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Women and their Closets

Doctor – man. Nurse – woman. Teacher – woman. Professor – man. Director – man. Dramaturg – woman. The latter relationships between (the) gender (binary) and occupation is unsettling and unfortunately present in our daily lives. Although we look to our work to push the envelope of art itself and our communities, the hierarchies that organize and govern theatre often do not reflect the ideals in our art. In her addition to Theatre Topics (2003), “Women’s Work: Gender and Dramaturgy,” Tamsen Wolff talks about her struggle to exist within that world.

For me, the struggle to prove the worth of the feminized qualities and functions so entangled with dramaturgy is harnessed to an anxiety about distancing myself from anything regarded (or disregarded) as feminized. This strikes me as a persistent feminist bind: to accommodate or even celebrate traits or labor traditionally marked as female without promptly being marginalized professionally, socially, or economically as a result. (103-104)

Essentially, how do we champion femininity when that celebration intrinsically marginalizes us? Furthermore, how can we dismantle the inherent anxiety from embracing femininity due to systematic prejudice? Is the gendering of jobs itself a negative act, or does it become negative because of the prejudice attached to the gender? Will we be able to live in a society where people do not have to prove the validity of their identities? Can we tackle the larger power structures that reinforce this marginalization?

The origin of the prejudice that Wolff speaks of is a part of the larger power structures we traffic in our daily lives as Americans. How can we, as individuals, alter something systematic? I think we can, and I think we start small. We must start locally with ourselves and the people around us–––on the bus, our friends, at school, in our homes, at work, etc. We cannot control other people’s nor our own initial reactions to job titles or individual personas. We can, however, meet reactions with conversation.

In her Tedx Talk (Boulder, Colorado), “Coming Out of Your Closet,” Ash Beckham demonstrates that every individual, regardless of sexual orientation, has to come out of multiple closets in one life. Beckham offers, “All a closet is, is a hard conversation.” She maintains that it is necessary to have such conversations despite the inherent vulnerability in having them because of real or perceived cost. She outlines three directions for ‘coming out of the closet:’ be authentic, be direct, and be unapologetic.

Cut to––the theater. Theatre is a discipline that is built on conversation. Generally speaking, while fine art and film center on visual images, dialogue is the crux of the form of theatre. And dialogue is how we can combat the aforementioned prejudice. As artists, it is our responsibly to spark such conversation, to examine the aforementioned questions under the microscope with the lens of our local culture.

So perhaps we need to adhere to Beckham’s instructions for ‘coming out of the closet’ when we work to spark these questions in our audiences. Perhaps the best work in our field mirrors those conversations: Theatre that is authentic. Theatre that is direct. Theatre that is unapologetic.

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