Gender and Society (Section 2) [CRN 77128]

Discipline: Sociology
Instructor: Ferguson
Credits: 3
Day: A
Start: 1040
End: 1200
Field Work: Day 4 - Monday, 24 October | Senegal
Prerequisites: None Download Syllabus


Gender is both an object of study and a critical lens through which we analyze our world. Like race and social class, gender also is a social construct, and this course will explore what it means to say gender is a social construction. In addition to social constructionism, this course considers other theoretical, methodological, and empirical contributions of current sociological scholarship on gender. Moreover, since both sex and gender are contested categories in our society, a sociological lens will help clarify the ways in which sex and gender are social phenomena that change over time and vary across cultures.

Three additional frames will inform our study of sex and gender. First, gender will be examined at a micro-level because gender organizes and shapes our everyday lives. Gender is performative; it is experienced; and it is in flux. A critical question we will contemplate is: how does gender shape women’s, men’s, and transgendered individuals’ lives? A second frame is studying gender at the macro-level, which means viewing gender as a system of social stratification. We will explore how gender inequalities are revealed through social patterns, and how the gender system is both reproduced and challenged through the link between interpersonal experiences and social structures. A third critical frame for understanding gender is intersectionality, and where appropriate, we will deliberate on the intersections between gender, sexuality, race/ethnicity, and social class.

Possible topics for this course include: the social construction of gender; doing gender and theories of performativity; intersectionality; queering the sociology of gender; situated knowledge; masculinity and men’s studies; gender and emotion; gender and identity; gender and social institutions; gendered violence; gender and the body; and gender in national and global contexts.

Course Objectives:

  1. Understand what is meant by saying gender is a social construction
  2. Understand how sociologists define and study sex and gender
  3. Explain how gender manifests itself in both global and U.S. contexts
  4. Distinguish between the micro-level of identity and the macro-level of social structure
  5. Describe the relationships between gender and social stratification
  6. Articulate why intersectionality is central to a sociological understanding of gender

Field Work

Country: Senegal
Day: 4 - Monday, 24 October

The successful women’s human rights NGO, Tostan (, is headquartered in Dakar, Senegal, and concentrates on women’s empowerment programs with regard to FGC FGC, Child marriage, economics, education, and governance in Senegal and five other West African countries, including Gambia, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, and Mauritania.
Tostan was founded in 1994 (1991) and is headed by Molly Melching, an American who was first a volunteer in Senegal and then a Peace Corps worker there. You will read about her before we arrive in Dakar, in the book However Long the Night: Molly Melching’s Journey to Help Millions of African Women and Girls Triumph. Unlike most other programs in FGC-countries, Tostan has had marked success in reducing the prevalence of FGC in Senegal through its Community Empowerment Program (CEP), a grass-roots, community-based program used by Tostan in all areas of its work.

In the morning, we will visit the Tostan offices in Dakar, where the staff will talk with us about the following: FGC; other women’s issues in Senegal; the details, history, and examples of its Community Empowerment Program (CPE); how Tostan helps facilitate empowerment for women in Sengalese communities; and why it has been successful.
After lunch, we are planning to go to a CPE village that has been positively affected by Tostan’s work. We will talk with women there about how they achieved those changes; the kinds of activities the community engaged in to meet goals they set for themselves; problems they encountered; and what else needs to be done. In addition, we will talk with the women about their everyday lives and the hopes and dreams they have for themselves and their children.
In this field lab, we will be talking with Sengalese women for whom FGC is an everyday reality, not a course topic. You will connect what you see, hear, observe, and talk about at Tostan and in the community with what you have learned in the course, about the millions of girls vulnerable to FGC all over the world. You will turn in a 3-5 page reflection paper on this lab, discussion what you learned from this field experience and connecting it to the readings.

Learning Objectives:
1. Connect the course readings to the reality of female genital mutilation (FGC) and other women’s issues in Senegal.
2. Learn more from Tostan staff about the following: the strategies it uses to reduce occurrence of FGC in Senegal and why its methods are more successful than methods used in other countries; how its Community Empowerment Program (CEP) operates and how and why it is successful in empowering women in Sengalese communities.
3. Connect the readings on FGC to learning directly about this practice from locals in a country that has successfully reduced FGC numbers.