Tricky Moments address issues of boundary violating remarks and acts during situations of teaching and learning. Reading through them can therefore have a (re-)traumatizing effect on people who have encountered violence and discrimination before (racism, sexism, ableism, etc.). The following Tricky Moment depicts a fictional situation inspired by actual experiences.

Is it okay to be defined by my body?

This is about:


Describing the situation

One-to-one setting in a university classroom, door is closed, a singing teacher is present in the room together with a female student whose voice rendered her a convincing candidate in the entrance examination. They are discussing the repertoire of the coming term and eventually talk about the student’s career expectations. The student enthusiastically states leading roles and title parts which particularly appeal to her which prompts the teacher to reply: “Given your height, you will only become a soubrette.”

What happened here?

Viewing/regarding the situation from different perspectives

Based on her bodily appearance, the teacher pushed a role onto the female student effectively belittling her. Simultaneously, the student received a predetermined description of her future artistic path which did not correspond to her personal ideas.

In their feedback, the teacher does neither address repertoire expectations nor career goals of the female student. They do not reference the strengths/weaknesses of the student’s voice or other artistic qualities connected to the role/voice type of a soubrette. Being cast into the role is exclusively based on bodily attribution. Connecting a bodily attribute (here: height) to a role reproduces stereotypical casting ideas which usually imply traditional asymmetries (e.g. tall/short, insignificant/important, supporting role/leading role, gentle-tender voice/powerful-strong voice, comical, ridiculous/serious, solemn,…).

The female student has experienced derogation connected to bodily attribution. In regards to her career plans she is neither seen nor taken seriously by the teacher. Their remarks have no beneficial value in relation to her person or her artistic development. However, if the student wanted to pursue her own visions of a successful career, she would have to directly oppose the teacher. Going down that path she dreads lower grades and possibly less support in relation to performance opportunities, network building and career success.

Teacher and student find themselves in per se hierarchical positions: the teacher has authority over designing and planning lessons, their contents, etc. and influences the student’s career path with their grades. Artistic development of the female student simultaneously depends on the teacher’s expertise and their constructive feedback. The teacher’s comments are not feedback, however, but stereotypical attributions that have a derogatory effect on the female student and give negative connotations to the vocal fach of soubrette.


(Wikipedia. The Free Enzyclopedia: “Soubrette“ [26.3.2023])

A soubrette (ursprünglich französisch für „Zofe, Dienerin“) ist ein weibliches Rollenfach im Sprechtheater und in Oper, Operette und Singspiel. [...] Als Stimmfach zeichnet sich die Soubrette durch eine leichte, bewegliche, verspielt-zarte Stimme aus, aber auch durch großes schauspielerisches Talent, insbesondere im komödiantischen Fach. In der Oper steht die Soubrette im Kontrast zur Primadonna, einer Figur von höherem gesellschaftlichem Rang. Die Soubrette eignet sich aufgrund von Leichtigkeit, Beweglichkeit, Zartheit, Höhe und plastischer Formbarkeit auch für Musical, Barocklied und Irish-Folk-Musik.“ (Wikipedia. die freie Enzyklopädie: "Soubrette" [23.5.2022]) Zusätzlich zur stimmlichen Qualität werden sowohl beim Rollen- als auch beim Stimmfach der Soubrette die schauspielerischen Fähigkeiten positiv hervorgehoben.

Becoming active, doing what and how?

How can my actions actively contribute to successful situations of teaching and learning?

Have you experienced a similar situation?

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