Songs for the Struggling Artist


I Also Know Victoria’s Secret
September 6, 2022, 11:58 pm
Filed under: feminism | Tags: , , , , , , ,

There’s a song by a young woman, that has emerged via Tik Tok, that is extremely popular, called “Victoria’s Secret.” In it, she (she goes by Jax) reveals that the secret of Victoria is that she was made up by a dude. It’s a fun pop tune about body empowerment, with Victoria’s Secret at the center. Here are some of the lyrics:

God, I wish somebody would’ve told me
When I was younger that all bodies aren’t the same
Photoshop, itty bitty models on magazine covers
Told me I was overweight

I stopped eating, what a bummer
Can’t have carbs in a hot girl summer
If I could go back and tell myself
When I was younger, I’d say, psst

I know Victoria’s secret
And girl, you wouldn’t believe
She’s an old man who lives in Ohio
Making money off of girls like me
Cashing in on body issues
Selling skin and bones with big boobs
I know Victoria’s secret
She was made up by a dude

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It’s a super catchy song and I recommend the video on her Tik Tok which is a flash mob video in front of a Victoria’s Secret.

I’ve had the song in my head pretty much since I heard it.

And every time it comes around again, I think, we should have stopped this a long time ago. What a terrible power this dumb store has had on the psyches of girls. I don’t think I realized before because Victoria’s Secret is just another store to me. I remember when it showed up at the mall. We mostly just made fun of it. We bought our bras and underwear at places like Kmart and department stores. Victoria’s Secret was flimsy and fit badly and had cheesy angel marketing, like Playboy but with wings instead of bunny ears. I maybe went in there once? We thought it was mostly men who went in there to buy cheesy lingerie for their wives and girlfriends. And I feel like there was some evidence that that was true in those early days. I think it may have even been the impetus of the founding of the store. But something happened as time went by. I really don’t know what it was that happened because I was not paying attention.

Victoria’s Secret somehow turned from being a cheesy underwear store at the mall to a foundational place for girls. If I’m reading the song right, children are growing up trying to model themselves on the marketing of Victoria’s Secret. It’s become some sort of twisted guide-star for girls looking toward womanhood. And I thought it was just a dumb store.

I have always known Victoria’s Secret was made up by a dude. It is not news to me but it seems to be powerful news to the young girls of the moment.

But I get it, I suppose. We don’t like to think about the objectification and sexualization that girls are drawn to, interested in and exploited by. We like to think of girls as innocent creatures who have no interest in sex or its trappings, who will remain untouched by the culture until they are old enough. But it’s not true. If it’s not the culture teaching them how to pose and present themselves, it’s their own interest and curiosity that will lead them to places like Victoria’s Secret long before we’d like for them to notice such things.

I didn’t grow up with the spectre of Victoria’s Secret’s unattainable ideals but when I was little, I found some copies of Playboy magazine and spent some quiet mornings examining them, trying to understand the sexy grown-up world. I was discovered, so my exposure was pretty limited but I did see enough to build a belief system that this is what being a grown-up sexy woman should be. Luckily, I didn’t buy into it too much – but things like Playboy at least had the advantage of being somewhat hidden. It wasn’t at the mall and it wasn’t a part of my every day exposure.

There has been an extreme objectification movement in the culture since around about the time Victoria’s Secret first opened in the mall. It feels like it gets worse and worse every year – what with the Instagram filters and the Tik Tok beauty trends and now everyone has to look camera ready all the time. Things like nudie magazines seem quite quaint in comparison.

All this to say, I’m sorry I didn’t catch what damage Victoria’s Secret was doing when it first came out. I would have gone to the mall and held our Take Back the Night rallies there instead. We could have made a lot of noise, twirled sports bras around our heads or something. Instead, it’s this next generation, after decades of Victoria’s Secret marinating in the culture, that finally begins to shift things. Apparently, the Victoria’s Secret corporate office has reached out to Jax to have her help them make the brand more inclusive; Jax has told them where they can stick it and asked her fans if they have anything to say to the corporate office, since they’re listening. Girls and young women are speaking their truth to power. That seems like progress somehow. Pointless to talk to those powers now, perhaps, now that so much damage has been done but still, maybe the needle is moving.


