COL5119: Girls and Sex in the 21st Century


Professor Eva-Lynn Jagoe

University of Toronto

Course Description

This course explores representations of young Euro-North American women’s sexuality in media, memoir, film, and theory, so as to better understand the contemporary formation of subjectivity and gendered violence. Despite the socially prevalent belief that teenage girls and women have come to assume new spaces of power and that the struggle over gender equality has succeeded, girls’ sexuality remains a site of contestation, violence, and (mis-)representation. The new forms of communication and representation that occupy an important place in the lives of girls have complicated gender relations even more, adding fantasies of empowerment and mass democratization to representational schema that were always already multivalenced and contradictory: girls are seen, simultaneously, as innocent and sexualized, powerful and weak, complicit and victimized. We will aim to map this new social landscape through critical assessments of points of tension around gender and sexuality in the 21st c, as well as through examination of cultural texts that depict girls and sex. The class will engage contemporary debates in gender studies and feminism, affect theory, cultural studies, and philosophy.

Course Plan

This course aims to not only discuss feminist topics, but also to practice a feminist pedagogy in the very constitution of its space and format. We will construct the course together, each of us bringing the knowledge and questions that we have as we share our research with the class. Therefore, I have chosen a topic for each class meeting and suggested some possible texts, but each class will be designed and curated by a pair of students with input from the class as a whole.

For the first two weeks, I will lead class discussion, introducing the topics that shape the syllabus. The readings will be assigned for the second week. At the end of the second week, we will take 10 minutes (as we will do every week) to get suggestions from the entire group about possible readings and sub-topics for the next week. The students leading that week will take note of these suggestions, though they will ultimately make their own selection.

Week 1: Introduction: (Jan 11) Feminisms

Discussion of Charlotte Shane’s “Dear Pubescent Charlotte, You are Sexually Powerful” in Matter. In-class writing.

Week 2: (Jan 18) Girls, Neoliberalism and the Self

Assigned Reading:

Koffman, Orgad, and Gill, Rosalind. “Girl Power” and “Selfie Humanitarianism”

Fraser, Nancy. “Feminism’s Two Legacies”

Lies Collective, “Undoing Sex: Against Sexual Optimism”

Week 3: (Jan 25) Television

Chosen Texts:

Jacobson, Abbi and Ilana Glazer, Broad City.

Lena Dunham, Girls


“Body Talk: Reconsidering the Post-Feminist Discourse and Critical Reception of Lena Dunham’s Girls”

Suggested Readings (if you felt like it):
http://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/21/t-magazine/female-bffs-power-couples.html (On the rise of female friendships on TV and in social media)
http://www.rookiemag.com/2012/03/absolute-beginners/#dunham (Lena Dunham on losing her virginity)


Week 4: (Feb 1) Feminist Film: Female Friendship, Witches, Failure and Horror 

Frances Ha ( 2013 )

The Craft ( 1998 )


Criterion Essay on Frances Ha


Essay about The Craft via Rookie Mag


GLQ:  “Negotiating Precarity: Tarot as Spiritual Entrepreneurialism”

Judith Halberstam’s “The Queer Art of Failure” – Please read Ch. 4. Shadow Feminisms

Taylor, Judith. Enduring Friendship: Women’s Intimacies and the Erotics of Survival


A great entry point into thinking about horror and feminism:

Other Possible Films:

Lucrecia Martel, The Holy Girl

Lena Dunham, Tiny Furniture

Marielle Heller, The Diary of a Teenage Girl

Akerman, Chantal, La Captive.

Hittman, Eliza, It Felt Like Love

Week 5: (Feb 8) Music

Taylor Swift — cultural appropriation?

5 Ways Taylor Swift Exemplifies White Feminism – And Why That’s a Problem


Why white pop stars can’t shake off cultural appropriation


(Also recall: “selfie humanitarianism” from week 2)


Nickie Minaj — A “Bitch” among “Bosses”?


