Race, Gender, and Performance


Professor Robin Bernstein


Aesthetic and Interpretive Understanding 26

(Formerly “Gender and Performance,” Women, Gender, and Sexuality 1133)

Harvard University, Fall 2011

Mondays and Wednesdays 11am-noon, Harvard Hall 202


When taken for a letter grade, this course counts for

General Education credit in Aesthetic and Interpretive Understanding or

 Core credit in Literature and Arts B


Prof. Bernstein                                                 Teaching Fellows:

Email: <rbernst@fas>                                      Lizzy Cooper Davis <davis5@fas> (Head TF)

Office: Boylston G31                                      Scott Poulson-Bryant <spbnycvip@gmail.com>

Office hours: Wednesdays 9-10:30 am                       Shana Komittee (shana36@gmail.com)

Phone: 617.495.9634                         



We are surrounded by performances: film, online video, television, theatre, sports, public rituals such as weddings, and the normal, quotidian events of everyday life such as shopping.  The purpose of this course is to help you think in new and deeper ways about these performances.  “Race, Gender, and Performance” introduces you to powerful theoretical tools that will enable you to look anew at familiar performances and see things that you never noticed or thought about before.  The course also spotlights feminist, queer, and anti-racist performances that are less mainstream and therefore less familiar to most students.  Thus the class makes the familiar strange and makes the strange familiar.

Throughout the semester, we examine race, gender, and sexuality in performance and as performance.  In other words, we analyze the meanings produced through already-gendered, already-sexually-identified, and already-raced bodies on stage and in audiences, as well as the construction of gender, race, and sexuality through performances on stage and in everyday life.  In the first week, titled “Introductions to Performance Studies,” we gain familiarity and dexterity with basic concepts in the field.  After this introduction, we dig into three units of study.  Unit 1, “Performing Preconstructed Race, Gender, and Sexuality” examines the assumption that bodies are always already raced, gendered, and sexually identified.  In Unit 2, “Constructing Race, Gender, and Sexuality through Performance,” we engage with major theorists—including Erving Goffman, Judith Butler, Diana Taylor, and Laura Mulvey—who offer different accounts of how performance constructs norms and makes race, gender, and sexuality real.  We end the course with Unit 3, “Reconstructing and Deconstructing Race, Gender, and Sexuality through Performance,” in which we examine feminist, queer, and anti-racist efforts to use performance to create social change.

Required Texts and Performances


Books (all on reserve at Lamont and available for purchase at the Coop):

          Robin Bernstein, ed., Cast Out: Queer Lives in Theater

          Eve Ensler, The Vagina Monologues

          Erving Goffman, The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life

          David Henry Hwang, M. Butterfly

          Sourcebook (“SB”)


Films and videos (all streaming and on reserve at Lamont)

          Black Is. . .  Black Ain’t

          Carmelita Tropicana: Your Kunst Is Your Waffen


          The Codes of Gender: Identity and Performance in Pop Culture

          The Couple in the Cage: A Guatinaui Odyssey

          Fight Back, Fight AIDS: 15 Years of ACT UP

          Fires in the Mirror 

          Stop the Church

          The Vagina Monologues

          Venus Boyz


Live Performances

Every student is required to attend a live theatrical performance and a Harvard Women’s or Men’s basketball game, for which you will receive free tickets. 

          Our theatrical performance is Fierce Love, by the Pomo Afro Homos, at the Theater Offensive in Boston. Fierce Love runs the evenings of November 17, 18, and 19 and the afternoon of November 20.  Each student will commit to attending on one of these dates.  If you miss the live theatrical performance, you must use your own resources to attend the same show on another evening.

