Political Economy of Women

Today I must confess- I am jealous of my sister Anna.  Is it her good looks, fulfilling relationships, pretty hair?  Yes to all three but the main thing I am jealous of is yesterday she started her third year at BYU and is taking my favorite class- Political Economy of Women PoliSci 472.

I had three classes at BYU that dramatically impacted me- PoliSci 472, Theories on Human Freedom (PoliSci 308, which I took twice once as student, once as TA), and PoliSci 201 (Western Political Heritage, Ancient Thought, which I took 3 times- once as a student, once to improve my grade (where I met my mentor Dr. Holland, and once as a TA).   I will have to do an entire post about each of these classes but today I am waxing nostalgic for Poliitical Economy of Women or PoliSci 472.

This class was special for so many reasons.  First, it was team taught by two amazing professors- Donna Lee Bowen and Valerie Hudson.  I always found the best classes in college were the one’s that teachers had a passion for- classes they usually only teach every other year.  This guaranteed a teacher with excitement for the topic and I think most anything can be made interesting by an enthusiastic teacher.

Dr.  Hudson is particularly amazing.  She is as close to a superwoman as any person I’ve ever met.

Believe it or not this description is for one woman, Dr. Hudson: (She even has a wikipedia page!)

a  full tenure professor, noted scholar of China’s one-child only policy (co-author of Bare Branches: Security Implications of Asia’s Surplus Male Populations), she has 8 children, 3 of her children have cystic fibrosis, she has authored 3 other books including one on women in the LDS church, and in her spare time she researched her children’s cf condition and discovered a hormone that may be associated with the condition (and had an article published in a medical journal!), anyway the list goes on.  She is an amazing person and just her example, let alone her teachings taught me that I could do great things with my life.

So the teachers are great…Moving on to the course content.  It is also fabulous.  Even now, nearly 10 years since I graduated, I still remember individual lectures and discussions that occurred  in PoliSci 472.  From the syllabus here are the course objectives:

  • To understand the roles women play in world society as producers, reproducers, agents of cultural continuity and change, and to render women “visible” in international and national affairs.
  • To explore in greater depth women’s choices about education, family, and work in the developing world.
  • To investigate transnational issues directly concerning women’s lives, and the objectification and subordination of women that often results.
  • To discuss the dynamics of change in women’s lives and in their societies, including the dynamics of religious beliefs, and to learn about programs for change that already exist.

Perhaps such topics sound dull to you but for me I begin salivating at the mouth I’m so interested.  I could talk endlessly about any one of those course objectives.

One of my favorite books we read Maternal Thinking by Sara Ruddick still has a prominent place on my front bookshelf.  It is a book that summarizes the purpose and teachings of the class well.  Ruddick says the work of motherhood “shapes the parent as much as the child, giving rise to specific cognitive capacities and values — qualities of intellect and soul. Doing shapes thinking, in other words.”

“A mother engages in a discipline. That is, she asks certain questions rather than others; she establishes criteria for the truth, adequacy and relevance of proposed answers; and she cares about the findings she makes and can act on.”

She then says we should take this nearly universal “cognitive capacity” of mothering and use it to promote peace and connectivity throughout the world.

I can’t explain why I found this so moving but for the first time in my life I finally understood why motherhood was important to the world, not just the family.  Through PoliSci 472 I learned that my life as a woman mattered to the success of the world. At the time this meant much more to me than the platitudes heaped on the alter of female divinity.  This was a concrete reason why women and femininity was important, even crucial.  Ruddick also says that “anyone who commits her or himself to responding to children’s demands, and makes the work of response a considerable part of her or his life, is a mother”.

The units on veiling and female circumcision had a particularly dramatic impact.  For the latter we watched a movie where they showed a girl being circumcised.  I couldn’t deal with it and literally left the classroom to vomit.  Clearly not an enjoyable memory but that doesn’t mean it was not impactful.   There are certain times while growing up where a child must be confronted with the evil in the world and deal with it- how lucky I was to receive such an experience within the protection and careful observation of such a great class.  I remember talking with Dr.  Hudson about how anyone could do that to their daughter and her inspiring me to make a difference in the world and to not give up on people.  What a great teacher!

We also talked a lot about the gospel and its views of womanhood.  The class explored things I had heard my entire life, like that Eve was a hero for her actions in the garden, but that had never really been defended adequately in my eyes.  I didn’t just want to know that Eve was noble and great.  I wanted to know why.  This class helped me with the why’s (not that I know the answer to every question but it helped).  Plus, it taught me to ask questions of the Lord and to not be afraid of diving into topics I did not understand.  I have learned that such experiences strengthen, not weaken, my faith.   Check out my post on Mormon Feminism to read some of my current views.

More then anything the class reinforced to me that there was room for voices just like mine (a whole class of them in fact, including the 2 teachers) in the church and in the world.  This is something I have never forgotten.  I grew so much during this class and that is what I am most envious of Anna.  I wish I could experience that kind of growth on my own but it is hard.  I am envious of the fantastic learning she is going to have presented to her and I hope she takes full advantage of the opportunity.  I know I did and I am SO GRATEFUL!

(PS- All 3 of the classes I mentioned were by no means easy.  They were extremely difficult but that’s part of what made them so rewarding.  Just goes to show don’t settle for the easy way out even in college!).

Anyway, I don’t know if I have done the class justice but it had a dramatic impact on my life and I am most grateful.  Did any classes have an impact on your life?  College as a whole was the most transformative phase I’ve ever had and I look back on it with great warmth and nostalgia.  I am so lucky and blessed to have had such great experiences.

5 thoughts on “Political Economy of Women

  1. What a wonderful walk down memory lane. The political economy of women was by far my favorite class of all time. It challenged me to see the world with open eyes. I would love the chance to be in it again! Thanks for sharing Rachel.Professors Hudson and Bowen are my personal heroes and changed my life as well. long live the political economy of women! (class of 2002)

    1. It really was a great class. I remember how you would drag your hubby to class because you wanted him to understand these important principles and ideas.
      Don’t you sometimes wish you could go back to those days when all you had to worry about was school and learning as much as possible? Even without kids the world seems so much more complicated the older I get.
      Thanks for the comment.

  2. i’m so excited for this class!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! and thanks for the intro about being jealous of me 🙂 but i’m jealous of you. i wish i could suck your brain out and use it for this class because its going to kill me! But I will go out with a BANG

    1. Go out with a bang? Where are you going?
      A good chunk of that class is still in my brain so call me! I’m glad to hear that your first few days are going well. Its a tough class but so rewarding.
      It is one of those rare classes that doesn’t just impart knowledge but actually makes you a better human being. I really am jealous, so keep me posted.

  3. Guess what Anna was talking with Dr. Hudson today and told her that I had taken the class. She said ‘who is your sister?’ . She said Rachel Wagner. and Dr. Hudson remember who I was. That made my day!

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