WWTA – Anupa Mistry – Putting Out – Nicki Minaj and feeling yourself


“Female sexual expression… in male centric settings, industries… means something”

2012 Interview with Nicki Minaj — About being a “Bitch”




Azealia Banks, Iggy Azalea and hip-hop’s appropriation problem




Taylor Swift Having Fun With White Privilege: Racism and Sexism in Pop Culture


Taylor Swift, Nicki Minaj, and the limits of Girl Squad Feminism


Possible topics/themes:

Money, Fame, Sexualization, Genre, Dance, Bodies, Lyrics, Friendship, Costumes

Possible Texts:

Lana del Rey, Taylor Swift, Beyoncé

Douglas, Susan J. The Rise of Enlightened Sexism: How Pop Culture Took Us from Girl Power to Girls Gone Wild. New York: St. Martins Griffin, 2010. Print.

Rachel Vorona Cote, “Taylor & Karlie & Lena: The romance of Celebrity Female Friendship in the Feminist Selfie Generation” LA Review of Books, July 16, 2015.

Week 6: Reading Week

Week 7: Feminism and Affect Theory

1. Sianne Ngai, “Our Aesthetic Categories” (10 pages.)
(Another option would be “The Cuteness of the Avant‐Garde,” but I’m leaning toward the former because it is much shorter, and gives an overview of Ngai’s three categories, including the cute.)
Plus accompanying photos by Audrey Wollen.
The other cluster would be:
It’s a rather long blog post from a keynote Ahmed gave, but I think it covers a lot of important ground. I could find a shorter one if necessary though.
2. A couple poems by Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha’s books Love Cake and Dirty River.

Possible topics/themes:

Intersections between affect theory and feminism. Feminism’s history. Subjectivity. Representation. Neoliberalism. Different Waves. Post-Feminism

Possible Readings:

The work of Sianne Ngai, Sara Ahmed, Lauren Berlant, and Ann Cvetkovich, to name some of the more prominent writers in affect theory.

Mary Caputi. Feminism and Power.

Mackenzie, Catriona. Vulnerability: New Essays in Ethics and Feminist Philosophy.

Sumi Madhok, Anne Phillips, Kalpana Wilson, eds. Gender, Agency and Coercion.

Genz, Stephanie and Benjamin Brabon. Postfeminism: Cultural Texts and Theories.

Gregg, Melissa, and Gregory J. Seigworth. The Affect Theory Reader.

Week 8: (Feb 29) Pop Feminism and Debates

1. Petra Collins’ photography

– An interview with Collins

– An article by Collins

2. Chapters from Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay

– How to Be Friends with Another Woman

– Bad Feminist: Take One

– Bad Feminist: Take Two

3. Gay’s Ted Talk

4. This Rihanna Video

5. This interview with Nancy Fraser about Lean In

6. “Theorizing Agency in Post-Girlpower Times” by Anita Harris and Amy Shields Dobson

Possible topics/themes:

Neoliberalism, Consumer Feminism, Girl Power, Emma Watson, Menstruation Activism, Fashion

Possible Readings:

Caitlin Moran, How to Be a Woman

Freeman, Hadley. Be Awesome: Modern Life for Modern Ladies.

Gay, Roxane. Bad Feminist.

Penny, Laurie. Cybersexism: Sex, Gender and Power on the Internet (2013); Meat Market: Female Flesh Under Capitalism (2011); Unspeakable Things: Sex, Lies and Revolution (2014).

Sandberg, Sheryl. Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead.

Rebecca Solnit, Men Explain Things to Me

Wolf, Naomi. Vagina: A New Biography

Peggy Orenstein, Girls and Sex: Navigating the Complicated New Landscape.

Power, Nina. One Dimensional Woman.

Evans, Adrienne and Riley, Sarah, eds. Technologies of Sexiness: Sex, Identity, and Consumer Culture.

Ariel Levy. Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture.

The artwork of Petra Collins.

Week 9: (Mar 7) Sexual violence


  1. Theory: Heberle, Renée J. and Victoria Grace. Introduction. In Theorizing Sexual Violence ed. Heberle, Renée J. and Victoria Grace. New York and London: Routledge. 2009.
  2. Consent and Rape Culture Today: Baker, Katie J.M., Victoria Campbell, Ragna Rök Jóns, Doreen St. Felix, Brenton Stokes, and Sarah Nicole Prickett. “Consent: It’s Not Sexy”. Panel discussion. Adult Mag. April 9, 2015. http://adult-mag.com/consent-responsibility-and-rape-panel/
  3. Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women: Leanne Simpson. Not Murdered, Not Missing: Rebelling Against Colonial Gender Violence. http://leannesimpson.ca/not-murdered-not-missing/   
  4. Ghomeshi. The National- http://www.cbc.ca/player/play/2683190092
  5. Marvel’s Jessica Jones http://www.huffingtonpost.com/kelley-calkins/why-is-jessica-jones-impo_b_8846902.html  