          Each student must attend one of the following basketball games:

Friday, November 11. Harvard Men’s Basketball game versus MIT, 7pm

Tuesday, November 22. Harvard Women’s Basketball game versus Rhode Island, 7pm

Sunday, November 27. Harvard Women’s Basketball game versus Holy Cross, 2pm


Useful Information


Course Requirements and Grading

Performance Analysis #1 (3-5 pages, due in lecture Monday, Sept. 19)          10% of final grade

Performance Analysis #2 (5-7 pages, due Friday, Oct. 21)                  10% of final grade

Performance Analysis #3

(5-7 pages, due Tuesday, Nov. 22 OR Tuesday, Nov. 29)      15% of final grade

Attendance at live theatrical performance (Nov. 17, 18, 19, OR 20)   5% of final grade

Attendance at Harvard men’s or women’s basketball game

(Nov. 11, 22, OR 27)                                                               5% of final grade

8 in-section writing exercises (graded credit/no credit)                                    10% of final grade

Final Exam OR Final Paper                                                                 25% of final grade

Productive participation, active listening, punctuality, and respectful

citizenship in section and lecture                                             20% of final grade


Course Policies

Sections will meet on Wednesdays, Thursdays, or Fridays.  Sectioning will occur during the second week of class, and sections will meet for the first time during the week of September 12.  We will make every effort to place you in your first choice of section.

Each section will begin with a brief writing exercise based on that week’s reading and/or lectures.  Your TF will give you a prompt—a provocative question, for example, or an invitation to put two ideas into conversation—and you’ll write freely for 5-10 minutes.  These exercises give you an opportunity to practice writing about performance, and you will brainstorm ideas that you may later expand in your papers.  Your TF will collect and read these exercises, but she or he will not grade them. You will receive credit simply for completing 8 exercises over the course of the semester. 

            Students will take collective responsibility for the success of every section discussion.  You are expected not only to complete the required reading and viewings, but also to think about them before class and to arrive in section with thoughts and questions. In section, all students will listen actively to and engage productively with their classmates, and all will express thoughts in a respectful manner that advances the conversation.  Practices that disrespect one’s colleagues (for example, texting, interrupting, hogging the floor, launching personal attacks, surfing the web, or answering cell phones) will hinder conversation; such practices, therefore, are unacceptable.

            Professor Bernstein and both TFs want to get to know you!  Toward that goal, we will have lunch every Monday immediately after class in Kirkland House.  You are invited to join us!  If you are not on the meal plan, please speak to Scott Poulson-Bryant, who will arrange for you to receive a free meal ticket.  These lunches have no agenda: we might talk about the course, or a performance you’ve recently seen or participated in, or we might just chat about subjects of no direct relevance to race, gender, sexuality, or performance.  We hope that every student will drop by for lunch at least once or twice during the semester!

Professor Bernstein holds office hours from 9-10:30 am on Wednesdays.  You are welcome to drop in, but students with appointments receive priority.  You may reserve time online at http://wgs.fas.harvard.edu/icb/icb.do?keyword=k53419&pageid=icb.page449095.  If you have class during office hours, please email Professor Bernstein at <rbernst@fas> to make alternative arrangements.

If you need reasonable accommodation for a disability, please let your TF know as soon as possible.  We will work with you and the appropriate Harvard offices to make this class accessible to all.

All books (including the Sourcebook) and all films are on reserve at Lamont Library.  You may view the films in Lamont or on streaming video (your TF will explain how to access this resource). 

Some of the required readings and viewings include nudity and/or explicit sexual content.  If you do not wish to engage with such materials, you should not enroll in this course.

Students must arrive on time for lectures and sections, all of which start seven minutes after the hour.  If you miss lecture or section for a Harvard-recognized religious holiday or for a documented illness, you will be excused.  To be excused for any other absence, you must submit a dean’s note.  Extracurricular activities, including those relevant to this course, are not acceptable reasons for missing lecture or section.

Each student will either take a final exam or write a 12-15 page final paper.  Most students will take the exam, which is the default option.  You should write a paper only if you are burning to work on a specific, relevant project.  If you wish to write a paper in lieu of taking the exam, you must submit a proposal to your TF by Wednesday, October 26. If your TF and professor decline your proposal, you must take the exam.

Unless otherwise specified, all papers are due in the office of the Department of African and African American Studies in the Barker Center by 3 pm of the due date.  Late papers will be penalized one third of a letter grade for each day overdue.  Failure to complete any assignment can lower your grade in excess of the stated percentage.

If you are involved in extracurricular activities related to race, gender, sexuality, and/or performance, you may want to publicize relevant events among your classmates.  The course website has a special section titled “Student Announcements” for this purpose.  If you wish to publicize an event, please send the information to your TF, who can post the announcement online.  Your TF reserves the right to decline to post any announcement.


