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image: Campus NewsLecture Notes - Tough teacher. Tough class. Tough Broads.
Deborah Nelson doesn't consider herself a tough broad. "I suspect it's true, but I'm ambivalent that I want it to be true," says Nelson, an assistant professor of English language and literature who has taught at the U of C for five years. The subjects of her Tough Broads course this fall, however, are undoubtedly strong women.

The new course, listed under gender studies and English literature, examines literary works by the "postwar era's 'exceptional women,'" including Simone Weil, Susan Sontag, and Joan Didion. "They are women who succeeded in a man's world because they were so talented," says Nelson.

The writers, most of whom came of age before feminism, posed difficult problems for the movement, at times writing scathing criticism against it. Nelson calls them "the exceptions who got into the boys' club but weren't interested in changing the system."

Nelson, a self-declared feminist, will juxtapose their works with those of feminists Simone de Beauvoir, Adrienne Rich, and Audre Lorde to explore issues such as autonomy, personal austerity, and self-sacrifice. The class will examine another theme: suffering. "All of these women writers are very interested in the issue of suffering," says Nelson. As an example, she describes her favorite "tough broad," Sontag, AB'51. "She fought breast cancer twice, and yet during all that she was a filmmaker, a novelist, and an intellectual writer."

The course consists almost totally of discussion. The 25 students write two papers and keep a journal of responses to the texts. The first paper is based on one text, and the subject of the second will depend on the class's interests at quarter's end.- W.W.

 


  OCTOBER 2001

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