Freie Universität Berlin

Service Navigation

FU-BEST 27: Women’s and Gender Studies in Transatlantic Context

InstructorDr. Heike Schimkat
Credit Points5 ECTS / 3 U.S. credits


The sex/gender system, like many social systems of categorization, serves to group individuals. It represents an act of dividing, i.e. categorizing individuals as male or female; yet it also, paradoxically and simultaneously, connects individuals through shared membership in a category. This course on gender and women’s studies in a transatlantic context focuses on the boundary—that which both divides and unites. We investigate sexed and gendered boundaries between bodies, communities, cultures, classes, races, ethnicities, religions, sexualities, and nations.

Our exploration of boundaries is grouped into three units: In the first, we examine the way sex/gender boundaries are mapped onto the body; this includes the history of sex differences within scientific discourses, transsexual and transgender definitions, and attempts to control women’s health and reproduction. The second unit analyzes conceptualizations of citizenship as practices of drawing boundaries, and we examine how these boundaries intersect, connect, and prohibit. We look at the gendered ideals of citizenship, the history of women’s rights, and intersectionality between different types of marginalization. In considering definitions of nationhood and belonging, we examine how boundaries can connect individuals in solidarity, as well separate out others. The final unit investigates the boundary between the public and the private in an investigation of women, migration and work, as well as so-called women’s work, including sex work and domestic work.

In this course we use statistics, history, political and social sciences, filmic representations, news reports, essays, medical texts, and biographies to conduct our interdisciplinary investigation. Our guiding approach is one of transnational feminism, which seeks to find solidarity between women by understanding and embracing their differences. Ultimately, our analysis of a multiplicity of subject positions and histories reveals the overall instability of the sex/gender system. For example, something that one culture views as inherently masculine may be viewed as inherently feminine in another. Therefore, our transcultural examination helps us understand the socially constructed nature of a system that is often viewed as natural, unchanging, and stable.

By the end of the semester, students will be able to:

  1. Discuss gender and gender roles in a nuanced manner.
  2. Formulate academic theses about some of the major social, medical, and political concerns facing women in North America and Europe.