Introductions to Performance Studies


Wednesday, August 31. What is performance?  What does it mean to say that gender, race, or sexuality is performed?


Monday, September 5. LABOR DAY. No classes.


Wednesday, September 7. What is performance studies?  How does it relate to the study of race, gender, and sexuality?

          Read pamphlet, “A Student’s Guide to Performance Studies” <http://isites.harvard.edu/fs/docs/icb.topic235750.files/Peformance_Studies.pdf>. 

          Assignment for Performance Analysis #1 distributed in class



Unit 1:

Performing Preconstructed Race, Gender, and Sexuality


The texts are listed in a recommended order for reading or viewing. 

The italicized questions may guide your reading if you wish.

You are welcome to ignore the italicized questions.


Monday, September 12. Race, Gender, and Sexuality in Performance

          View Black Is. . . Black Ain’t (directed by Marlon Riggs, 1994)

What does the film suggest blackness is or isn’t?  Where is blackness? In bodies? In culture? In history? Somewhere else entirely? How does the film show blackness intersecting with gender and sexuality? What is the importance of AIDS in the film? Why do you think Marlon Riggs shows himself running naked through the woods?  How would the film have been different if those scenes were excluded?


Wednesday, September 14. I’m Ready for My Close-Up: Sexed Bodies in Performance

          Read Eve Ensler, The Vagina Monologues

          View The Vagina Monologues (written and directed by Eve Ensler, 2002)

          Recommended: read Esther Morris Leidolf, “An Additional Monologue,” in Sojourner March 2001 (online at http://mrkhorg.homestead.com/files/ORG/AdditionalMonologue.htm)

          Recommended: view Beautiful Daughters, dir. Josh Aronson, at <http://www.logoonline.com/shows/dyn/beautiful_daughters/videos.jhtml>

          Recommended: Read Kate Bornstein and Barbara Carrellas, “Queer Theater, Musicals to Masturbation: A Conversation with Too Tall Blondes,” in Bernstein, pp. 103-111

What relationship does Ensler posit between a woman’s gendered identity and a vagina? How might feminist critiques of essentialism, as described in lecture, apply to Ensler’s work?



Unit 2:

Constructing Race, Gender, and Sexuality Through Performance


Monday, September 19.  Gender, Race, and Sexuality as Performances in Everyday Life

          PERFORMANCE ANALYSIS #1 (3-5 pages) DUE IN CLASS

          Read Erving Goffman, The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life (Garden City, NY: Doubleday Anchor Books, 1959). “Introduction,” pp. 1-16; Ch. 1, “Performances,” pp. 17-76; “Conclusion,” pp. 238-255

          Read Robin D.G. Kelley, “Confessions of a Nice Negro, or Why I Shaved My Head,” in Don Belton, ed., Speak My Name: Black Men on Masculinity and the American Dream (Boston: Beacon Press, 1995), pp. 12-22 (SB)

What is Goffman’s concept of a “front”?  What specific fronts does Kelley describe in his essay?


Wednesday, September 21. Gender, Race, and Sexuality as Rituals

          View The Codes of Gender: Identity and Performance in Pop Culture (dir. Sut Jhally, 2009)


Monday, September 26. Gender as a “stylized repetition of acts”

          Read Judith Butler, “Performative Acts and Gender Constitution: An Essay in Phenomenology and Feminist Theory,” Theatre Journal Vol. 40, No. 4 (December 1988): 519-531 (Access online through JSTOR)

          Read Judith Halberstam, “Mackdaddy, Superfly, Rapper: Gender, Race, and Masculinity in the Drag King Scene,” in Social Text 52/53, nos 3 and 4 (Fall/Winter 1997), pp. 105-131 (Access online through JSTOR)

          Read MilDréd Diyaa Gerestant, “Exposures of a Multispirited, Haitian-American, Gender-Harmonizing WoMan” in Bernstein, pp. 44-50

          Recommended: view Venus Boyz (dir. Gabriel Baur, 2004)

          Assignment for Performance Analysis #2 distributed in class

As you read “Performative Acts and Gender Constitution,” try to paraphrase this sentence: Gender is “a stylized repetition of acts” that “sediment” on the body over time.  You’ll know that you understand Butler when you can explain this idea confidently in your own words.  Let Judith Halberstam’s essay help you. Halberstam interviews drag kings who have—they think—incorporated Butler’s theories into their on-stage performances.  Halberstam argues that drag kings have misread Butler.  You might choose to read Halberstam first so you can avoid the so-called “bad reading” of Butler.  Alternatively, you might read Butler first and then use Halberstam to double-check your understanding of Butler.  In either case, do not get stuck on any individual sentence in Butler (or Halberstam).  Read with the overarching goal of figuring out what Butler means when she says that the gendered body is “the legacy of [stylized] sedimented acts.”


