Using Twitter To Teach Feminist Theory: Cowboys in Paradise and International Feminism

After noticing that some of my students have been tweeting interesting ideas using the hashtag #femtheory, Paul Benzon (@pbenzon) asked if I could share my Twitter assignment.

The Assignment: Eat, Pray, Love versus Cowboys In Paradise and Twitter
Students use Twitter to apply feminist theory to the films Eat, Pray, Love and Cowboys in Paradise by director Amit Virmani (@amitvirmani). The assignment encourages students to consider how both films separately engage with second-wave US feminism as well as minority and international feminism. Cowboys in Paradise is a documentary about the “Kuta Cowboys,” bronzed Indonesian male sex workers who offer companionship to European and Japanese women drawn to the beaches of Bali due to narratives like Eat, Pray, Love. I’ve written a review of Cowboys for the open-access journal Film in the Feminist Classroom that can be found here.

Cowboys in Paradise Trailer

For the assignment, students watch and live-tweet Eat, Pray, Love, Cowboys in Paradise and an interview with the Cowboys director, Amit Virmani, over three class periods. Each student tweets a minimum of ten times, and their tweets have to include comments on the beginning, middle and end of the film, an application of feminist theory to the film, and replies/commentary to their classmates’ tweets for each part of the assignment. All tweets are archived under the hashtag #femtheory. After the twitter discussion, students have to write a short 2-3 page paper that explains how each film, or the interview, relates to the feminist theory concepts that they have learned in class. Students also have to make reference to the Twitter conversation in their papers.

Student Responses to the Assignment

We were very lucky that Amit Virmani (@amitvirmani) graced us with his Twitter presence for both the discussions of his film and his interview. My students told me that they were star-struck by being able to tweet with him, and that talking to him helped them to clarify important ideas. One of my proudest teaching moments took place during one Twitter discussion, when my student Tara Eckel (@taraeckel) commented: “I love that even though Virmani says that he doesn’t think Cowboys in Paradise is an academic film, [sic] but that the issues are there. Shows how important these issues are in our world, and not just in textbooks.” Tara’s tweet was echoed in many of my student papers and the later summing-up discussion we had in class, indicating that for the majority of my students, the effects of feminist theory were now concrete and real.

Reflections on Using Twitter

Twitter was instrumental to these student epiphanies. I taught a similar iteration of the course without Twitter last Spring, and my papers this semester were much more engaged, focused and thoughtful in comparison. In addition, the ability to chat with Amit Virmani brough my students’ engagement with both texts to a completely different level. Interested readers can find a storified version of our discussions created by one of my students, James Pomar, here.

Finally, credit should go where credit is due: I thank my digital humanities colleagues Jesse Stommel (@jessifer) and Mark Sample (@samplereality) for introducing me to the of live-tweeting film assignment this semester.

Further Resources

This assignment is part of my Seminar in Feminist Theory course, the capstone course to the Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies minor at Richard Stockton CollegeA link to my syllabus is here.

You can find one of my sample Eat, Pray, Love/Cowboys assignments here and helpful resources on integrating a similar assignment in your classroom on The Stockton Asian Film Series website. These resources include an interview with Amit Virmani, as well as a very useful student presentation on Orientalism and colonial feminism in Eat, Pray, Love.


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