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Take a Look at Our Syllabus for Reading Motherhood at Georgetown University

Reading Motherhood is also a course at Georgetown University. Here's our syllabus, including the titles of readings and media that guide our class.

Elizabeth Velez

409 New North

Email: Office phone: 687-7575 Office Hours: M 2-4:30 pm or by appointment

Pamela Fox

416 New North

Office phone: 687-7418

Office Hours: Mondays, 1:30-2:30; Weds., 2-3:30; or by appointment


ENGL 271-01

Spring 2020

M/W 11-12:15

Course Description:

Motherhood is deemed one of the most ‘natural’ experiences binding women together across time and space. But as feminist poet and essayist Adrienne Rich famously argued in her landmark work Of Woman Born, it is also a social institution with its own history and ideology.

Our course examines this institution as a shifting, historically and culturally specific phenomenon given particularly potent life in cultural representations: that is, the literature, film, television, advertising, video, comics, etc. that surround us in everyday life. Analyzing foundational criticism and theory about motherhood alongside a variety of predominantly U.S. cultural texts—from I Love Lucy, Imitation of Life, and Sylvia Plath’s poetry to Roseanne, Toni Morrison’s Beloved, and Elisa Albert’s After Birth to the recent documentary Google Baby—we explore how differing notions of motherhood are constructed, contested, negotiated.

One premise of the course is that motherhood cannot be universalized as an experience or as a right (not all women are urged or even permitted to mother); it is not innate or necessarily a biological relation. And while the syllabus focuses largely on the U.S., its structure will address how western and non-western political relations are increasingly embedded in global circuits of motherhood via transnational adoption, surrogacy, and reproductive technologies.

Learning Goals:

In this course, as the above description establishes, you can expect to gain a nuanced understanding of motherhood that goes far beyond commonsensical notions of a personal experience that is at once unique and universal. You will learn:

  1. How to conceptualize motherhood as an ideological and cultural construction;

  2. How to analyze a variety of cultural representations of motherhood—from both ‘high’ and ‘low’ culture--within their historical contexts;

  3. How such representations help to shape not only our own visions of ‘real’ motherhood but also laws and business practices with differential impacts on different groups of women

  4. How motherhood as ideology and cultural image can be resisted by both consumers/readers/viewers and writers/filmmakers/artists

  5. How motherhood in the U.S. is inextricably linked to motherhood abroad—to economic and cultural globalization

  6. How to write about motherhood in diverse assignments that blend, as well as distinguish between, the academic and the personal

Required Texts (all should be available online or at the GU Bookstore):

Elisa Albert, After Birth Toni Morrison, Beloved

Adrienne Rich, Of Woman Born

Schedule of Assignments

W, Jan 8 Introduction to Course

Setting the Stage: Thinking about Contemporary Motherhood

M Jan 13 Kinzer, “Introduction: Thinking and Going About Mothering in the Third Wave”

Caviness, “What Black Moms Know”

Noonan, “The Globalization of Love: Transnational Adoption and…”

Haider, “I Am a Trans Mother—Deal With it” (in Canvas Pages)

W Jan 15 Badruddoja, “The Fantasy of Normative Motherhood”

Cusk, “Lily Bart’s Baby”

Erdrich, from The Blue Jay’s Dance

Castillo, “Women Don’t Riot”


W Jan 22 Collins, "Shifting the Center: Race, Class and

Feminist Theorizing about Motherhood"

Silva, “Representing and Transforming Latina/Chicana Mothering”

Duncan and Wong, “Mothering in East Asian Communities”


M Jan 27 Alice Walker, “One Child of One’s Own”

Rebecca Walker, from Baby Love

Gonzalez-Martinez, “Dutiful Hijas”

W Jan 29 Richards, “The Drive to Procreate”

Vinson, “The Role of the Teen Mother in Narratives of Teenage Pregnancy”

** Sun. Feb. 2nd: Screening of documentary film Google Baby: time & place TBA; Jordan-Young, “Introduction” to Critical Conceptions….

M Feb 3 Discuss Google Baby


Group Presentation

Post-World War II Constructions of Motherhood

W Feb 5 Haralovich, "Sitcoms and Suburbs: Positioning the 1950s Homemaker"

DeMarneffe, “The ‘Problem’ of Maternal Desire”

Group Presentation

M Feb 10 I Love Lucy episodes: “Lucy Goes to the Hospital”

“Lucy Hires a Maid”

“Lucy Becomes a Sculptress”

“The Indian Show”

W Feb 12 Updike, from Rabbit Run

McCarthy, from The Group

Blew, “The Unwanted Child” (optional)


T Feb 18 Imitation of Life (watch film on Canvas and be prepared to discuss)

Heung, “What’s the Matter with Sara Jane?”