Wednesday, September 28. Physical Space and the Performance of Race, Gender, and Sexuality

          Read Maurya Wickstrom, “Making Americans: The American Girl Doll and American Girl Place.” Chapter in Performing Consumers: Global Capital and its Theatrical Seductions (New York: Routledge, 2006), pp. 97-153 (SB)

          Read John Preston, “The Theatre of Sexual Initiation,” in Laurence Senelick, ed., Gender in Performance: The Presentation of Difference in the Performing Arts (Hanover, NH: University Press of New England, 1992), pp. 324-335 (SB)

          Read Patricia Marx, “Do I Look Fat?” New Yorker, 23 April 2007, Vol. 83, Issue 9, pp. 27-28 (access online through Hollis)

          Recommended: Read Kevin Winkler, “The Divine Mr. K: Reclaiming My ‘Unruly’ Past with Bette Midler and the Baths,” in Bernstein, pp. 60-76

How, according to Wickstrom, Preston, and Marx, do built environments construct gender, race, and sexuality?


Monday, October 3. The Persistence of Performance

          Read Diana Taylor, The Archive and the Repertoire: Performing Cultural Memory in the Americas (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2003), “Acts of Transfer” and “Scenarios of Discovery: Reflections on Performance and Ethnography,” pp. 1-78 (SB)

          View in class: The Couple in the Cage: A Guatinaui Odyssey (video by Coco Fusco and Paula Heredia, featuring performance by Coco Fusco and Guillermo Gómez-Peña, 1993)

          Recommended: Read Robin Bernstein, “Dances with Things: Material Culture and the Performance of Race,” Social Text no. 101 (December 2009): 67-94 (access online through Hollis—search for Social Text under “Journal Titles,” then click on “Highwire Press Duke University Press”)

How does Taylor distinguish “archive” from “repertoire”? What is the significance of this distinction for the performance of race, gender, and nation?


Wednesday, October 5. Looking and Being Looked At

          Read Laura Mulvey, “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema,” in Mulvey, Visual and Other Pleasures (London: Macmillan, 1989), pp. 14-26 (SB)

          Read Michael R. Schiavi, “Professional Spectatorship’s Queer Stages,” in Bernstein, pp. 124-139

As you read Mulvey, try to define, in your own words, “to-be-looked-at-ness.”  Read with the goal of understanding how this phrase fits into Mulvey’s general argument about how Hollywood narrative cinema structures the gaze in gendered ways.  Do not get stuck on Mulvey’s use of Freud and Lacan, who are not central figures in this course.  How does Schiavi affirm, contest, or complicate Mulvey?


Monday, October 10.  COLUMBUS DAY; NO CLASS


Wednesday, October 12. Looking and Being Looked At: Nations

          Read David Henry Hwang, M. Butterfly

Think about Mulvey and M. Butterfly together.  How does Mulvey enable us to analyze M. Butterfly?  And how does M. Butterfly complicate or contest Mulvey?


Monday, October 17.  Hiphop and Masculinity

          Guest lecture by Scott Poulson-Bryant. Reading and screenings TBA.


Wednesday, October 19. Joy

          Read Judith Butler, “Athletic Genders: Hyperbolic Instance and/or the Overcoming of Sexual Binarism,” Stanford Humanities Review, volume 6, number 2 (1998), online at http://www.stanford.edu/group/SHR/6-2/html/butler.html

          Instructions for final paper option distributed in class

How, in Butler’s view, does still photography figure in athletic achievement?  Why is this relationship important to gender and sexuality? Is it important to race? If so, how?


