It’s practically impossible to escape Beyoncé these days—what with her releasing a new video nearly every week last year, and giving birth to the world’s youngest Billboard artist. Now’s she’s invading college campuses, too: students at Rutgers University can enroll in “Feminist Perspectives: Politicizing Beyoncé,” a course dedicated to examining one of music’s biggest pop stars, the Huffington Post reports.
Taught by Kevin Allred, a Ph.D student and lecturer in the school’s Department of Women’s and Gender Studies, the class uses Beyoncé’s music, videos, and career to explore issues of American race, gender, and sexual politics.
“This isn’t a course about Beyoncé’s political engagement or how many times she performed during President Obama’s inauguration weekend,” Allred told Rutgers’ Focus news site. Instead, the course explores the control that Bey has over her own aesthetic (like her alter ego, Sasha Fierce), and whether the narrative she’s creating is one of an empowered or stereotypical woman.
Allred uses texts from black feminists, writings from the likes of Alice Walker and abolitionist Sojourner Truth to supplement readings of Beyoncé’s music videos and songs. Class discussions use Knowles as a jumping off point to discuss artists like Billie Holiday, Nina Simone, Amy Winehouse and Lady Gaga—who also has college courses dedicated to her own canon of work and career image. Using pop stars as a foundation for bigger sociological discussion is becoming more and more popular—even Beyoncé’s husband has a class at Georgetown University dedicated to him: “Sociology of Hip-Hop: The Theodicy of Jay-Z.”
What might you expect to see on the syllabus of Beyoncé’s class? We pored over the singer’s catalog and decided to put forth our suggestions for possible topics of discussion that might pop up on the syllabus for a future semester of “Politicizing Beyoncé.”
“Bug-a-Boo” (The Writing’s On the Wall, 1999)
In an age where “smartphone-free” parties and “off-the-grid” weeks are becoming increasingly trendy, was Beyoncé (with Destiny’s Child) ahead of her time, calling for a stop to information and connectivity overload? Will Bug-a-Boo be held in history as the representative model for technology in the late ’90s? See:
“I wanna put your number on the call block/ Have AOL make my e-mails stop”
“You make me wanna throw my pager out the window/ Tell MCI to cut the phone poles”
“Freakum Dress” (B’Day, 2006)
In identifying her partner’s possible transgressions (Verse 1: “’Cause once again he’s out doing wrong”), the subject uses ownership of her body (“He’s been acting up, but he won’t be the only one) to combat the imagery of captivity (“Been locked up in the house way too long”) in her relationship. Beyoncé’s validation comes through getting her “freakum dress” on—a garment that makes her partner “turned on by how the dress was fitting right,” and is “short and backless.” As a pop star whose catalog is filled with songs condemning cheating men, what does it mean that the singer suggests provocative, sexy, skimpy dress as a means to keep the attention of a possibly unfaithful partner?
“If I Were a Boy” (I am…Sasha Fierce, 2008)
Beyoncé addresses traditional heterosexual gender roles by swapping out her own, making claims that her female perspective would render her a more understanding and “better” male partner. Are the issues raised by Beyoncé in the song (drinking beer with the guys, chasing after girls, turning off one’s phone) exclusive to men?
Supplemental reading: Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus
“Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)” (I am…Sasha Fierce, 2008)
She’s a champion of female empowerment, but Beyoncé’s messages are often counter-intuitive. She doesn’t want a man who milks her for her money, yet she wants him to pay her bills (“Bills, Bills, Bills”). And while “Single Ladies” sounds like a celebratory song embracing a woman’s independence, her song is pushing the message that a relationship is only valid once he “puts a ring on it.” How can we reconcile the extreme representations of females she presents in her full body of work? There’s your term-paper topic.