I thought Victoria’s Secret was just a crappy store where I couldn’t get a bra that fits (I send away to Poland for my bras, btw, that’s how bad the American lingerie system is) but I think we just never really know what is taking up so much space in the brains of the generations that follow us. I’m sorry Gen Z. I wish I’d known where this was going. I’d have fought harder for you earlier

I tried to find you a photo of this place from the 80s at the mall and I failed. Just imagine a much trashier place with angel wings and you’ll be close.

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Tricksy Feminists

In college, we made a show called Roar! The Women’s Thing! Live Girls On Stage! which I started thinking about after reading Fleishman Is in Trouble.

I was just going to write a quick little review of Fleishman Is in Trouble for Goodreads but then I started thinking of that show and what we were trying to do with it, which was going to need some explaining, and then I started thinking more about the novel, which began to make me mad and voila! – blog post.

I’ll start with this show. I made it during a guest semester I took at a state university. I’d spent three semesters at Sarah Lawrence College and while my education was aces, I was longing for a social life, so I decided to take a break from my progressive elite education and go to some parties (as well as classes, sure) in Virginia for a semester. That transition was a kind of a feminist wake up call. I’d gotten used to a place where feminism was a default position and I was absolutely shocked by the retrograde patriarchy still in place at this state college. I joined a rebel feminist group and we decided to make the show, to give the place a real consciousness raising because whooo boy, did it need one! We put “Live Girls On Stage” in the title because we were worried about preaching to the choir and we hoped we’d bring in a few frat bros by suggesting we were a burlesque show rather than a feminist collective. We thought we were pretty clever. We put paper dolls of Barbie dolls on our posters. We thought that we’d change the world with or little feminist variety show. I’m both very proud and very embarrassed by this venture now. I’m bringing it up because of this little Live Girls trick. Did it work? Of course not. Though we did sell out, which was better than most of my subsequent feminist work. But I’m thinking about it because I feel like there’s something similar at work in Fleishman Is in Trouble.

I read this book because it was advertised to me on the Guilty Feminist podcast. It was billed as an hilarious feminist novel. That’s catnip for me. Of course I was going to read an hilarious feminist novel.

You may, at this point, not be surprised to learn that I found this book to be neither hilarious nor particularly feminist. They Live Girls Onstaged me and I fell for it. I don’t blame the Guilty Feminist podcast. They need advertising dollars as much as anyone and I can imagine how this happened. Someone on the marketing team thought this book was kinda feminist and googled all the places they might be able to place some feminist ads and the job was done. But, oh, oh, did I feel like a frat boy who thought he’d come for burlesque and got a bunch of show tunes and sketches instead. I’m going to give you some spoilers now – or really a spoiler. One might call it the twist of the book. If you want to skip these next seven paragraphs to avoid this reveal, please feel free. I think knowing what’s coming might actually improve the experience of reading it but…it’s up to you.

The book begins with the story of a man who is in the process of divorcing, dating and doctoring. It is a bit how I imagine a Philip Roth or John Updike novel. (I’ve never read either as I am not at all interested.) It’s the story of a wealthy man on the Upper East Side of Manhattan who often feels he is not wealthy enough. He describes himself as a hero of a dad and his ex-wife as a useless soul-less social climber, who disappears on him. It’s all narrated by his female friend, who used to work at a men’s magazine so she’s practiced at getting into the heads of men.

Then, about three quarters of the way through, the narrator of the book runs into the ex-wife and we get a sense of the time-line we just experienced from her perspective. Surprise! She’s not the monster her husband made her out to be! The book finishes with a kind of alliance between the women and a little rant about how bad marriage and middle age can be for women and then the narrator takes a taxi back to her husband, from NYC to the suburbs of NJ.

