Intersectionality + Beauty Lesson Plan
hello all! I am currently enrolled in the course Queering Music Theory (MT 460), and after reading the chapter In The Name of Beauty, from Tressie McMillan Cottom’s Thick: And Other Essays, became inspired to develop a lesson plan incorporating the new material with my prior interests and knowledge of intersectional identities. the lesson includes a self-reflective free-write which I encourage you to complete to analyze how your own identities may play a role in your perceptions of everyday life.
to maintain a better understanding and appreciation for intersectionality in general, how our personal identities play a role in our interactions with others, and daily attitudes
a detailed guide to navigating a classroom discussion and free-write activity, or a model and inspiration to develop an individual exploration of intersectionality, and personal perceptions of beauty
anyone looking to improve their knowledge of intersectionality
(OPTIONAL) PRIOR READING:
something to write with
an open ear, and critical mind
1. DEFINE INTERSECTIONALITY:
there are many different interpretations and definitions of intersectionality. Here's mine:
- the interconnected nature of social categorizations and the acknowledgment that everyone has their own unique experiences of discrimination and oppression
- can include race, gender, sexuality, hobbies, careers, relationships, style, taste, etc.
Q: why is intersectionality important to acknowledge and consider?
2. INTRODUCE EXAMPLES OF EMBRACING INTERSECTIONALITY IN THE MUSIC INDUSTRY:
other artists to explore who embrace intersectionality:
- Lil Nas X
- Frank Ocean
- Ms. Lauryn Hill
*depth of Monáe’s exploration is completely up to the presenter and could encapsulate a separate lesson*
WHO IS JANELLE MONÁE:
- a Queer Black Woman whose Afrofuturistic music and visual art conceptualizes Black feminist thought and speaks to the experiences Black women face
- her work deeply embraces her intersectionality
Afrofuturism itself is an intersectional genre - cultural aesthetic combining the African diaspora with science fiction and technology
- her concept album and 'emotion picture' Dirty Computer is glistening with intersectional anthems through both her lyrics, and unique sound through a fusion of genres
- weaves themes of resistance, embracing Black pride, sexual liberation, and feminism, displaying that the things that make her 'dirty' are also the things that make her human. Illustrates that if these qualities are erased, individuals will dissolve into emotionless robots
- preaches unconditional self-love, sense of self
activity: dissect intersectional anthems from Dirty Computer
BLACK FEMINISM in "DJANGO JANE":
a few examples of stand out lyrics to discuss:
“Probably give a Tony to the homies, Prolly get a Emmy dedicated to the Highly melanated, ArchAndroid orchestrated"
references her personal strides in the film industry
- moonlight + hidden figures
- both intersectional films in their own way
also references her past album while aligning with her signature theme of Afrofuturism
“Black girl magic, y’all can’t stand it” “I got away with murder, no Scandal. Huh, cue the violins and the violas”
homage to other successful women in the industry
- Viola Davis in How to Get Away with Murder
- Kerry Washington in Scandal
“We gave you life. We gave you birth. We gave you God. We gave you Earth”.
though women should be celebrated for being life sources and centers of creation, they are underrepresented, brought down, and treated as lesser than men
“Let the vagina have a monologue, mansplaining, I fold ‘em like origami” “Take a seat, you were not involved”
reference to a play called The Vagina Monologues
- a celebration of female sexuality
- in a Genius video dissecting the lyrics of this song, Monae explains "we should listen to understand, not to respond"
- criticizes the silencing nature of the patriarchy
Q: Is there a hierarchy between the social categorizations in the song? Is Black or female empowerment more prominent or are they presented equally throughout the video?
"PYNK" & QUEER FEMININITY
appreciation of femininity & queer identity absent from the male gaze
some (but not all) dancers wear labia-lined trousers
- conveys that anatomy does not stand in the way of identifying as a female, or with the power of womanhood
“Great Cosmic Mother”
goes back to the idea of women as creators
“I Grab Back"
reference to Tr*mp
“We’re all Just Pink”
equality both generally and within feminism
what are your reactions to Monáe’s approach musically/vocally? do you notice a difference in timbre that aligns with her message on femininity?