  1. Murphy, Ann V. “‘Reality Check’: Rethinking the Ethics of Vulnerability”.
  2. Leah Horlick. Content Note: Please note that the following material contains content that may be triggering. http://www.autostraddle.com/this-happens-sexual-assault-between-queer-women-179993/
  3. Sherene Razack. What Is to Be Gained by Looking White People in the Eye? Culture, Race, and Gender in Cases of Sexual Violence. Signs, Vol. 19, No. 4, Feminism and the Law (Summer, 1994), pp. 894-923 
  4. Lady Gaga’s performance at the Oscars: http://www.vanityfair.com/hollywood/2016/02/lady-gaga-oscars-performance 
  5. “We Can Do Better: Violence Against Women In Film And TV”: www.wavaw.ca/we-can-do-better-violence-against-women-in-film-and-tv/ 
  6. How ‘Jessica Jones” Creative Team Tackled Assault, Consent and Sexuality http://variety.com/2016/tv/news/jessica-jones-sex-assault-consent-1201682069/

Note for today 

Obviously, talking about sexual violence can be difficult, especially since we may safely assume that many of us have been personally impacted by it. We have been thinking about how to have a productive and useful seminar discussion on this difficult subject. Trigger warnings aren’t always effective, since the experience of being triggered is highly individual and contextual. We sought to avoid graphic representations of violence, though there is no denying that sexual violence will be discussed. 

You can familiarize yourself with the reading list so everyone knows what to expect and can evaluate their own willingness and ability to engage with the material. We will make every effort to ensure that the discussion revolves around these texts. 

We also thought that we could try to have a discussion on a critical and structural level, addressing cultural, political and theoretical issues. It may be difficult (and often not necessary or advisable) to approach the subject with some remove, but we thought this would ensure that everyone is on the same page and feels secure in their expectation of an intellectual discussion. 

If you have specific thoughts about how this discussion could work better for you and others, we hope you feel comfortable approaching either of us or Eva-Lynn. We really want everyone to feel comfortable about participating, and we’re really excited about this discussion!

Possible Readings:

Mary Gaitskill, “On Not Being a Victim” Harpers

Jacqueline Rose, Women in Dark Times

Lockwood, Patricia. “Rape Joke.”

Week 10: (Mar 14) Memoir/Non-Fiction

Possible topics/themes:

self representation, commodity culture, genre, Oprah 


– How Should a Person Be? By Sheila Heti 
– I am Malala By Malala Yousafzai (Prologue, Chapter 20 “Who is Malala?” and the Epilogue)
– What Purpose Did I Serve In Your Life? By Marie Calloway (“Thank you for touching me” and “Portland, Oregon 2008) ***

 ***Please be advised that Calloway deals with explicit sexual content, this may cause discomfort for some.

The suggested readings are as follows:
– Marnina Gonick “Between “Girl Power” and “Reviving Ophelia”: Constituting the Neoliberal Girl Subject” (Attached as a PDF)
– Sheila Heti’s How Should a Person Be? By James Wood:
– “Why Writing a Memoir Might Actually Make you Happier” By Theo Pauline Nestor: 
– “Lena Dunham and the Challenges of Memoir”:
– Oprah and Alanis Morissette interview: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QsnSabdHWtw


Possible Readings:

Lena Dunham, Not that Kind of Girl.

Mindy Kaling, Why Not Me?

Daum, Megan. My Misspent Youth.

Week 11: (Mar 21) Magazine/Social Media

Possible topics/themes: Cyber-bullying. Suicide. Selfies. Sexting. Zines. Feminism.


1. Rookie: “Great Expectations” (http://www.rookiemag.com/2011/09/great-expectations/); “Forever” (http://www.rookiemag.com/2013/12/editors-letter-26/)

2. Girls, Friendship & Instagram (the first 20 minutes of “Status Update”): http://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/573/status-update

3. Dirty Girls: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h3MxEHQk644

4. “Habits of Leaking: Of Sluts and Network Cards” Wendy Hui Kyong Chun and Sarah Friedland.

