Two days ago, as I was walking through the streets of Boston, I saw a small girl in a stroller with her legs akimbo. I remarked to my male friend- “look at that adorable little girl with her legs up over her head!” There was a man sitting on the curb next to us, and as we passed, he shouted after me, “Your legs up over your head is where they should be!” And then then I thought about how that man doesn’t see me as a person, he sees me as something else entirely. An object, maybe.
And then I went to rehearsal that night, and I realized the same was true for this text we’re working on. The play, Tiger at the Gates, is a story of Troy and Greece and the argument of the old men of the city over giving back Helen, who has been stolen away by the son of the king. It is a 1930s text in which multiple men refer to Helen as belonging to the landscape instead of belonging herself. And while the play itself doesn’t seem to believe that that’s true, the sentiment seems to have remained. I wonder why this is something that has lasted through time. This impulse to make everyone other than straight white men into something that can belong to someone else. Is it a power things? It’s definitely all tied up in that. And I want to talk about this in the rehearsal room, so I try to do that. But no one takes the bait, and I’m left alone in a circle, the silly raving feminist.
And then, in the middle of writing this post, we found out that we’ve cut a scene from the play in which the entire politics of the play is fleshed out- the women get to speak their minds and say some pretty interesting things about how the kind of women men think exist are a figment of their imagination- the cool girl phenomenon. Men have this unbelievable image of the perfect woman and they spit on us when we don’t live up to it. And I was thrilled by this scene-it made everything SO CLEAR. When I ask why we’ve cut it, I’m told “because it doesn’t further the plot.”
And I know I’m in different territory, unfamiliar territory, a space where plot takes precedent over politics. I think, we have the perfect opportunity in this scene to tell the audience exactly how to feel about the politics of the play, to calm them and tell them the play doesn’t actually hate women, it just has to look like that for the silliness and absurdity of the men to become clear. It seems to be obvious that we should include this small interchange of a few lines because it makes it all so clear, but The Room doesn’t think it’s useful enough. And I know they don’t mean it like this, but it’s hard not to feel like they think the equality of men and women isn’t useful enough.
Why won’t the men in the room listen to me when I try to talk about the feminist underpinnings of this play or the way in which the play maintains its relevancy to me now? Why won’t anyone hear me out when I think that the cut scene would add so much to our communal understanding of what the play is doing? Because the way I connect to the play is not The Way the room has agreed the play will speak to our audience. Why is it that we’re just looking for the one instance in which the play intersects with out current moment, why can’t all of these things be present together? Talking about all of the relevancies won’t take away from any one in particular but I think it will actually strengthen a well-rounded understanding of the text. They are not hateful people, they would never say that they think women are less than men, and yet it’s in the tiny tiny movements, the speaking over us, the cutting off of our lines, the refusing to engage us in conversation about anything that doesn’t interest them, that they show me how careless and unpointed their misogyny is. They’re not aiming it at me, but it’s still there and damn it still hurts.
Just because the play is anti-war doesn’t mean it isn’t also a little feminist. And just because it’s a little feminist doesn’t mean it is perfect. The play slips up, shows its age, has more than a few moments of uncomfortable male-centric opinions. As I sit in this circle of my ensemble members and team it seems absolutely ridiculous that we wouldn’t keep trying to be aware of the moments of misogyny. And it dawns on me that of course no one wants to be aware of it. I’m the only one in this room right now who ever has to be.