Friday, October 21: PERFORMANCE ANALYSIS #2 DUE to the AAAS office (Barker Center) by 3 pm


Unit 3:

Reconstructing and Deconstructing Race, Gender, and Sexuality Through Performance


Wednesday, October 24. Feminism and Realism

          Read Jill Dolan, The Feminist Spectator as Critic (Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Research Press, 1988). Ch. 2, “Feminism and the Canon: The Question of Universality,” pp. 19-40 (SB)

          Read Marsha Norman, ‘night, Mother online at http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:hul.ebookbatch.ASPWD_batch:ASPPL010256wodr

          Assignment for Performance Analysis #3 distributed in class

What is realism? What characteristics of realism appear in ’night, Mother?  What are Dolan’s critiques of realism?


Wednesday, October 26. Brecht’s Challenges to Realism and Expressionism

          Read Bertolt Brecht, “The Modern Theatre is the Epic Theatre,” “The Literalization of the Theatre,” “Theatre for Pleasure or Theatre for Instruction,” and “A Short Organum for the Theatre,” in Bertolt Brecht, Brecht on Theatre: The Development of an Aesthetic, ed. and trans. by John Willett (New York: Hill and Wang, 1964), pp. 33-47, 69-77, 179-205 (SB)

          Proposals for final paper due for students who wish to pursue this option

As you read Brecht, aim to understand how he contrasts “Epic Theatre” (also known as Brechtian theatre) with “dramatic theatre” (which includes realism).  What are Brecht’s critiques of realism (or dramatic theatre)?  How does Epic Theatre respond to the problems Brecht sees in dramatic theatre?


Monday, October 31. “Gender” and other Quotations

          Read Elin Diamond, “Brechtian Theory/Feminist Theory: Toward a Gestic Feminist Criticism,” in TDR 32.1 (Spring 1988), pp. 82-94 (Access through JSTOR; please note that TDR is the full title of this journal)

          View Chicago (directed by Rob Marshall, starring Catherine Zeta-Jones, Renee Zellweger, Queen Latifah, and Richard Gere, 2002)

What systems does Chicago critique? How do gender and race figure in those systems? How does the film implicate the audience in those systems?


Wednesday, November 2. Disidentification

          Read José Esteban Muñoz, “Sister Acts: Ela Troyano and Carmelita Tropicana,” in Disidentifications: Queers of Color and the Performance of Politics (Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 1999), 119-141 (SB)

          Read Alina Troyano, a.k.a. Carmelita Tropicana, “Author’s Introduction” and “Performance Art Manifesto,” in I, Carmelita Tropicana: Performing Between Cultures (Boston: Beacon Press, 2000), pp. xiii-xxv, 177-178 (SB)

          View in class: Carmelita Tropicana: Your Kunst Is Your Waffen (directed by Ela Troyano, starring Alina Troyano, 1994)

What is disidentification?


Monday, November 7. Camp

          Guest lecture by Stephen Vider

          Read Susan Sontag, “Notes on ‘Camp,” in Sontag, Against Interpretation (New York: Dell Publishing Company, 1961), pp. 275-292 (SB)

          Read Robert McAlmon, “Miss Knight,” in The Columbia Anthology of Gay Literature:
Readings from Western Antiquity to the Present Day
, edited by Byrne R.S. Fone (New York: Columbia University Press, 1998), pp. 629-639 (SB)

          Read Esther Newton, “Role Models,” in Camp: Queer Aesthetics and the Performing Subject: A Reader, edited by Fabio Cleto (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1999), pp. 96-109 (SB)

How do Sontag and Newton understand camp differently?


Wednesday, November 9. Butch/Femme Lesbian Performance

          Read Sue-Ellen Case, “Toward a Butch-Femme Aesthetic,” in Lynda Hart, ed., Making a Spectacle: Feminist Essays on Contemporary Women’s Theatre (Ann Arbor, MI: The University of Michigan Press, 1989), pp. 282-299 (SB)

          Read Peggy Shaw, “How I Learned Theatre,” in Bernstein, pp. 25-29

          Read Louise Carolin with Catherine Bewley, “Girl Talk: Femmes in Discussion,” in Sally R. Munt, ed., Butch/Femme: Inside Lesbian Gender (London: Cassell, 1998), pp.109-121 (SB)

          Recommended: Read Bree Coven, “There’s a Place for Us . . . Somewhere,” in Bernstein, pp. 140-149

How do practices of alienation and quotation figure in butch, femme, and butch/femme performance?