5. Queer Tarot: http://www.autostraddle.com/fools-journey-she-is-sitting-in-the-night-is-the-queer-tarot-book-youve-been-waiting-for-308315/

6. Ellen Page and Gay Imperialism: http://harlot.media/articles/1513/ellen-pages-gay-imperialism-is-not-activism

7. “Brazil” episode of GAYCATION: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qrHgV3xi6oE

Week 12: (Mar 28) Fiction


Alison Bechdel, Fun home: a family tragicomic

Mary Gaitskill, “Mirror Ball”

Miranda July, Something that Needs Nothing”


Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki, This One Summer 

Possible Readings:

Tamara Faith Berger, Maidenhead.

Emily Gould. Friendship: A Novel.

Meghan Abbott. Dare Me.

Kate Zambreno. Green Girl: A Novel

Mary Gaitskill. “The Agonized Face,” or other stories/novels.

Week 13: (Apr 4) Trans

“What Being a Girl Feels Like” and “Sea-Witch 6” by Sara June Woods

– “I Am a Bird Now” by Antony and the Johnsons (now known as Anohni), full album available to listen to here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0wr89BPcSU4

– Anohni, “Why I Am Not Attending the Academy Awards” available here: http://pitchfork.com/news/63773-anohni-why-i-am-not-attending-the-academy-awards/

– this VICE article/interview with Juliana Huxtable: http://www.vice.com/en_ca/read/artist-julianahuxtables-journey-from-scene-queen-to-trans-art-star-456

– Julia Serano’s “Trans-misogyny primer” available here: http://juliaserano.blogspot.ca/2012/04/trans-misogyny-primer.html

– Zach Harper, “The Inherent Trans-ness of the Matrix Trilogy,” available here: https://ca.movies.yahoo.com/post/141094825306/the-inherent-transness-of-the-matrix-trilogy

– Cristan Williams, “You Might be a TERF if….” available here: http://www.transadvocate.com/you-might-be-a-terf-if_n_10226.htm

– “I Love Trannies: Boxer Yusaf Mack Fights for his Attraction to Trans Women,” available here: https://broadly.vice.com/en_us/article/i-love-trannies-boxer-yusaf-mack-fights-for-his-attraction-to-trans-women?utm_source=vicefbus (I found this article rather upsetting but would love to use this class to talk as a space to talk about why, if we have time)

Possible Readings:

Preciado, Paul B. Testo Junkie

Julia Serano, Whipping Girl

Juliet Jacques, Trans

Course work

Response Papers

You are required to write 5 response papers of 500-750 words each. They are reflections/responses to the texts that we will be engaging with in class. Response papers will be submitted to the website by 10:00p.m. on Saturdays. They may not be turned in after this time because the seminar organizers need them in order to shape their discussion. At least one is due before by Jan 23. The purpose of the response paper assignment is to help you to actively engage with the course material throughout the semester. Response papers articulate your ideas and opinions about the text. They should be written in the first person. Response papers must include a specific quote or passage or image that you are writing about. Your grade is based on how clearly you articulate your thoughts and how well you support them with textual evidence.

Annotated Bibliography

During the semester, you will write two 250-word annotated bibliography entries on a text that you have found to be useful, relevant, annoying, or of interest, taken from the syllabus or from your own research. These will be posted to the website.

Seminar Plan and Leadership

Your group will collaboratively choose the readings and topic (within the theme of the week), shape the discussion, and lead the class. You will take into consideration suggestions that the seminar group makes, though the choices of readings are your own. You will also read the critical responses posted on the website so that you can take other students’ questions and ideas into account as you lead the seminar. Your group is expected to engage the students, to present the topic in a lively and informative way, and to foster discussion. This is not an oral presentation! No lectures, no reading from a pre-written paper, no silencing others! Work together to figure out the best way to share your knowledge with your peers. Please inform us by Wednesday evening what you expect us to read/watch/examine.

Cumulative Project

This is a project that you and I will decide in a consultation that will take place before March 11. It could consist of an article, conference paper, creative writing, video, visual art piece, collaborative project. It needs to address the topics of this class, engage in scholarly thought, serve you in your thinking and intellectual engagement, and demonstrate your capacity to share your ideas with others.


Participation marks are awarded for active attention and constructive class interaction and workshopping, for clear evidence of familiarity with assigned readings, and for focused attention and participation in the class and assignments. Your participation grade will be based on reasoned, thoughtful and informed contributions to this course.




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