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Should we make new spaces, or integrate existing power structures?

Today, on the UN’s International Day of the Girl, the Boy Scouts (BSA) announced that they will be opening up to accept women. By 2019, women will be able to earn the rank of Eagle Scout.

This comes after the BSA allowed transgender troopers in January, allowed openly gay troop leaders in 2015, and allowed openly gay scout participants in 2013.

This move has been met with both cheers and jeers. Applause from many groups, but particularly from young women who have been trying to tear down what they refer to as “discriminatory practices” for years. Criticism is coming from many as well, and perhaps not so surprisingly to some, from the Girl Scouts of the USA (GSUSA) themselves. In an open letter from the Girl Scouts this past August (which you can read in full here), the president Kathleen Hopinkah Hannan stated that “…it is a statement on the shortsightedness of thinking [to believe] that running a program specifically tailored to boys can simply be translated to girls.”

Taking this quote out of context of the letter is obviously less than ideal, so I do encourage you to read the whole thing if you are able. I also recommend reading this (short!) PBS News Hour article if you have a moment. The letter goes on to emphasize that GSUSA is founded on forming a safe space for women, with programming geared specifically towards girls.

But what a loaded statement, even in context. Can’t girls do anything boys can do, and vice versa? Why should a woman who happens to be more outdoor-minded be excluded from participating in an organization that is aimed at furthering those skills, especially when the GSUSA specifically does not focus on those skills? On the other hand, I notice my own thinking when I initially found out about the BSA integrating: I assumed that the boys-only club was exclusionary, but when the GSUSA calls themselves a girls-only club, I applaud the elevation of women-safe spaces. That feels extremely hypocritical on my part, even though there’s different histories & contexts associated with those genders.

I think the core of the issue comes down to this: when talking about any disadvantaged group — whether that’s women, women of color, members of the LGTBQ+ community, etc — should efforts be going towards integrating power structures and spaces that are already dominant, or should more focus go to creating and preserving spaces that are “targeted”?

I find this affecting my artistry as I think about this year’s FemShakes in particular, although the situation is inverted a bit. Should this previously women-identifying opportunity be kept “safe” for those who identify as female or nonbinary in some way, or should FemShakes be including cis men as well, in the name of …____?

Although I don’t have answers to questions on the Scouts or FemShakes fronts, I do have something I would like to throw into the pot as Shakespeare is debated: I am someone who hates performing Shakespeare. If I never had to do another Shakespearean monologue, I would be ecstatic–so I am not trying to elbow my way into FemShakes for my own sake. But even I see the immense value of having an opportunity for female-identifying and non-binary individuals to have a chance at the meaty Shakespearean roles. I think about the “great” women of Shakespearean tragedies & histories: who do the women ‘get’? We have Lady M, she is a very dynamic role and she has lots of agency. Awesome! But…who else? Ophelia, Juliet, Cordelia…these are (very) memorable women who have a decent amount of stage time, but who rarely if ever get to make their own decisions. And in all of these stories, the man is the main attraction: Hamlet, Romeo, King Lear (and even Regan and Goneril are debatable, let’s not bring them into this.)

There are plenty of great Shakespearean roles, but so few are for women. And in both society and the SOT, “gender bending” normally comes about when only women are available to fill in the background as soldiers. FemShakes is the place for women to get to do it all: to play, say, Richard III, while another woman plays Lady Anne in a room that is geared towards giving women as much agency as possible. I think there is a solid argument to be made here that introducing a cis man will change that dynamic innately, no matter the context or the reason or the specific (surely generous & talented) individuals involved.

No answers. Just more questions & debate. Might one say more… speech & debate?

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