I THINK this is being marketed as a feminist novel because it tricks us into thinking it’s a man’s story at the top and then TRICKSY! It turns out to be a woman’s. And the guy who seemed like a sort of good guy is kind of a dirtbag. SURPRISE! You’re NOT seeing Live Girls Onstage like you thought! It’s a consciousness raising instead! It’s Tricksy Feminism, trying to convert the unconvertable. If those frat boys only knew what it was really like to be a woman, they might not be such sexist pigs!

If we get men to read a story about a man, they’ll keep reading to learn about a woman’s perspective of the same stuff!  We’ll sneak some women’s issues into that Phillip Roth novel! We’ll raise their consciousness without them even knowing! Tricksy!

But the thing is – none of those issues that the woman face are dealt with in a particularly feminist way. None of them ever rallies together with other women to make a change. They deal with sexual harassment and discrimination. They deal with sexist and dehumanizing medical treatment and generally struggle with some old school Simone de Beauvoir Second Sex shit. But no one seems to know that feminism exists. It’s a weird world without any real social movements. It’s a world where someone experiences overt sexism and no one will name it. Feminism isn’t just women having lady problems. It’s a social movement in which people work together to make our world more equitable. This book had nothing to do with that as far as I could see.

For me, the book was mostly largely about rich people on the Upper East Side of Manhattan having a lot of privileged problems. Was it compelling? Sure! It’s very well written so you couldn’t ask for better fiction about the ennui of a particular kind of privileged life. If you want to know about the inner lives of women who choose their pilates classes based on maintaining social ties, look no further. You’ve found your book. Even the women in this book, in the middle of realizing all the betrayals of sexism and such, never get beyond themselves to even consider attempting to make a change. They don’t have a feminist awakening. They don’t decide to organize. They don’t start to examine their own privilege – not their racial privilege, their economic privilege, not their abled privilege, none of it. If there’s any feminism in the book at all (and I’m not convinced there is) it is not intersectional.

I keep thinking of the end of the book when the narrator takes a taxi back to her house in New Jersey from NYC. I think it’s supposed to be a romantic gesture? But all I can think of is how expensive that taxi ride would be and yet it’s not even a whisper of a thought for this character.

Roar! The Women’s Thing! Live Girls On Stage was a sophomoric feminist show. I was literally a college sophomore when I made it. I’m fairly certain we didn’t change anyone’s mind and only expressed a bunch of things that were hard for us (mostly white) ladies. It was a little tricksy but mostly harmless and possibly a fun night out. I feel like Fleishman Is in Trouble is similar. A little tricksy, mostly harmless and a fun read. The trouble is in the marketing. There were live girls on stage but they really weren’t what I had in mind.

I’m about the same age as the characters in this book so I have a sense of the world they grew up in. I know there was feminism in that world, for example and it’s clear to me that characters that don’t have their feminist awakening until their 40s are characters who ignored or rejected feminism in their youth. If you’re not discovering sexism until your 40s, you’re late. You’ve very late. I mean, get to the party when you get to the party but you are very late.

But one thing I know about the party from our collective college years is that in some places, the party was already in full swing, had already evolved and was searching for ways to grow and the party at the other college was just getting into gear. It was in its sophomore stages and needing a jump start. When my friend and I would walk into our Sociology of Women class at that state college, our teacher would say, “Here come the radicals!” And let me just say, as much as I enjoyed that greeting, I was VERY FAR from being a radical then. (“Couldn’t we do it in a nice way? But I don’t want to upset anyone! I don’t want to take anything away from anyone! I just want a teeny tiny itsy bitsy bit of equality, please. If it’s not too much trouble.”) Anyway – what I’m saying is that it’s all relative. At Sarah Lawrence, I was a pretty run of the mill every day sort of feminist, at the state college, I was a radical. Maybe for the characters in Fleishman Is in Trouble, this sort of naming of women’s issues IS radical. It’s first stage feminism. It’s late to the party feminism but fine, I guess.

Yes. This is the poster. Yes I still have it.

This post was brought to you by my patrons on Patreon.

They also bring you the podcast version of the blog.

