Lily Janiak’s Howlround blog post, about Young Female Characters in plays that she’d recently reviewed, struck a real chord in me. In the post, Janiak had seen three young-female-centric plays in the San Fransisco Bay area, all with varying degrees of success in creating strong, true characters. She was able to stand behind one, which she rightly laments is a sad state of affairs.
At the exact same time, as I immerse myself in a university setting for the first time in many, many years, I am noticing a particular trend that diminishes the young female voice, that ever-present word, “Like”. It’s a word I can’t say I don’t use; I was lucky that at the age of 20, someone pointed out to me my own overuse of the word, and since then, I have tried fervently (desperately) to be more aware and to excise it from my speech. It’s not gone, but I’m glad that I became aware of its diminishing power–what I have to say is not LIKE anything. It IS something. It means something. Somewhere along the way, we are being taught that this is a more palatable way of putting our ideas forth. Perhaps we heard a school friend saying, “And like, I thought it was like, really great that our teacher like, recommended I watch ‘A Clockwork Orange,’ because like, it gave me a whole new perspective on Kubrick,” and we adopted that cool girl’s thing. Or maybe we are afraid of what will come out of our mouths if we just spit it out, and we insert that LIKE to give us time to edit ourselves? Or somewhere along the line it just became too scary to speak? Or we curate every moment just in case someone is going to stop us in our tracks, or tell us to shut up, that we don’t know anything? Honestly, whatever the case is…we need to check ourselves, in a positive way, and remind ourselves that it’s okay to just PUT IT OUT THERE. I don’t know how it happens, it happened to me and was all the rage in the 80s, too, but it is incredibly pervasive, not only here in the young women I meet at the university, but it’s rampant in the “real world,” and all over the country. I hear the voices of women 10 and 20 years younger than I am, and the LIKE and the creeping vocal fry have taken over. No breath, no support, just a crackling, hollow, “I don’t believe what I’m saying”-scrape over the chords…and it makes me want to cry for us. We really must discard what the Paris Hilton-era bequeathed us. We just…must.
I bring this up in response to the Janiak post because the same character-development issues with women in the theatre seem to be borne of a lack of voice. We write a good game, but are not yet strong enough in our collective voice because someone has taught us to be unsure. Female (and male) playwrights who are writing women need to challenge us and themselves to break free and center ourselves in our humanity. Put our stories on the stage and let us work it out. Allow us to be sure, to take our innate power back.