Filed under: Gender politics, theatre | Tags: democracy, gender equality, Greek, Orestes, patriarchy, sexism, Western Theatre
Visiting Greece inspired me profoundly. I was struck by the landscape, the stories, the history of the theatre. In a previous blog, I wrote about my sudden understanding of how intertwined Democracy and Theatre were. I was deeply moved to think of how important theatre was to the Ancients. I was also struck by the fact that women were included in the Ancient theatre audiences – even if they weren’t on stage. Apparently, they were expected to attend. It was all very exciting to imagine.
The same evening I learned about the history of theatre and democracy, I got to see a production of Orestes in the Theatre at Epidaurus. It was an interesting production that I was glad I saw. AND I couldn’t help but notice how chock full of misogyny it was. This made me remember how full of misogyny almost ALL the Greek plays were which made me think that maybe, just maybe, that’s what all those plays were for.
In a way, it feels like the ancient plays exist to tell women to shut up and not worry their pretty little heads about the choices men make. I was particularly struck by a passage from Orestes in which he was pleading for his life and argued that if the crowd listened to Menelaus they were all going to be forced to listen to their wives from now on and did they want THAT? Oh no.
I mean, Greek democracy has been the model for many a civilization. It emphasized everyone participating in civic questions – rich, poor and in between. It was, by all accounts, a vibrant, lively, civic experience. For men. Because women were not a part of this democracy and all kinds of decisions about war and whether or not their sons and lovers and families were going were made without their voices.
The production I saw at Epidaurus featured translated modern English surtitles. The titles used the word “bitch” with startling regularity and the effect served to really bring out how often women are disparaged in the play. The fact that there ARE women in these ancient plays is interesting (especially since they were played by men) but in so many ways it feels like they are there to be put under control. Every single woman in Orestes is threatened with death and/or rape and even the woman who is already dead at the top of the play is posthumously denigrated. I’m sure there are translations of various plays that feel less threatening. But I wonder if our modern translations soften the misogyny a bit to make them more palatable for us.
I am deeply inspired by the past. I think there are a great many things worth returning to our roots for: the democracy of the first theatres for example. But I think Western Theatre may have some misogyny built right in to our history. It’s Baked In. Like an ingredient in a pie, it is so ingrained we don’t see it and it has traveled through so many generations – the theatre just naturally reinforces the patriarchy. This would explain why theatre has been so far behind in achieving gender equality. Perhaps it began for the opposite reason.
But. I am a Theatre Maker. And if theatre began as a tool for the patriarchy, I still think we could use it to end it. If once theatre aimed to control women – now, perhaps, we can use it to liberate us. But with our eyes open.
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