Songs for the Struggling Artist

Books About Anger and The Safety Tax
November 29, 2018, 9:44 pm
Filed under: art, feminism, theatre | Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

I can’t tell if reading all these books about women’s anger is helping or making things worse. On one hand, it is tremendously affirming to read about my current experience and all the reasons I have to feel the way I feel. On the other hand, I’m newly angry about things I thought I’d already worked through my fury about. Despite my lifetime awareness of the ways sexism has tied my hands, at the moment, each reminder of an old fact or a fresh perspective makes me newly furious.

For example, Soraya Chemaly’s framing of the safety tax on women is at the forefront of my new awareness. She points out that the threat of rape and sexual assault is so ever present that women have to take extra security measures, pay extra money to be safe. (i.e = take taxis, live in safer (in other words, more expensive) neighborhoods, park closer to their destinations.) Now, personally, I’ve always been a little reckless in this fashion. I have been known to take a subway by myself at 2 am. I have generally just refused to pay the usual tax I guess. And I’ve been relatively lucky.

But the other night, after a show, when no subways came for over an hour, I started to get angry about this aspect of things all over again. I got home around 1 am – over two hours after leaving the show. And because the trains were a disaster – I ended up having to take the subway that drops me off ten blocks from my apartment rather than the one that drops me two blocks away. I realized that the MTA basically just made my journey, not just delayed, but exponentially more dangerous. Arriving home at 11pm is a very different situation than arriving home at 1 am. Arriving ten blocks away instead of two means my trip home is many times more dangerous.

Now – the MTA is a disaster for everyone right now. Our governor has tanked the whole system and everyone is having a miserable time. However – a series of decisions around it have also made things incredibly more risky for women. For example – trains used to shift to their late night schedules around 12. If you made it on a train before 12, you should be okay. Then the late night schedule shifted to eleven. Not great but still do-able – still time enough to see a show and grab a quick drink after. But now the “late night schedule” begins at 9:45 pm. For women who are better at safeguarding themselves than me, this means that seeing a show means taking a taxi home. Every show women see just became much much more expensive.

While still at the beginning of my two hour journey home, I saw a woman hit the door of a trash train that was slowly passing. She was so furious. All she could say was, “I’m so angry.” I thought maybe the driver had said something to her but when I asked, she explained that due to the lateness of the trains and the misinformation on the train countdown clocks, she was going to miss the last train back to her neighborhood in Brooklyn. It was not yet 11. And I understood completely why she was at her rope’s end.

When I started this blog, it all ended there. But then I went to rehearsal in a space that I have rehearsed in dozens of times before. I arrived in the neighborhood not long after six in the evening but it was already dark. The neighborhood is not well lit and there was no one around. It’s not as if I didn’t know the place was the way it was. I have been there before. But this time, I realized that I was asking almost a dozen women to come there. This time, I realized that the building is dark. This time, I realized that it was a little foreboding. This time, I realized that the handy magnetic door entrance that only the renter has the keycard for is not safe for anyone who might be stuck outside with no way to buzz in. On the way out, several of our actors waited in the lobby for car services. It was 10pm. It was dark. The walk to the subway may have been short but it was deserted. A car service was a good idea. And car services aren’t cheap. And you know what? That’s a freakin’ safety tax that women are paying all the time. Already under paid or unpaid, women in the arts are either taking giant risks to tough it out in out-of-the-way arts venues or are spending money on cars. I never noticed it before, I think, because I was in a headspace of “being a cool art chick who’s super down to be anywhere, even dark deserted urban areas, man.” Anyway, this is one cool art chick who is now trying to raise some extra cash to compensate those ladies for their safety tax. (Fundraiser still open, contribute if you like!)

So, after all that, I have to say that reading these books about anger and rage is, in fact, helping. I may be angrier in the short term but in the long term, it’s helping me make space to talk about something we never talk about in the arts. I have been working in theatre for over twenty years, I have literally never heard anyone discuss women’s safety in this way.  It’s about time. Now I can do something about it in my own little pocket of this universe. I recommend reading and I recommend doing.

I got to see both these badass ladies speak in the same week.

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