Group Presentation


Second Wave Feminist Era

W Feb 19 Umansky, "Down with Motherhood? Ambivalence in the

Emerging Feminist Movement"

Firestone, excerpt from The Dialectic of Sex

Group Presentation

M Feb 24 Rosemary's Baby (watch film on Canvas and be prepared to discuss)

Fischer, "The Horror Film Birth Traumas”


W Feb 26 Rich, Of Woman Born, Introduction; Foreword; Chaps. I - V

F, Feb 28: **PAPER 1 DUE

M Mar 2 Roberts, “Killing the Black Body”

Poetry from the 60’s and 70’s

W Mar 4 Ludlow, “The Things We Cannot Say: Witnessing the Trauma-tization of Abortion in the United States”


Group Presentation

Mar 9 & 11: SPRING BREAK

The 1980s – 1990s M Mar 16 Douglas and Michaels, The Mommy Myth, excerpt from Chap 3, all of Chap 5

Ruddick, "Maternal Thinking”

Doucet, “Taking Off the Maternal Lens”

W Mar 18 Morrison, Beloved + original Foreword (in Canvas)

M Mar 23 Beloved


W Mar 25 Beloved

Hirsch, "Maternity and Rememory: Toni Morrison's Beloved"

Twine, “Racism, Capitalism, and Reproductive Labor”

Group Presentation

M Mar 30 Roseanne: “Life & Stuff”; “Radio Days”; “We’re in the Money” [watch in Canvas]

Rowe, “Roseanne: The Unruly Woman as Domestic Goddess”

Group Presentation

W April 1 McDonald, “Black Activist Mothering”

The Cosby Show: TBA


Circling Back to the Present

M April 6 Edelman, “The Future is Kid Stuff”

Mamo, from Queering Reproduction

Group Presentation

W April 8 Fine, “My Life as a Transgressor”

Moraga, from Waiting in the Wings: A Portrait of Queer Motherhood



W April 15 Albert, After Birth

M April 20 Albert, After Birth


W April 22 Kay, from The Adoption Papers

Yngvesson, “Transnational Adoption and the Transnationalization of Motherhood”

Trenka, from The Language of Blood

Optional: Fox, “Reimagining Racial Recognition in Kay’s Adoptee Search Narratives”

Group Presentation

M April 27 Ampofo, “In my Mother’s House: Mothering, Othering, and Resisting Racism”

Park, from Mothering Queerly, Queering Motherhood

Black Mirror, Season 4, Episode 2 (watch on


Group Presentation


************************************************* COURSE REQUIREMENTS:

Attendance and class participation. Punctual daily attendance is expected, as is participation in class discussion. Absent and silent class members affect the entire group’s ability to function productively as a discussion forum. To sharpen your contributions to class dynamics, you should come to class each time with your readings annotated—key words, phrases and passages underlined, questions and comments in the margins. Missing more than 2 classes will negatively affect your grade. Arriving more than 10 minutes late will count as an absence after 2 incidents.

Written work: 2 formal short essays (#1, 5-6 pp.; #2, 8-10 pp) and online reading/viewing journal. Detailed instructions for these assignments will be distributed later; note due dates on syllabus. Turning in these assignments is a minimum requirement for passing the course.

Writing Center: Since writing is a valued part of this class, we encourage you to visit the Writing Center (217a Lauinger) and work with one of the Center’s trained tutors. Just as we share our own writing with people we trust before making it public, you can share your writing with student peers at the Writing Center before submitting drafts for this class. While you will always be solely responsible for the writing you submit and the Center’s tutors won’t do your work for you, Writing Center tutors can talk you through any stage of your writing process, from brainstorming a thesis and organizing your thoughts to revising, editing and proofreading. It’s a terrific, free service. To set up an appointment, visit

Group presentation. Once this semester, you will work collaboratively with 3-4 other students to give a 15-minute presentation in which you examine a particular aspect of motherhood during a specific time period. (Assignment sheet and detailed instructions will be distributed on January 27.) The group will receive a grade for this effort.

Your course grade will be broken down in the following way:

Paper #1, 20%

Paper #2, 20%

Reading/Viewing Journal: 30%

Group presentation: 15%

Class participation: 15%


We only accept LATE PAPERS under special circumstances. If you think you’ll need to hand in a paper after the designated due date, please request an extension in advance. Unexcused late papers will be marked down one-half a letter grade each date that they’re late.

ALL WORK MUST BE YOUR OWN OR BE PROPERLY ACKNOWLEDGED. You should familiarize yourself with Georgetown’s honor code, particularly the university’s statement on plagiarism, “Acknowledging the Work of Others.” The statement offers a clear and concise explanation of what constitutes plagiarism (as well as other violations of academic integrity). It can be found at “Academic Integrity” on the English Department’s homepage.

Please turn off your cell phone before entering the classroom.

No laptops allowed in use during class time (exceptions for book readers).

**During emergency school closures due to inclement weather, etc., we will proceed accordingly:

1. We will contact you via email, so please check your GU email account.

2. Depending on how many of you have access to a consistent power source (and whether we do!), we may conduct discussion via Blackboard (hopefully via the BB Collaborate tool but may resort to Discussion Board) or will first send a PowerPoint lecture to you to read prior to online discussion. We may also make additional use of the course blog.

**If you believe you have a medical condition and/or disability that may impact your ability to perform the work in this course, you should contact the Academic Resource Center ( for further information. The ARC is the campus office responsible for reviewing medical documentation provided by students with disabilities and for determining reasonable accommodations in accordance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The Center is located in the Leavey Center, Suite 335.


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