It’s also called Songs for the Struggling Artist 

You can find the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

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Every podcast features a song at the end. Some of those songs are on Spotify, my websiteReverbNation, Deezer and iTunes

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I Guess I Have to Talk About Cuomo

The governor of New York, where I live, is all over the news again and as much as I’d really rather not think too much about Governor Andrew Cuomo, I’m seeing so many bonehead responses to this story that I think I’m going to have to say something.

I will say, just right off the bat, I am not a fan of him. I have not been a fan. I have voted against him every chance I’ve gotten. I found him tolerable for the first time when he became a voice of reason in the early pandemic times – but even his reassuring statements about what day of the week it was were not enough to turn me into a “CuomoSexual.” I understand why people got crushes on him but his history of throwing women’s reproductive rights under the bus, for example, kept me from any particularly warm feelings. I just didn’t hate him as hard while he was telling me it was Tuesday back in April.

I’ve seen him in person (when the new subway line opened a few years ago) and I will tell you, he was like a bag of oil in a human suit. I’ve never seen anyone oilier. And I was once the person a drunk Kevin Spacey needed help from.

I think Cuomo’s been a lousy governor. It’s not just the absolute disregard for accountability or compassion for the folks living and working in nursing homes during the pandemic, though I find that stomach turningly reprehensible. I am not a fan of his alignment with real estate interests (always – but in the last year especially when he killed all chances for the Cancel Rent movement to give a bit of relief to suffering unemployed and underemployed people). His association with the IDC was another real blot on his leadership. If you need more reasons, I highly suggest this article from Rebecca Traister about the climate in his office and how it prevented actual governing getting done, this article from Teen Vogue last spring about why he shouldn’t be your pandemic crush or this one from The Guardian about why he’s a mini-Trump.

So I’ll acknowledge that I’ve been ready for this bag of oil to go for some time. Then the first story about his sexual harassment of his employee came out. Again. It came out months ago on Twitter but I guess no one cared then. This time, his former employee wrote a piece about it herself and it hit.

It’s the kind of story that is so common that it allows a lot of people to dismiss it. It’s the kind of story that if it happens to you is, it’s a total misery and when you tell people, they’ll either tell you it was no big deal or want you to report it. It’s been so recently normal for dirt bag men to behave that way that scores of people line up to dismiss it. “Who hasn’t been harassed like that?” they say. “What’s the big deal?” And then they say the one that’s been driving me craziest. “If we aren’t going to prosecute Trump for his pussy grabbing, we shouldn’t worry about Cuomo’s harmless flirtations.”

And this, my friends, is why Trump getting away with the 22 rapes and multitudes of sexual assaults should have been prosecuted years ago. The bar is now so low that no one could possibly suffer consequences for any reprehensible behavior.

Is Cuomo as bad as Trump? No. But Trump is REALLY TERRIBLE. You’d have to be really really bad to be as bad as him. (Though I did just listen to a podcast about a guy who was even worse than Trump in this department. I mean. It seems there’s always someone who is worse and got away with something for longer.)

To me it sounds like: “How can we hold this guy accountable for stabbing his buddy when that other serial murderer down in Florida got away with killing so many people? It’s just a little bad behavior.” It’s classic whataboutism, really.

Is this one story about Cuomo being a really terrible horn dog boss enough to take him down?

Unfortunately, no. But the behavior that was described by Lindsey Boylan is such that it was obvious that there would be more. Long before anyone else came forward, we knew there would be more women with similar stories. Because this sort of behavior is a pattern and it reflects a general disregard for women. Also, one brave woman tends to lead to more brave women willing to come forward. So I certainly expected more to appear. And more certainly did. When I wrote this, there were two more. As I type this, there are 5 more. Who knows how many more will emerge by the time I push publish?

But for people who love Cuomo, it doesn’t seem too bad. They’d LIKE for him to flirt with them! They WISH Cuomo would put his hand on THEIR lower back and then grab their faces and ask if he could kiss them. That sounds nice to them! They’d definitely say YES to that request! It’s like if George Clooney slid up to them at a party and offered to take them home. It’s sexy! For them.

