This semester I’m taking a class towards my literature requirement, Women Writers. Until I was asked, in class, why I was taking the class, I hadn’t articulated it to myself. All I knew was that if I had to take a literature class, I wanted to take one that focused on the writing of women.
But once I was there, on the spot, I gave an answer that I hadn’t realized was there all along. My bachelor’s degree from St. John’s College included very few women writers. I understand that the Western canon excludes many writings, for the sake of tradition and in order to keep the program to four years. The Santa Fe campus offers a graduate institute in Eastern Classics in an effort to redress a piece of that gap. But the fact remained that as an undergraduate, I read very few women in my first two years of study, and not many in the second two.
I take classes towards a degree in English, writing emphasis, for several reasons. One is that I want to become a better writer. Another is that I have a tuition discount as an employee. And, as I discovered, another reason is to redress the gaps that an education focusing on the canonical works of Western civilization produce.
Despite a focus on the classics, I had never heard of Aspasia of Miletus, a female rhetorician who allegedly taught Socrates and Pericles, because I had never been required to read Menexenus. Although I read several of Plutarch’s Lives, I didn’t even have the volume that included the entry on Aspasia.
I’m looking forward to finding out what other rhetoric I might have missed.
This class will be conducted seminar-style, which is familiar territory for me, only in this class, unlike at St. John’s, there are 24 women (including the instructor) and 2 men. The final paper and presentation can be either traditional, which is to say a research paper, or digital, which is more open form. One of the requirements for my junior year of high school English class was a research paper. My teacher offered us the option to do a non-traditional paper, and I took her up on the it. It was a mistake on my part, as I had no idea how to fulfill the requirements in a non-traditional way. This experience made me leery of a non-traditional option.
But, one of the digital options was a blog. And I do like blogging. So I’m going to start a blog for the class and write about the writers that we read. I’ll include write-ups of other articles that I think are important, such as Kameron Hurley’s “We Have Always Fought” and Annalee Newitz’ speculations on whether this tiny slice of human history we live in where women have rights is merely an aberration that will soon pass.
Since part of either project is a prospectus that must be approved, I can get feedback on the project well before it is due. And if my instructor advises me that the blog won’t be appropriate to fulfill her requirements, it will at least provide a resource for me when I write the traditional paper.