The Functions of Sex: Race and Gender in America

Discovery Core Experience: I&S Course

The Functions of Sex Banner

B CORE 115

60-Second Syllabus: The Functions of Sex: Race and Gender in AmericaIndividuals and Societies Icon

About This Course: 

This course will undertake the cultural studies of sex by researching topics and analyzing texts from multiple disciplines and genres to think about the functions of sex in the gendered production of race in America. Sex is had, used, and exchanged for many reasons for reproduction, for pleasure, for building intimacy, and for securing financial and other forms of well-being. Sex is also a form of power, used as a source of control and manipulation, of moralizing and shaming, and as a form of violence and a legitimization of other violences. Sex and sexuality come to mean many things as part of our socialization, as forms of identity, as ways of evaluating people, and as indicators of normativity and even rationality. They are also the modalities through which race and gender are (re)produced and lived in America. We will inquire into the link between sex and gender as well as the various ways that gender frames the sexualization of race and the racialization of sex/uality.

For these reasons and more, sex has also been the subject, whether explicitly or implicitly, of a LOT of cultural work. This class will analyze the representations of sex in many American cultural forms including fiction, drama, poetry, film, and the graphic novel. We will investigate how sex is used in literary narratives, including the way it is deployed to theorize, challenge, and reinforce U.S. racial and gender formation in different historical moments. We will question what sex does in and to the narratives we read and the ways different cultural forms represent and engage the subject of sex to make claims about the social world and to intervene in the hegemonic and stereotypical definitions that label people. We will sometimes read literary texts against the grain, looking for the ways that the repression of sex in some narratives results in ruptures and contortions of form and content as the unspoken makes itself known and for the assumptions texts make about the functions of sex in relation to the production of race and gender in America.

Dr. Morse (He/Him/His)

School of Interdisciplinary Arts & Sciences

Picture of Dr. MorseAbout Dr. Morse:

I often use writing as a learning tool for conceptual analysis in my first-year Discovery Core classes. I come to the teaching of rhetoric and composition from a background in social justice and critical race and ethnic studies and my teaching is framed by my continual attempt to make anti-racist and feminist pedagogical choices about content, assignments, class planning, and assessment. I believe that engaging critical concepts along with cultural texts to explore the often contradictory discourses that frame social issues allows students to write about their own life-worlds while developing foundational analytical skills (analyzing concepts, questioning the assumptions underlying social categories, interpreting texts) that translate to other classes and their work beyond the university, which is the way I strive to build students’ intellectual confidence in their own interpretation of both texts and the social formations that structure their worlds.




"The stereotype, for me, is a lens through which we can ask critical questions about culture, social relations, and the power of representation." - Dr. Morse