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A day in the life

Shannon Brownlee, assistant professor


Despite all the reading and work I’ve done, I’m not speaking from a position of complete enlightenment. So I encourage students to take responsibility for what they say, too: what did I just say, why, and what am I going to do about it?

Fostering active dialogue


The only professor teaching full time in Dal’s Film Studies Minor program, Shannon Brownlee also teaches courses cross-listed with the Gender and Women’s Studies program.

One of those courses is Film Theory II: Desire in Cinema. Through a variety of popular, experimental, independent, and documentary films, the course examines how desire is expressed cinematically.

“A lot of that desire—though not all—is about sexual desire,” Dr. Brownlee explains. “We look at the impact of gender on desire, but we also consider desire for self-expression, and how sexual desire intersects with other kinds of desire.”

“I love teaching! The best part is the dialogue in the room—or should I say ‘polylogue’,” she smiles. “Bouncing ideas back and forth keeps you mentally active.”

Dr. Brownlee adds that class discussions even inspire her own research. “I stumbled upon the new research I’m doing on animation because of teaching a class that covers animated film.”

And Dr. Brownlee found inspiration for an assignment in the words of Rita Deverell, the Nancy’s Chair in Women’s Studies at Mount Saint Vincent University. “When Rita came and gave a talk at Dal, she asked us, ‘What kind of world do you want to live in?’”

“And it occurred to me that so much of academic work is about critique, not dreaming,” Dr. Brownlee explains. “It wasn’t just, ‘Let’s sit here and think about how sexist the world is,’ but ‘Find a problem and solve it.’”

So Dr. Brownlee gets students to find a problem in film related to desire, “something that bothers them, and to propose a solution.”

“One student wrote part of a screenplay for a feminist horror film that didn’t just masculinize the female protagonist. She didn’t take up a masculine object like a knife, but found a traditionally feminized way of killing the monster: a gas oven,” Dr. Brownlee explains, adding, “There were so many really great projects.”

In a typical class, the responses to the films cover “a huge range,” Dr. Brownlee says, “not only within the same classroom, but sometimes even within the same person.”

“But,” she says, “I don’t stop at saying, we’re all different—let’s agree to disagree, we can’t discuss those differences. Rather, we need to make those differences productive and not only respect each other’s responses but also allow people to learn from them.”