Songs for the Struggling Artist


My Hagification has Begun
January 5, 2017, 1:18 am
Filed under: Gender politics | Tags: , , , , , , ,

The patriarchy won big time on November 8th, 2016. Enough voters and enough Russian hackers wanted the patriarchy to win. Enough people were like – “Yeah, the primal expression of the patriarchy is for us!” and voted for it. It’s pretty fucking awful but the patriarchy won. And I hate it. It made me cry big sloppy tears. And I was paralyzed and horrified and ready to hide in a basement for as long as was necessary.

But then a switch got flipped. And I realized that just by existing, I am a middle finger to the patriarchy. The guy who won the contest is the straight up Id of the patriarchy and he has a lot of opinions about how women should look. As does the culture, in general. I do not fit most of his criteria and am therefore, like his opponent in the election, nasty. And like many of my sisters in the fight, I am embracing my nastiness. Because when the Patriarch Elect called Clinton a nasty woman we all knew what he meant. And we all knew that for him, nasty woman was redundant because “woman” means nasty to him, just by itself. We know he means women are gross, with body fat and hair and blood coming out of our where-evers. He’s offended by any woman who isn’t aesthetically pleasing to him. He is on record on this point going back decades.

All my life, I’ve struggled with the feeling that my body wasn’t culturally acceptable – that I was not pleasing to look at in one way or another and therefore failing at being a woman. That’s what the patriarchy wanted me to feel. That feeling is, in fact, what entire industries are devoted to invoking. The patriarchy wants me to spend all my time shaping my body –with Spanx, with diets, with razors, with creams, with make-up – in order to make it the most palatable for the patriarchs. It wants me to spend all my money on clothes, on weight-loss products, on cosmetics. It wants me in heels. It wants me in hair and make-up for a couple of hours every day.

So now my body becomes a signal. My body, my body hair, my clothes, are all a signal that I do not comply. Now more than ever. I’m thinking of going full-on hag to really magnify the effect. I want to develop 12 warts and some super gnarled fingers. Maybe I’ll start wearing a pointy black hat. I will no longer be aesthetically pleasing for the patriarchy. I am interested in full-on hag-i-fication.

All my life, some part of me was still struggling to please the patriarchy. Will the patriarchy still like me with this haircut? Am I shaving my legs correctly for the Man? Is this the right dress for the patriarchy?

(Side bar: I am going to start adding “for the patriarchy” to my fortune cookies – replacing the standard “in bed” – so I’ll see such fortunes as “You will soon go on a great journey. For the Patriarchy.” You can play, too! It’ll be fun!)

This new regime is a Shit Show but its extreme patriarchal nonsense is such that it has finally liberated me from some of the last bits of the Patriarchal Pleaser in my subconscious. I don’t care if the patriarchy likes me. In fact, it’s better if it doesn’t. I would take it as a point of pride at this point to be dismissed by the patriarchy. I am done cultivating my image. I am done worrying if I’m pretty enough, if I’m fitting in, if I am aesthetically pleasing. I had decades of that and now…I am embracing my inner hag. And she is pissed. And NASTY.

And I am not alone in this feeling, I have recently discovered. After I wrote the first draft of this post, I read an article by Madeline Davies in Jezebel, essentially pointing to the same impulse. Women on the street, the sorts of whom have never given me a second look, are suddenly smiling at me and nodding. I think we recognize each other now – the dissidents – the patriarchal warriors. When I go out into the world now, I strap on my beat-up boots (Snaps Missing; 4, Fucks Given: 0) and feel like I’m gearing up for battle. This doesn’t mean that I’ll never wear lipstick again or that I’ll never wear that sexy black dress. But it does mean that I’m only putting that stuff on for me. The patriarchy can go fuck itself.

The good news is that I can fight the patriarchy just by existing, just by walking around in my body. And for every “fat bitch” that gets shouted at me, just for taking up space in the world, I am now receiving nods and solidarity from my fellow warriors in equal measure. It’s a fight out there, for sure – but I am hagged up, geared up and ready to go. The patriarchy may have won this round but the fight’s not over.

 

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The Discomfort of Being Different Part Two

Occasionally, right after I push PUBLISH on my blog, I get a flood of additional ideas on the topic. I start to think of ways I should edit it or concepts I want to add. Sometimes I’ll go back in and edit or add – other times I’ll just let it lie. And sometimes I need to continue the thought in an entirely new blog post. That’s what happened when I opened up the floodgates on sexism in theatre. Thoughts just kept rushing in and I had to write follow-up-post after follow up. Some of those were based on the feedback I was getting and some of it was the swirl of it all marinating in my brain.

This post is of the marination variety. In thinking about being different – from the social science around non-conformity to my own history, I realized there was an additional factor that I didn’t factor in to my initial thoughts on the subject. That factor, in my case, was gender.

Because, in theatre (as in almost everywhere else,) the best way to be the Same – to conform, is to be a middle class white man. The numbers mean that nine times out of ten when I’m in a theatre doing someone else’s show, I’m in the minority. I am already different, just by being born a woman. And because of that, there is an added pressure to fit in, to do things the way they’ve always been done. Working female directors (all 22% of them!) mostly make their names directing plays about men. Women playwrights get more productions if their plays are about men. In order to assimilate, one has to take on the dominant culture – and that culture is male and white. (This all applies to race, too, but I will save that post either for someone else or the moment after I push publish on this one.)