Friday, November 11. Harvard Men’s Basketball game versus MIT, 7pm, Harvard Stadium


Monday, November 14. Can Performance Save Lives? A Case Study: AIDS Activism

          Martabel Wasserman, “ACT UP New York: Activism, Art, and the AIDS Crisis, 1987-1993”: read “Timeline,” pp. 56-60, 62 and look closely at ALL the images throughout the book.  Online at http://issuu.com/artactivismandtheaidscrisis/docs/act_up_new_york_catalog

          Read Michael Kearns, “Heaven and Home,” in Bernstein, pp. 205-209

          Read Catherine Saalfield and Ray Navarro, “Shocking the Pink: Race and Gender on the ACT UP Frontlines,” in Inside/Out: Lesbian Theories, Gay Theories, ed. Diana Fuss (New York: Routledge, 1991), pp. 341-369 (SB)

          Read Doug Sadownick, “ACT UP Makes a Spectacle of AIDS,” in High Performance 13:1 (1990): 26-31 (SB).

          View in class: Stop the Church (dir. Robert Hilferty, 1991) AND excerpts from Fight Back, Fight AIDS: 15 Years of ACT UP (dir. James Wentzy, 2002)

How and why did ACT-UP use performance in activism during the 1980s and 90s?

Wednesday, November 16.  Theatre and Social Change

          Guest lecture by Lizzy Cooper Davis. Readings and screenings TBA.


November 17, 18, 19, and 20. Fierce Love at the Theater Offensive!


Monday, November 21. Empathy

          Read Anna Deavere Smith, Fires in the Mirror (NY: Anchor Books, 1993): “Introduction,” “Background Information,” and “Chronology,” pp. xxiii-liii (SB)

          Read Anna Deavere Smith, “The Word Becomes You: An Interview by Carol Martin,” in A Source Book of Feminist Theatre and Performance, ed. Carol Martin (New York: Routledge, 1996), pp.185-204 (SB)

          View Anna Deavere Smith, Fires in the Mirror 

According to Smith, what’s the value of identifying with the other? How do Smith’s performances of identification compare and contrast with Muñoz’s concept of disidentification?


Tuesday, November 22. PERFORMANCE ANALYSIS #3 DUE for students who write about Fierce Love or the Harvard Men’s Basketball Game. Please hand in your papers to the AAAS office (Barker Center) by 3 pm


Tuesday, November 22. Harvard Women’s Basketball game versus Rhode Island, 7pm




Sunday, November 27. Harvard Women’s Basketball game versus Holy Cross, 2pm


Monday, November 28. Hope

          Read Jill Dolan, “Feeling the Potential of Elsewhere,” in Dolan, Utopia in Performance: Finding Hope at the Theater (Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, 2005), pp. 1-34 (SB)

          View CNN video of Nikki Giovanni’s performance at the convocation after the Virginia Tech massacre, April 2007 at http://youtube.com/watch?v=0cSuidxE8os

What is Dolan’s definition of a “utopian performative”?  How does a utopian performative differ from a depiction of utopia?  How can ordinary people perform utopia?


Tuesday, November 29. PERFORMANCE ANALYSIS #3 DUE for students who write about the Harvard Women’s Basketball Game. Please hand in your papers to the AAAS office (Barker Center) by 3 pm


Wednesday, November 30. Ridiculous?

          View http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1vvPvaDkIUo&feature=fvw    

          Read http://www.nytimes-se.com/

          View http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dO6Oi3XUYgg

          View http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R8I4fFLqfXg&feature=related

          Read in class: Charles Ludlam, “Manifesto: Ridiculous Theatre, Scourge of Human Folly,” from Ridiculous Theatre: Scourge of Human Folly: The Essays and Opinions of Charles Ludlam, Steven Samuels, ed. (New York: Theatre Communications Group, 1992), pp. 157-158

Can performance change the world?


Monday, December 12. Final papers in lieu of the final exam are due in the AAAS office, Barker Center, 3 pm


DATE TBD: Final Exam


Have a good break!