Sunday, November 27, 2011

Teaching the anthropology of reproduction: Notes

T'was the Sunday night after Thanksgiving...

At least three of us in the household are sooo not looking forward to Monday. StraightMan is looking rather long faced about the pile of papers that he did not grade over his "break," which after all had been occupied with driving the four of us to my parents' home for Thanksgiving dinner, then driving us back again. While I slept both ways, still recovering from a cold and lack of rest. I feel creeping anxiety about the week ahead, but console myself that even though I still have classes to prepare for tomorrow, I washed, folded, and even put away all of the laundry this weekend! One must find solace where it can be found, like here in the kitchen near the box of wine that StraightMan has propped open. (Respect the box of wine. It is not your parents' box of wine.) Meanwhile Beanie is skulking around, peevish and bored with her dull family after spending the entire day yesterday stomping around the woods in this unseasonably mild weather with her best friend and her much more fun family, collecting acorn caps and milkweed to create "nature crafts."

Upstairs, I hear Bubbie taking his twice-weekly bath. Improvising his own lyrics to "Puff the Magic Dragon." No amount of gently suggesting to him that Puff lives in Hanalei will convince him that the dragon does not live in Hallowee (which BTW is not the same as Halloween).

Oh, to be Bubbie and four years old!

Some time this week or next, I will be required to give student evaluations in class. Which, despite the fact that I receive good numbers and even quite good written comments, I never can bring myself to read until an entire semester has passed and my memories have been dulled a bit. Kind of like actors not wanting to read the reviews for fear that they will not be able to continue acting.

In fact, I have had a fairly good time this semester teaching the Anthropology of Reproduction. This is a 200-level course that I have tried to teach once a year. It is now an elective not only for anthropology majors, but also biology majors in the human biology track at my college. (Another huzzah for the so-called teaching college! I mean, imagine undergraduate students at a research university being permitted such an opportunity to broaden their training.) The course is also cross-listed with Women's and Gender Studies.

The class typically has been overwhelmingly female, but there are at least a few more male students now than in past years (still only five out of 30), and they tell me that they are talking it about with their friends! On top of which, they and my female students alike make a point of describing reproduction as an issue for everyone to study.

As a teacher, this is just such a feel-good kind of class :)

A plea for syllabuses and suggestions on teaching the anthropology of reproduction just circulated on a listserv to which I belong (for the Council on Anthropology and Reproduction). In part b/c I am not convinced that I will get another chance to blog this week, I thought I might post my response here:

I assigned the edited volume, Reconceiving the Second Sex, this semester, and I am finding it has been terrific for provoking discussion in class:

Esp. memorable discussions so far on the chapters on sperm by Lisa Jean Moore and Helene Goldberg, which I prefaced with short "conversation starter" videos from YouTube. One is a 30-second TV commercial for a Belgian bank. (BTW, this might pair well also with Emily Martin's classic article on the romance of the egg and sperm.) The other is a 2-minute video of animation spliced together from Spike Lee's film "She Hate Me." I have not seen the film, but you get the gist from the clips, which play on the ideas that Moore discusses.

Also, an at times raucous discussion on the chapter by Laury Oaks on the male pill, esp. whether or not female students in my class trusted males to remember to take it! The readings and discussion on semen, sperm and the male pill followed readings and discussion of menstruation and the (female) pill, including menstrual suppression. So, I showed a PBS American Experience documentary on "The Pill" to preface discussion on Oaks and the male pill. It helped bring out discussion on how birth control can be experienced as a burden, a theme that other chapters in Reconceiving the Second Sex also explore.

Another terrific piece to read and discuss (not in Reconceiving the Second Sex) is Linda Layne's "The Home Pregnancy Test: A Feminist Technology?" Again, students had a lot to say, in part b/c they felt they really had not been esp. well informed. I showed two 30-second TV commercials from YouTube, one for EPT that featured a couple confessing their anxieties and hopes as reasons for wanting to know the results early (BTW, this commercial became lampooned on "Saturday Night Live") and a humorous one for a digital test ("the most sophisticated technology you will ever pee on") that we debated about who is the intended audience / market.

Hope that helps :) Curious to learn about other experiences with teaching anthropology of reproduction!

1 comment:

  1. P.S. Blogger did not like posting this b/c there is apparently a broken html above, but I cannot figure out which link. So, let me know and I will fix it :)