CCHU9043 Humanities

Rethinking Women: The Big Debates

[This course is under the thematic cluster of ‘Sustaining Cities, Cultures, and the Earth’.]


Course Description

Should women get married or stay single? Are women natural homemakers? Is it wrong for women to enjoy sex? Should women be given access to birth control and the right to abort? How should women confront sexual violence? What are the opportunities and challenges facing lesbians and transgender women? How do women fight?

During the course we engage in the big debates about women’s livelihood across time, space and culture. To what extent have social expectations for women changed throughout history? How have these expectations been enforced and resisted by women? What do women think about themselves today?

Rethinking Women focuses on contemporary societies through the critical lens of the past. It explores the great strides that women have made in educational and professional achievement in recent decades. But it also explores the social expectations and gender stereotypes that continue to limit women’s capacity to develop their abilities and make life choices. The aim is to encourage students from diverse backgrounds to rethink and challenge the assumptions about women’s identities and experiences. In Rethinking Women we discuss a wide range of material, including texts, films and adverts in order to consider such issues as gender relations, sexuality and reproductive rights, through facilitating a dialogue between the sexes. The course presupposes no previous knowledge of the subject.

Course Learning Outcomes

On completing the course, students will be able to:

  1. Explain the social and cultural construction of gender stereotypes at different historical points.
  2. Analyze the consequences of such constructions on women’s status and input.
  3. Examine the big debates about women’s livelihood at different times and in different global contexts.
  4. Assess how the historiography relates to women’s position today.

Offer Semester and Day of Teaching

First semester (Wed)


Study Load

Activities Number of hours
Lectures 24
Tutorials 8
Reading / Self-study 38
Assessment: Essay / Report writing 30
Assessment: Presentation (incl preparation) 20
Total: 120

Assessment: 100% coursework

Assessment Tasks Weighting
Continuous assessment and task focused activities 25
Online portfolio 25
Project 50

Required Reading

  • Croll, E. J. (1995). Changing identities of Chinese women: Rhetoric, experience, and self-perception in twentieth-century China. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press. [Extracts]
  • Ho, P. S. Y., & Tsang, A. K. T. (2012). Sex and desire in Hong Kong. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press. [Extracts]
  • Lee, E. W. Y. (Ed.). (2003/2004). Gender and change in Hong Kong: Globalization, postcolonialism, and Chinese patriarchy. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press. [Introduction: Gender and Change in Hong Kong]
  • Scott, J. W. (1988). Gender and the politics of history. New York: Columbia University Press. [Chap. 1 ‘Women’s History’]

Recommended Reading

Extracts from:

  • Allen, A. T. (2008). Women in twentieth-century Europe. Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire; New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
  • Bailey, B. L. (1988). From front porch to back seat: Courtship in twentieth-century America. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.
  • Banister, J. (2004). Shortage of girls in China today. Journal of Population Research, 21(1), 19-45.
  • Carreiras, H. (2006). Gender and the military: Women in the armed forces of western democracies. London: Routledge.
  • David, D., & Friedman, S. (Eds.). (2014). Wives, husbands, and lovers: Marriage and sexuality in Hong Kong, Taiwan, and urban China. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press.
  • Douglas, S. J. (2004). The mommy myth: The idealization of motherhood and how it has undermined women. New York: Free Press.
  • Fisher, K. (2006). Birth control, sex and marriage in Britain, 1918-1960. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press.
  • Hammers, R. (2002). Antifeminism and family terrorism: A critical feminist perspective. Lanham, Md.: Rowman & Littlefield.
  • Hooks, B. (1984). Feminist theory: From margin to center. Boston, MA: South End Press.
  • Horak, L. (2016). Girls will be boys: Cross-dressed women, lesbians, and American cinema, 1908-1934. New Brunswick, New Jersey: Rutgers University Press.
  • Israel, B. (2002). Bachelor girl: The secret history of single women in the twentieth century. New York: William Morrow.
  • Levy, A. (2005). Female chauvinist pigs: Women and the rise of raunch Culture. New York: Free Press.
  • Roberts, E. (1995). Women and families: An oral history, 1940-1970. Oxford, UK; Cambridge, Mass., USA: Blackwell.
  • Stansell, C. (2010). The feminist promise: 1792 to the present. New York: Modern Library.
  • To, Sandy. (2015). China’s leftover women: Late marriage among professional women and its consequences. Abingdon, Oxon, UK; New York, NY: Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group.
  • Wolf, N. (1992). The beauty myth: How images of beauty are used against women. New York: Anchor Books.

Course Co-ordinator and Teacher(s)

Course Co-ordinator Contact
Dr C.L. Tsang
School of Humanities (History), Faculty of Arts
Tel: 3917 2864
Email: cctsang1@hku.hk
Teacher(s) Contact
Dr C.L. Tsang
School of Humanities (History), Faculty of Arts
Tel: 3917 2864
Email: cctsang1@hku.hk