What this all adds up to for me is the sense that I’m already a foot behind in the FITTING IN GAME and it is tricky to be perceived as the Non Conformist I am, rather than the woman who doesn’t know the rules because she’s a woman. There is a presumption, right at the outset, that I don’t know what I’m doing, based on my gender. There are theatre companies who will baldly state that they don’t hire women. So if I’m DOING the job of directing, for example, I’m expected to be too feminine, to be doing things wrong. There’s a sense that I should be doubly aggressive to make up for my gender.

The fact that I refuse to do this has been a problem throughout my career. And I think it’s a problem throughout the culture, too. We lose so much potential by leaving out the female experience of leadership. Jill Soloway’s work on The Female Gaze is the FIRST TIME in my decades on the planet, that I have heard a woman in a position of prominence able to advocate for a female aesthetic and style of leadership. It is incredibly inspiring. And incredibly unusual. It requires a great deal of tolerance of that discomfort of doing things differently. Soloway asks her camera operators to feel with her subjects. She hires a crew that can cry. I can only begin to imagine how the established film crew guys react to that. What I don’t know is how she manages those confused and angry folks used to doing things the usual way. That is the trick I’d like to learn to master.

I think a lot of that finessing of the world around one comes with age. The older I get, the less I care what other people think – that is, the desire to fit in has begun to diminish dramatically. At the moment, I’m still straddling the line. I’m not yet able to wholly reject the dominant culture. Probably because I’m not really part of it.

Soloway, having already achieved traditional success in film and TV has the credentials to tell the patriarchy to go fuck itself. She can say something as radical as: men should just stop making movies and make space for women’s voices and while I’m sure that blowback is intense, she can perhaps, watch it roll by from the top of the heap. I’m still hoping to make a little mark and it is hard to do from the fringes. So – time, I hope will help me to tolerate more and more the feeling of my own differences. Every decade I live, I lose more of that people-pleasing shame that limits me now.

photo by Cassidy Kelley

 

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Writing on the internet is a little bit like busking on the street. This is the part where I pass the hat. If you liked the blog and would like to give a dollar (or more!) put it in the PayPal digital hat. https://www.paypal.me/strugglingartist



We Almost Had It. 38 Years to go now.

Ever since I read Marge Piercy’s Sex Wars: A Novel of Gilded Age New York, I have been obsessed with Victoria Woodhull, the first woman to run for president. I’ve read numerous biographies of her and her sister, Tennessee Claflin. Despite there being no shortage of plays, stories and movies written about them, I have been unable to resist writing my own version of their story. (It’s either called Public Women or Hamlet, Without the Ghost.)

When I read these histories, I see this extraordinary moment when women ALMOST got the vote, when Victoria Woodhull could advocate for “Free Love” and when women’s rights ALMOST happened in an expansive and profound way. And it didn’t happen. The backlash was forceful and intense and rather than ushering in a new age for women, it led to a more repressive age and women didn’t get the right to vote for another 38 years.

Victoria Woodhull was a very modern woman in the late 1800s. She was a fierce advocate for women being able to divorce their husbands, for women to have access to birth control and to be able to control their own lives. With their newspaper, she and her sister wrote about the cruelties many women were compelled to endure at the time. They told truths others were afraid to report. She insisted that she be allowed to speak to Congress. She and her sister were the first woman to run a stock brokerage, one specifically created to serve other women. (How many of those have there been since?)

Woodhull wasn’t perfect but she was inspiring and a kicker open of doors. Part of my despair at the election results this year has been related to my sense of history. Hillary Clinton got much closer to being president than Woodhull ever did but I fear the blacklash will be the same or maybe worse because of it. History is full of these moments of women lifting their heads out of the fray and then being fiercely pushed back down.

For one short day in November, before the horror kicked in, I could imagine what life would be like if we had a woman as president. And not just any woman. A highly capable, intelligent woman. And on that day, I felt like my life might be valuable, that I might finally be able to make a contribution to the world in a meaningful way that there was hope for us. And then the hammer came down. And I am afraid that the repression that will follow will be a lot like what happened all those years ago. The same tropes have already emerged – punishing women for getting abortions, decriminalizing sexual assault, making birth control less available. It’s an old old strategy. And I am very afraid that the glorious freedom and future I imagined is now beyond the scope of my lifetime. That’s what history suggests. I hope it will be different this time. But….history is history.

In the end, Victoria Woodhull landed on her feet. She moved to England and had a jolly time of things with her third husband. But…but – what could have been for the rest of the country? That’s the heartbreaker.

The stories that have moved me the most in the aftermath of this election are all the little girls who watched their mothers devastated by the news and who will grow up to do something about it. I have heard numerous stories of tiny daughters proclaiming their candidacy for the future. This is gorgeous and encouraging and I have faith that those little girls will make a better world for us. But we’ll have to wait for them to grow up. I assume, given history’s likelihood to repeat itself, that we will have to shoulder the burden of the patriarchy another 38 years just as the women of the 1880s did. I hope it will be sooner. But given the circumstances —I doubt that it will.

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Writing on the internet is a little bit like busking on the street. This is the part where I pass the hat. If you liked the blog and would like to give a dollar (or more!) put it in the PayPal digital hat. https://www.paypal.me/strugglingartist



Theatre Was a Tool of the Patriarchy
February 16, 2016, 11:33 pm
Filed under: Gender politics, theatre | Tags: , , , , , ,

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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