Janelle Monáe: Q.U.E.E.N. of Yardfest 2014

In the Women’s Center today, we have been blasting music. While working on planning some exciting events for post-Spring Break, we keep getting distracted and having a mini-dance party in the conference room. Why is this?

 While breaking out into random dance spasms is not unusual behavior for me, I have been especially prone to it after the announcement made yesterday about Janelle Monáe coming to Harvard as the Yardfest artist. The news has been blowing up my newsfeed and blowing my mind ever since. So, can we just fast-forward to April 13th already?

 Janelle Monáe may need no introduction for you, or you could be thinking “Who?” (maybe smiling, keeping your confusion to yourself, and then googling it on your phone as soon as possible, as I often do when people mention various musical artists…). Well, for anyone who needs a crash-course in who the Q.U.E.E.N. Janelle Monáe is, check out these five videos. After watching them, you will definitely start your Spring Break dance party.

Q.U.E.E.N feat. Erykah Badu

 The song’s intro explains that Project Q.U.E.E.N. is “a musical weapons program of the 21st century. Researchers are still deciphering the nature of this program, and hunting the various freedom movements that wonderland disguised as songs, motion pictures, and works of art.”

Tightrope feat. Big Boi

 “When you get elevated,

They love it or they hate it

You dance up on them haters

Keep getting funky on the scene”

Dance Apocalyptic

 “I really really wanna thank you for dancing til the end”

Primetime ft. Miguel

“When you’re down, and you feel like you’ve given your all, our love will always keep it real and true”

Electric Lady

“We the kind of girls who ain’t afraid to get down

Electric ladies go on and scream out loud”

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On Women’s Week: History, Space, and Our Role in it All

Every once in a while, I am asked, “Why is there a Women’s Week? What about Men’s Week?”

My response is always the same: “Every other week of the year is Men’s Week.”

Another frequent question: “Why do we have a Women’s Center? What about a Men’s Center?”

“Every other space on campus is or was a Men’s Center.”

(It’s also worth taking a look at other responses to these questions if you have time!)

For 243 years, Harvard was a completely male institution. In 1879, the Annex was formed, allowing women to take classes taught by Harvard professors in rented rooms near campus. In 1894, Radcliffe College was chartered to replace the Annex. Radcliffe was named after Ann Radcliffe, who established the first scholarship fund at Harvard in 1643. At the time of the charter, a petition from Annex alumnae protested the chartering of a separate women’s college, advocating (unsuccessfully) for an opening of Harvard to female students.

For nearly fifty years, Harvard and Radcliffe functioned separately, finally signing an agreement in 1943 to allow Radcliffe students to enroll in Harvard classes. Harvard degrees were awarded to women beginning in 1963. It wasn’t until 1968 that women were allowed to walk through the front entrance to the Harvard Faculty Club, and all Harvard/Radcliffe residential houses weren’t co-ed until 1971.

For these reasons (among others) Harvard has been a predominantly male space. The current incarnation of the Women’s Center (finally supported by our institution and its administration, thanks to the work of student activists) has only existed since 2006. It’s important to acknowledge the significant statistic that 49.3% of undergraduates at Harvard are females who will graduate with the same degrees as their male counterparts.

Beyond the gates of Harvard, however, is where our female classmates will do their work, as career women, as mentors, as mothers, as leaders. Even though we’ve made progress as a whole, this fight is not over. While Harvard is approaching gender parity, issues of sexism and gender discrimination are still around, just as they are in the “outside world.” Women’s Week is a chance for Harvard undergraduates to discuss reproductive rights in a transnational context, or the mass incarceration of women of color – not because these events are necessarily direct connections to one’s experience on campus, but because these are the issues affecting women outside of our gates. Women’s week is a chance to explore, learn, and take action with other feminist classmates. It’s a break from the norm, historically and currently speaking. The more that we break these norms, the better conversations we’ll have. By taking a week to acknowledge, consider, and emphasize the importance of female-friendly safe spaces on our campus and outside of our gates, we can recognize our role as feminists in the world at large – the first step in doing the work that needs to be done with fellow feminists at our side.

On how Beyoncé is basically perfect, but probably also tries really, really hard

Like many, I’m a huge Beyoncé fan – I probably have the “Drunk in Love” video burnished into my memory frame-for-frame (although I’m still not sold on Jay’s rap, or at least the lyrical achievement of repeating “if I do say so myself” three times in a row), and I spent too much money last year so she could trapeze over my head (singing the whole time!) in an incredible navy jumpsuit during the Mrs. Carter World Tour.

So I was intrigued a while ago when catching up on one of my favorite music critics to find that he had written an article titled, “Why Can’t Beyoncé Have It All?”, because by all means, it seems as though she does have it all. As Abebe notes:

Beyoncé is, after all, talented, successful, and fearsomely hardworking; she’s rich, beautiful, and [dignified]. She’s married a covetable partner… and birthed the most famous baby in the hemisphere; she even excels at those small things that, much like Michelle Obama’s upper arms, are poor indicators of human value but require impressive effort and attention to detail (e.g., hair, nails, fitness). She and her husband are vaguely chummy with the Obamas, creating a fantasy of black-power-couple synergy that’s irresistibly seductive. We may not actually know much about Beyoncé, but there is a model of perfection we would like to see in her, and the fact that she can sustain that image suggests she has it really, really, rigorously together. 

This rigorous togetherness inspires in her fans an adoration one might describe as hagiographic, if not for the fact that it goes far beyond the realm of mere saints into messianic worship (“praise Beysus”). Although it may be explained by the fact that on the spectrum of Bey fandom I’m hardly the most fervent, I’ve never quite bought into this myself. In many ways her perfection is superhuman; I’m reminded of an interview with Beyonce’s make-up artist that is purportedly intended to “break down B’s beauty routine”, only to explain hilariously that she basically doesn’t wear any because she is – surprise! – flawless. But I’ve been hesitant in the past to make that leap into the otherworldly – to place her amongst the divine or the divinely ordained – because to call her a goddess diminishes, to me, the fact that she isn’t a deity among mortals who can’t help but be perfect, but in fact a person who works incredibly hard to succeed in every arena imaginable. Beyoncé herself understandably and actively propagates this image – as Abebe writes about her self-helmed HBO documentary, “Life Is But a Dream”: “not a thing about it, from its cheery poise to its feminist commitments, runs any risk of rejecting the over-the-top hero worship that’s accumulated around her, or her status as an impossible yardstick of fulfilment.” But there’s a certain way, perhaps, in which that detracts from her own astounding achievements.

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Beyonce and Michael Cera: celebrities of diametrically opposing appeal, but surprisingly similar!

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