But for women who reported these incidents, it was NOT sexy. It was entirely unwanted. And, in at least two cases, it was further complicated by his ability to fire them or ruin their job prospects. For these women, it’s not like their boss is George Clooney and they feel lucky to be the focus of his attentions. It’s like their boss is George Costanza. (Also, I would, for sure, rather be hit on by George Costanza than Andrew Cuomo. I know how to push off the Costanzas of the world. Cuomo would be a lot harder to escape.)

The problem is not that Cuomo just got a little too flirty at some parties or his job. The problem is that he has demonstrated a lack of respect for women, for women’s bodies, for women’s boundaries and their agency. He has demonstrated, by his behavior with the women who have reported, that he has little respect for half the population of the state he governs. This isn’t some leftist plot to treat liberal politicians with more stringent guidelines. And it turns out he’s actually terrible to everyone, not just women. He’s just terrible to women in particularly sexist ways.

This kind of behavior is a clear indication of his lack of ability to govern with discernment and care. That lack of care has been clear to me (and so many others) for some time, but for some, this is the first time they’re getting the picture. In regards to his failures around the nursing homes last year, he said, “But who cares? 33, 28. Died in the hospital. Died in the nursing home. They died.”

Honestly, he should resign off the back of that wretched statement alone but if it’s the sexual harassment that gets him, that’s good, too.

There are reasons to put a check on this behavior, even on politicians we like. If it turns out that Elizabeth Warren, who I admire greatly, was out there abusing her power with her staffers, I’d be very surprised, of course, as it would be very far outside her character – but I’d expect her to resign as well. This isn’t about who we like and don’t like. The thing is, if there are no consequences, then the behavior just continues. And it usually gets worse, since the harasser feels a sense of impunity. If you want to hear a chilling example of this, I recommend listening to the series Women in the Room which explored sexual harassment in New York politics in years previous. The story of Vito Lopez’s office was particularly horrifying. He was once my representative, too, back when I lived in Brooklyn. When he first faced accusations, he was (metaphorically) given a pat on the back and told not to do it anymore. This emboldened him to make even more overt demands of the new women in his employ.  In his wake, a slew of women who had wanted a career in politics but had it harassed out of them by a guy who just enjoyed a little flirtation, who just needed a little “support,” as he put it. A little massage. Some company in his lonely hotel room. No need to worry that saying no will lose you your job and any future in politics you might be looking for! It will definitely do that! And then some!

Cuomo needs to see some consequences to his actions because all of those who are harassing below him need to see those consequences. We need to ensure that Cuomo experiences consequences because he will be the reason someone else won’t be accountable for THEIR terrible behavior. In the same way that Trump not experiencing any consequences from the rapes of 22 women and girls is allowing many a bozo to justify not holding Cuomo accountable for sexual harassment.

A woman is the Lieutenant Governor and would finish out Cuomo’s term. New York has never had a woman governor. If we’d like to show New York’s women some respect, Cuomo should resign. If he won’t resign (which it looks like he won’t) then we need to impeach him. I, for one, would be very relieved not to have a sentient bag of oil for our governor anymore.

Pour some oil in a skin suit and you’ve got yourself a governor!
(Photo by Leandro Callegari via Unsplash)

This post was brought to you by my patrons on Patreon.

They also bring you the podcast version of the blog.

It’s also called Songs for the Struggling Artist.

You can find the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

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Every podcast features a song at the end. Some of those songs are on Spotify, my websiteReverbNation, Deezer and iTunes

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The New SCOTUS Handmaiden of the Patriarchy

Warning: This post is going to be a little bit crude. I find the proceedings in the Senate to be very crude, so this is nothing compared to that – but if crude language isn’t for you, this might be one to skip.

Hey everybody – the Heritage Foundation would like you to know that Amy Coney Barrett is NOT a handmaid for patriarchy. I saw a headline from them saying as such when I googled her name and “Handmaid for the Patriarchy” because I was sure someone had already written this piece and found the Heritage Foundation’s headline instead. And we should all trust that the Heritage Foundation knows about these things, right? That Conservative Fundamentalist Think Tank wouldn’t say something like that if it wasn’t true, right?