“Make Me Feel”, Unapologetically Queer
“An emotional, sexual bender”
ode to sexual fluidity and expressing one's absolute self
- imagery of her polyamorous relationship with Zen and Ché throughout the film alludes to her pansexuality
- androgynous performance style has become a pan/bisexual anthem
Monáe's relationship with Prince as a mentor shines through musically
- captivating synths, syncopation, zesty punctual guitar line
- outfits mirror his 80's style
pay attention to Monáe's sense of self-expression throughout the video and the portrayal of her "actual self" as a dichotomy with Cindy Mayweather, her cyborg alter ego, as explored in her previous album's electric lady attire
how do you view Monáe’s portrayal of her “absolute self” in this video? do you still feel that she’s holding back in some way as Wortham writes?
take out something to write on, and write down the traits that make up your own intersectional identity. to reiterate: can be anything from race and class to music taste and personality
Cottom talks about whiteness as a response to Blackness, the desires of being desired, and how beauty is contingent upon capitalism and exclusion. she also mentions that Beauty must always be more than reducible to a single thing, has many layers, and ties into our knowledge of intersectional identities.
"Beauty can be political, economic, external, individualized, generalizing, exclusionary, and perhaps best of all a story that can be told”
we all have a story to tell that relates our own backgrounds with beauty, with its diversity and exclusions
think about a time when you have felt, or continuously feel truly beautiful - physical, or not.
once you have a memory or moment...
write about the privileges, limitations, and overall experiences that helped you reach that point, and how your intersectional identity may play a role.
after developing the idea for this activity I tried it myself. here's my response to the free-write prompt as an example for your own self-discovery:
I feel the most beautiful when I have worked hard on a project, and am able to present it in some way that expresses my passion, dedication, and hard work. This most typically happens when I have completed editing a video. I have been interested in film, television, and media production from a young age, and currently, work as a videographer for the Michigan Daily. With the video I'm working on now, i’ve been getting really frustrated because it’s taking a long time to edit. I recognize that my frustration also means that I care and that the finished product will be all the more fulfilling because of the time and effort I have put into completing it. This frustration sheds light on the contrast in my experiences working as a vocalist and in video production. Though the music industry is male-dominated, solo voice, singing in choirs, and participating in musicals have become tied to femininity in a way. That history itself is fascinating, and something I would like to dissect in a future project. Both fields are competitive in different ways. In my activities related to voice, it feels like there’s always always a search for tenors and basses, while sopranos and altos are required to perform at a higher level to maintain their spot. In film production, it’s not uncommon for me to be the only woman in the room. Both activities are genderless in a way - anyone regardless of gender can be any voice part, or can work on a video, but I also feel a shift relative to gender between each environment. With the video I’m working on now, I am paired with two men, and in some ways, it feels like I’m the one to keep everything on track. There’s a maternal instinct about it in a way, and it’s interesting to consider the power dynamic. Why do I feel so much responsibility to get the job done, why am I not also free to goof around as they do? This responsibility is something I have felt since I first started working in film, but have not acknowledged until now. At times I’m able to take a break and joke around a bit, but again, I’m always the one to get us back to work. Is it an unspoken element of proving my diligence to sit in the same room? I’m still very much an amateur editor - there are so many tools I have yet to discover with the process, but when working on projects, I also feel beautiful displaying my skills. There’s satisfaction in knowing a certain shortcut, or process that the others in the room do not. It’s a way of proving, yes I am meant to be here too. The beauty also comes from fellow editors in the room being surprised by my knowledge of terms. But is this fulfillment just a way of wanting to be desired through an ‘approving’ male gaze? I feel beautiful holding a camera because it is something uncommon and unexpected. Yes, I love capturing and documenting, but I also love the power of deciding how to portray something. Though Cottom proves the old expression inaccurate, with the camera, I am the beholder - it’s up to me to decide what is shown, and make it captivating through my eyes. It’s an unfamiliar and exciting dynamic to decide, and capture what I find beautiful.
and that's the plan! after reading Cottom's excerpt for class, this activity came to mind effortlessly and has provided some extraordinary tools and opportunities to analyze my own life through specific lenses. this personal analysis has allowed me to acknowledge the privileges I have, while additionally giving me the strength to recognize when I may be underappreciated, pushing me to gain the courage to speak up for my rights, and what I believe in. I urge you all to test the prompt out yourself - you may be amazed by what comes to light.