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The Verb: Girl

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            Acknowledging my role as a female is something I have always been at war with.  I’m always steering away from things I associate as too “feminine” or limit my own “girlness” because I don’t see myself fitting into the societal standards that have been built up around me.  I used to try to ignore my relationship with being a girl and tried to do things that weren’t considered the “norm” of my sex (add more to this?).  However, recently I’ve been running into more situations that confront my view on what it means to be a girl, and what it means to be female in this our society.  I can pinpoint 5 different encounters with it so far; one in my directing class, one in Lorne Batman’s thesis, one in Beyonce’s documentary, one in an article I found “Women in theatre: why do so few make it to the top?” and one in a play that I’ve been working on for 3 years.

            In my last blog I talked about how we had to choose directors to present to my directing class and the first time we all shared our ideas about who we were going to do, 1 or 2 of us were going to do women,  all the rest of us had chosen men.  Elaine pointed this out, so I immediately chose a female director instead, Julie Taymour, without even thinking about it.  The second encounter was when Danny presented his research on Elizabeth LeCompte and he shared bits and pieces of an interview with her from Jason Loewith’s “The Director’s Voice, Vol. 2” (A book of which I haven’t read, but from that article seemed incredibly fruitful).  She touched upon different gender issues, like the fact that she would advertise her company as “Elizabeth LcCompte’s Wooster Group”.  Part of this was based in just not wanting to put her name in front of the company, but she spoke further on how she’s experienced specific change in opinions or viewpoints when people find out a women is in involved, or directing, or is the playwright.  I’ve tried to find the exact article because of course her words are better than mine and it’s really interesting response to gender in her work.  Although, as I was trying to find the original interview I stumbled a One-to-One with Elizabeth LeCompte and Young Jean Lee which was equally as intriguing.  They talked about their work, how they work with their actors, why they tour/why they don’t tour, gender and race, the word “experimental” and more, I think it was an hour well spent.  So they talk about gender a little and discuss how they haven’t experienced any issues with it much because they have created safe havens for themselves that really protect them from any prejudices against their sex.  So both of their experience are unique, but part of me wishes that the need for the safe haven wasn’t present, they shouldn’t have to seclude themselves in order to escape gender discrimination, how we fix that?    

More and more research on women in theatre I came upon an article published in The Guardian on Monday the 10th, December 2012.  The Guardian article, “Women in theatre: why do so few make it to the top?” began discussing the all female productions of Julius Ceasar in London (Shout out to Christine) and m0re statistics about the presence of female playwrights, directors and actors in the business of theatre.  In the beginning of the article it states,

This failure to represent women, argued the actor, writer and director Stella Duffy, was     deeply entwined with society’s wider failure to put women’s voices on an equal footing with men’s. A sense of responsibility to the world was, she said, being ducked – particularly by our larger national stages. In an impassioned blogpost, she wrote: ‘When we do not see ourselves on stage we are reminded, yet again, that the people running our world (count the women in the front benches if you are at all unsure) do not notice when we are not there. That they think men (and yes, white, middle-class, middle-aged, able-bodied men at that) are all we need to see.

This is one of the aspects of the article that I know I agree with, the fact that women’s involved in the theatre derives from the way they’re viewed in the actual world.  It was difficult to read the rest of the article because I think it’s always tricky to evaluate an issue that’s has a lot of wavering variables and of which can never really be as empirical as I would imagine the studies would like to be.  Dealing with discrimination in any regard, I think can get extremely messy because I never know what is based on assumptions, or what is “hard facts”.  The two women who I think are important to be heard right now, are Eve Ensler and the one and only Beyonce Knowles.
In Lorne Batman’s thesis she die Eve Ensler’s Ted Talk “Embrace your inner girl” for one of her pieces and it was phenomenal.  Lorne’s passion for the piece was overwhelming and the message rang loud and clear.  I looked up the Ted talk and found the entire speech and wanted to share one of the more important messages in the piece.

             The state of girls, the condition of girls, will, in my belief — and that’s the girl inside us and the girl in the world — determine whether the species survives. And what I want to suggest is that, having talked to girls, because I just finished a new book called “I Am an Emotional Creature: The Secret Life of Girls Around the World,” I’ve been talking to girls for five years, and one of the things that I’ve seen is true everywhere is that the verb that’s been enforced on girl is the verb “to please.” Girls are trained to please. I want to change the verb. I want us all to change the verb. I want the verb to be “educate,” or “activate,” or “engage,” or “confront,” or “defy,” or “create.” If we teach girls to change the verb we will actually enforce the girl inside us and the girl inside them.

            So Eve talks about re-establishing EVERYONE’S view on what it means to be a girl, and that the girl cell isn’t something only found in actual girls which I think is so crucial in understanding her overall desire for change in all of us.  I also began to have a discussion with one of my peers after we left the theatre and he talked about how he hated the piece.  I think this is the first misunderstanding in Ensler’s piece, that anyone who isn’t a girl should assume it’s an attack on them,  I think she makes it very clear that that’s not what it is, but she also can’t control when people chose to hear what they want and shut down when someone might be commenting on how they function in relation to themselves and other humans.  Soon after this Caroline and I watched Beyonce’s new documentary, “Life Is But A Dream”, and she shares her amazing view on women,

Women have to work much harder to make it in this world. It really pisses me off that women don’t get the same opportunities as men do, or money for that matter. Because lets face it, money gives men the power to run the show. It gives men the power to define our values and to define what’s sexy and what’s feminine and that’s bullshit. At the end of the day, it’s not about equal rights, it’s about how we think. We have to reshape our own perception of how we view ourselves.

This is where it all comes together for me,  the fact that we won’t start seeing these strong female characters on stage until the view on women in the world is changed.  We as a species have made so much progess which our acceptance of each other which I think is something important to note, but I also think it’s even more important to understand how young of a species we actually are, and that the road of evolution is so vast and long, that we need to be more active and passionate about our future and the future of those to come.  Along with noting the amazing work that women are doing now, such as Crystal Skillman, Elizabeth LeCompte, Julie Taymour, Young Jean Lee, Sheila Callaghan and the young women that I know so well that are inspirations to me, specifically the playwrights Georgia Zildjian, Celia Pain, Erin Walker, and Sophie Gibson-Rush.  But I also don’t think that the opportunity for the female voice to be heard should be something demanded for, just be seen, be heard, be passionate, and be brave.  The ways we discriminate against each other haven’t disappeared completely, but in my eyes have just become more subtle or are covered up better than they used to be.  I notice how negative this is, but we need to understand each other and accept each other if we are going to hold such high expectations on the “fairness” and justice of our art.  If you didn’t get to see Lorne’s thesis, I strongly recommend watching Eve Ensler’s “Embrace Your Inner Girl” and follow it up with Beyonce’s electrifying documentary, I think they are both crucial voices that need to be heard by everyone, not just the X chromosome.

Another interesting read “Rethinking Gender Bias in Theater”:

http://theater.nytimes.com/2009/06/24/theater/24play.html?_r=1&

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