The fact is – The Heritage Foundation, while being a great representation OF the Patriarchy, does not know what the Patriarchy is – and certainly does not understand how Barrett is, in fact, absolutely a handmaiden for it.

Is she literally a handmaiden in the Margaret Atwood Handmaid’s Tale Style? Apparently not. So. The good news is that she does not seem to have to engage in those weird ritualistic sexual practices. But – in the sense of a handmaid being in service to the greater patriarchal Judeo-Christian concept? Girl is a full-on handmaid, y’all. This is a woman who, even when being screwed by the patriarchy, was like, “Thank you! Would you screw me again? And might I help screw over the other women in this plan you have?”

Truthfully, if we used Atwood’s story to compare her to the characters of Gilead, she would be more Serena Joy and Aunt Lydia than a handmaiden. But outside of Atwood’s structure, a handmaiden is one who helps, one who is at the service of, and Barrett is 100% at the service of Patriarchy. That’s why she was selected. She looks the part. She does what the patriarchy expects. She makes decisions based on what the patriarchy would want her to do. She even giggles when a Senator asks her who does the laundry at home. She is there to serve.

And not to serve the country. Or the law. Or the Constitution. Or any of those things that it is, in fact, noble to serve. No, no matter how much she fetishizes the original constitution and its founding fathers, she is there to serve the mother fucking patriarchy and the mother fucking patriarchy is jizzing all over itself to be able to put her where they want her.

I haven’t paid her confirmation hearings much notice to be honest. It is too disgusting and crude and she’s just a blank. As a longtime handmaid of the patriarchy, she has long ago stripped away any sense of a real self. She has done everything she can to become an archetype of everything. She is The Mother, The Wife, The Christian Woman and somehow, improbably, The Judge.

And by being an archetype of everything, she is, in fact, nothing of substance. She is as blank as the notepad she proudly held up in her hearing.

A lot of people have been asking what I think of her. And the fact is that I do not think of her at all. To me she is a void. She’s a patriarchal placeholder. I understand her purpose. She is there to serve the patriarchy, to give it what it wants, to help it seize control of women’s bodies, to help it strip rights away from anyone the white patriarchal capitalist machine deems “other.” She is a blank because she is a handmaiden. She is OF the Patriarchy. She barely has a name.

Photo by Kai Medina from the Boston Women’s March 2019

This post was brought to you by my patrons on Patreon.

They also bring you the podcast version of the blog.

It’s also called Songs for the Struggling Artist.

You can find the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

screen-shot-2017-01-10-at-1-33-28-am

Every podcast features a song at the end. Some of those songs are on Spotify, my websiteReverbNation, Deezer and iTunes

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Want to help me fight the patriarchy?

Become my patron on Patreon.

Click HERE to Check out my Patreon Page

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Bill and Ted’s Bogus Handling of Older Women

We did it. We watched the new Bill and Ted movie. The trailer made it look kind of charming and our Gen X nostalgia for the original was strong enough to put us in front of, what we knew would be, a very silly movie. And it was! They brought back all these cast members from the original. Ted’s Dad. Ted’s Dad’s girlfriend. A hologram of George Carlin. But significantly, despite the medieval princesses’ appearance in the earlier movie, the actresses who played them did not play them in this new movie. Instead, the filmmakers cast two women who are about ten years younger than the original princesses. This made me mad. And curious.

I investigated the women who played the original roles. Maybe they were too busy to play the parts. Or maybe they were dead! I mean, if one of them was busy playing Hedda Gabler at the Royal Shakespeare Company, I could understand that she might not want to do a sequel to Bill and Ted. But no. Their IMDB pages suggested that they were still acting, though not with really high profile credits. A couple of years ago they were photographed at a Bill and Ted convention event. In other words, they were probably available – the makers of Bill and Ted just didn’t ask them.

