I take a creative approach to teaching and often look for alternatives to traditional scholarly essays. It’s not that I don’t like the traditional essay; rather, it’s that I’m interested in work that reaches beyond the classroom walls. What better way to do this than to take up creative, story-based, practice-oriented assignments?
I detail a few of these projects below.
FEMINIST DETECTIVE FICTION
In this assignment, students develop a short story (between 3000 and 5000 words in length), using feminist theory to develop theme, character, setting, and plot.
The inspiration for this assignment came for the work of Andrea Petö, who developed a similar assignment for a history course. I maintained some elements of her approach, but revised it in order to suit the terms of my graduate feminist theory seminar. (For more information on her project, please see: Petö, Andrea. “Feminist Crime Fiction as a Model for Writing History Differently.” Writing Academic Texts Differently: Intersectional Feminist Methodologies and the Playful Art of Writing. Ed. Nina Lykke. New York and London: Routledge, 2014).
With student permission, I edited the stories and gathered them into self-published collections. We hosted a micro-launch for each collection. In 2019, I will undertake the third iteration of this project.
I conceived the yarn-bombing project–a collaboratively-knitted bikini bottom–together with Dr. Beth Pentney, a colleague from Nipissing University with expertise in third wave feminisms and feminist media studies. Together, we determined that Don Wright’s Red Trench, one of the most controversial pieces of public art ever commissioned in Newfoundland and Labrador and a work reputed to look like female genitalia, could be a good site for yarn-boming.
As Beth and I comment in a book chapter about the yarn-bombed bikini:
“A yarn-bombed bikini bottom can symbolize many things. A bikini is an item of clothing linked with beach, sun, and nature. Designed expressly to expose rather than to hide the body, the bikini is associated with the sexual liberation movement of the 1960s. It also evokes links with Bikini Kill, the feminist punk band, and in this way, gestures towards third wave and Riot Grrrlfeminisms and the DIY culture in which these forms of resistance have thrived (Dunn and Farnsworth 2012).
But for this particular group of students, the majority of whom called the Atlantic coastline home, a yarn-bombed bikini bottom symbolized something more: it was patch-worked piece of yarn-ware designed to cover and comment on otherwise “pornographic” body parts while also gesturing towards the wild, fertile oceans and beaches of this province and the continuing cycle of life and death that inspired Don Wright’s sculpture. Further, in our response, the bikini bottom was not just something that served to expose, but also, something that served to hide; that is, to make what some commentators labeled a pornographic sculpture more proper.”
In the end, twenty individuals participated in the yarn-bombing project (both students and community members), and we had enough knitted pieces to make a double-sided bikini. The students decided that one side should be normatively feminine in colour– pink, purple, and white – while the other side should be radical with colour. We hung the bikini bottom in the Arts Atrium, directly facing Red Trench.
The GNDR4005 yarn-bombing project attracted positive response from across the university and beyond. I was interviewed for the CBC morning show (in both central Newfoundland and St. John’s metro), and our project was featured in a student-developed mini-documentary (for another course).
(c) Sonja Boon