Breaking Gender Boundaries: Voices of Women English Class

Elective Courses

Brooke Ghaly

What do Jane Austen, Virginia Woolf, and Toni Morrison have in common? They all have a spot in the curriculum. That is why Ms. Schmiedeler is proud to teach Voices of Women, an English elective course offered to senior students. Schmiedeler says, “I think we read challenging literature [and] interesting texts. It doesn’t matter what gender you are to appreciate some of these icons of literature—women who are experimenting with style or with structure that wouldn’t otherwise land in the canon.”

Voices of Women is a semester-long course aimed to educate students on the female perspective in literature, which in turn gives students a broader perspective on gender inequality both in society today and in the past. The work is demanding—students read two full-length novels and numerous poems, short stories, and excerpts. However, seniors find that they gain a new appreciation for female authors through studying the barriers that women in the English world face. Student Ada Taute says, “Voices of Women not only gave me more knowledge of the history of female authors, but also I discovered how hard it was for women to publish work. I will never look at a women-written book the same again.” 

The course contains four units: Silence, Language, & Voice, Women as Wife & Mother, Women as Artist & Intellectual, and Women as Object of Beauty. Each one explores a variety of texts that relate to the overall theme. At the end of every unit, students are prompted to reflect on the theme in writing. For the honors section of the course, students interview a woman from a different generation to hear their perspective on the ideas of the unit. 

Although the course has been offered for two decades, the class didn’t reach enough students to run until 2016. Since then, Ms. Schmiedeler has been grateful to explore this side of literature with new students each year. “I think it always benefits students when they are challenged to consider a text from a different perspective and one that is not the dominant perspective,” she says. When asked why she teaches the class, Schmiedeler simply states, “It’s awesome!”