I’m assuming. Maybe there’s a great story about this that isn’t the usual sexism – but I somehow suspect that it is the usual sexism. The two women in their 50s were not hot enough for film anymore. (Though, frankly, I’ve seen recent photos of these ladies and they’re gorgeous.) So while the producers were happy to look at Bill and Ted with male middle aged bodies – they needed younger models to represent the hot princesses they married. That’s pretty gross and sexist but, you know, fair point. If I recall, correctly, the original princesses weren’t written to be much more than hot – so if the actors’ hotness has faded, then perhaps it was necessary to get new ones to represent the one trait they possessed.

But even hot people age and not all of them look like Catherine Zeta Jones as they do. Even hot medieval princesses might get a few lines on their faces or find the shapes of their bodies changing. But this movie chose to focus on the hotness instead. They gave Bill and Ted new wives, who were still hot, even though they were in their 40s! (Please read Gen X sarcasm there.)

And I mean no disrespect to the women who ultimately played the wives this time around. They’re both very funny women and I’ve enjoyed their work in other things and even, briefly, in this, where they were given almost nothing to do but complain that their husbands were losers. (Man, women are such a drag, aren’t they?! – Gen X sarcasm again)

But I am furious on behalf of the women who originated those parts, whether they wanted them or not. The film’s treatment of them as expendable is so common and so careless and I noticed it constantly as I watched the movie. In early scenes with Bill’s wife and daughter, I found myself asking “Which one is the daughter again?” Jemima Mays may be 41 but she still looks like she could be twenty something.

And so, despite the sort of feminist message of the men passing on the torch to young women, the movie made clear that older women can take a hike. Women who look like they could be the mothers of children in their mid-twenties are not to be looked at or admired on the screen. They’re not the sort of mothers Bill and Ted would fight for their marriages for. They somehow need hot chicks for the plot to make sense that way.

In some ways, the new Bill and Ted movie wants to be feminist. It wants to say that the future is female and that the people to change the world will be the young women. It has something to say about fathers fighting to keep their families together. That’s often a trope for female characters and it is refreshing to see two dudes try and save their marriages and their children. It feels like a shift.

But if the future is female, it is only for hot young women, not older women. Holland Taylor plays the ruler in the future and she is fabulous as ever but her character does not look like a hero in the end. The movie seems to suggest that old women need to step aside and be replaced by younger women who are more chill and know what’s going on.

Were there some fun moments? Sure. I would watch a spin-off buddy comedy between the couples therapist and the killer robot. And surely the original movie was not a beacon of feminist thought. They have made progress. But someone get me a phone booth so I can go back in time and tell these guys that feminism is not just for young women. It’s for everyone. The movie that denies them is bogus.

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It’s also called Songs for the Struggling Artist.

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I Am a Genius
August 26, 2020, 12:11 am
Filed under: art, feminism | Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Does it make you uncomfortable when I say I am a genius? I can see why it might. Women aren’t supposed to be geniuses, for one thing, and they should be modest, as well, so even if women COULD be geniuses, they shouldn’t go around declaring themselves such. We learn very early that we should hide our intelligence, that we should be quiet about what we’re good at and that we are never going to be seen as brilliant. Because being brilliant, and being a genius, is for boys.

Think that’s all in the past? Well, you’d be thinking wrong. Forbes just published a piece about a study that shows that there is an unconscious bias in both men and women that associates men with things like genius and brilliance and not women. Forbes declares that women tend to not apply for jobs that list a brilliant mind as a qualification. Their solution? Stop putting “brilliant mind” as a qualification.

That’s one way. Another way that I see is to purposefully cultivate an immodest attitude of brilliance. To practice calling girls brilliant and genius. Changing the language on job listings is only a change in semantics – changing how we talk about the brilliance, the genius of women and girls is another.

The culture we’ve been swimming in loves a genius. We are a culture that believes in genius and will excuse all sorts of bad behavior when a genius does it. Picasso! What a genius! It doesn’t matter that he abused the women in his life, neglected his children and made a seventeen-year-old girl his lover when he was 45. The genius effect is powerful and will overshadow any wrong doing.

Here’s his granddaughter describing his genius: ”His brilliant oeuvre demanded human sacrifices. He drove everyone who got near him to despair and engulfed them. No one in my family ever managed to escape from the stranglehold of this genius. He needed blood to sign each of his paintings: my father’s blood, my brother’s, my mother’s, my grandmother’s and mine. He needed the blood of those who loved him — people who thought they loved a human being, whereas they really loved Picasso.”

