional platform asserting that "Gender Justice is Racial Justice is Economic Justice." Even so, many women of color felt unwelcome at the march, and many white women bristled at being asked to check their (white) privilege.

The effect of these stereotypes and misconceptions: many people, particularly young women, are reluctant to identify as feminists. The title of Lisa Hogeland's oft-anthologized essay, originally published in Ms. Magazine in 1994, spells it out: "Fear of Feminism: Why Young Women Get the Willies." Hogeland explains, aptly and pointedly, that at least one reason is

The central feminist tenet that the personal is political is profoundly threatening to young women who don't want to be called to account. It is far easier to rest in silence, as if silence were neutrality, and as if neutrality were safety.

That is, calling into question current gender arrangements requires people


to actively and consciously challenge the ways that gender inequality persists instead of, as Hogeland states, "hide from feminist issues by not being feminists."

More recently, feminist blogger Julie Zeilinger has jumped into the fray, and the title of her book indicates that what she calls a "P.R.-problem" with feminism is still going on: A Little F’d Up: Why Feminism Is Not a Dirty Word (2012). Both Zeilinger and Jessica Valenti, among many others, bemoan what they call the "I'm not a feminist, but . . ." phenomenon, in which people express feminist ideas and opinions but disavow the label. Their response is to argue that most young people are feminists, but, as Zeilinger puts it, "They just don’t know it" (79). Or as Valenti titles the first chapter of Full Frontal Feminism: A Young Woman’s Guide to Why Feminism Matters: "You're a hardcore feminist. I swear" (5). In sum, while both Zeilinger and Valenti grant that the stereotypes and misconceptions about feminism and feminists continue to swirl through our news media and popular culture, and get internalized and perpetuated by many, they clearly believe that, with a dose of corrective information to counter the stereotypes, people can and do see them for what they are, which is an attempt to undermine feminism.

Proof that attitudes about gender equality have changed is abundant, as documented, for example, in the results of a survey by the Pew Research Center, which shows that almost three-quarters of young adults under the age of 30 seek equal partnership marriages (see Figure 1.2).

Stephanie Coontz cites this research as a positive sign of feminist progress, but she follows up by showing that in reality, many couples have a very hard time putting these aspirations into practice. In "Why Gender Equality Stalled," she argues that the

main barriers to further progress toward gender equity no longer lie in people's personal attitudes and relationships. Instead, structural impediments prevent people from acting on their egalitarian values, forcing men and women into personal accommodations and rationalizations that do not reflect their preferences.

The structural impediments Coontz is referring to are the gender wage gap, the relative absence of family-friendly workplace policies, and the lack of


high-quality affordable and accessible childcare. How does this relate back to the stereotypes and misconceptions about feminism and feminists, you ask?

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