And here she is describing his relationships with women: ”He submitted them to his animal sexuality, tamed them, bewitched them, ingested them and crushed them onto his canvas. After he had spent many nights extracting their essence, once they were bled dry, he would dispose of them.”

Nice genius right there. That’s genius built from the blood of women. That’s not just a really sharp, smart, cool artist. He was that, sure. I like his artwork very much. But he was pretty awful to the people around him. We excuse it though, because of that genius effect.

But no matter how brilliant a woman may be, no matter how prolific and original, it is highly unlikely that she will be called a genius or even brilliant – and if she made even the smallest of errors, she will be pilloried for it. There’s no genius effect for her.

I am so incredibly tired of this and have made it my practice to call myself a genius and to tell myself I’m brilliant at every opportunity. When the silly video game calls me a genius after I string together a long line of dots, I say to it, “Thank you. I know.” Sometimes I don’t even say thank you because of course my genius is obvious and I don’t have to be polite about it.

Is this immodest? Yep. I’m done waiting for the world to recognize my genius. If the orange dumpster-fire-in-chief can call himself “ a very stable genius,” there is literally no reason in the world I should not declare my own genius. I may not be as brilliant as Einstein but I am for sure more brilliant than the fascist meme machine in charge. He got pretty far by declaring himself a genius. Can I do worse?

But most importantly, I am trying to normalize women being seen as geniuses, as brilliant. I want the next generation of girls to know they are brilliant and geniuses and to apply for and get all the jobs for brilliant minds out there. (By the way, what are these jobs? I’ve never seen a job listing that asked for a brilliant mind ever. Was it because I was looking at theatre and education listings? No one would ask for a brilliant mind in those fields, I don’t think. Not the way they’re currently administered. A brilliant mind would only make trouble. As I often did.)

Anyway – I’m a brilliant genius. I hope you’ll agree. And make it a practice to call other women and girls geniuses, too. Start your practice with me, if you want – because I will, for sure, accept it. If you call me a genius, I will say, “Thank you, I know” just like I say to my game and then you can move on to your next genius, who may have been taught to be modest and deny it. They may be embarrassed and uncomfortable to hear it but call them a genius anyway. One day it will stick.

The only reason I got comfortable calling myself a genius is that I have a handful of people who have called me brilliant, who have called me a genius. It didn’t come from nowhere. You can help me spread it. 

Here’s me with my genius rainbow brain just geniusing it up out here.

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Theatre, Celebrities, Hope and What We’re Doing Now

Part of the reason I just went ahead and went full steam ahead with this podcast idea of mine a few months ago is that I thought, well, with all the theatres shut down, theatre journalists will have absolutely nothing to talk about – so maybe a little indie theatre company making work in the middle of this storm will suddenly be of interest. Maybe, I thought, this is our opening. We are, after all, still making theatre of a kind – even if it’s in solely audio form. Theatre lovers will want to hear it, I naively thought.

Turns out what theatre lovers want is celebrities. Turns out theatre lovers would rather watch cast reunion zoom meetings. They would rather gaze at Kristin Chenowith’s bookshelves than engage with some off-off Broadway something or other. Big companies would rather air the stuff in their vaults than point the way to smaller companies who may have already been working in the digital space. Theatre lovers would rather listen to a podcast of people talking about famous theatre than actually listen to theatre via podcast.

With all of theatre sitting on the sidelines, it has become incredibly clear who has been driving this bus the whole time and it isn’t the non-profit world or the fringe.

A collection of interviews about the future of theatre made the social media rounds among my theatre friends recently. And a lot of them found a great deal of hope and comfort in it. I can see why – there are a lot of people reading idealistic, formative texts like The Empty Space and thinking about how to boil theatre down to its essence. They are dreaming of a new and better theatre and I really hope that can be true – but I am incredibly skeptical. It’s not because I don’t believe it’s possible to do things differently; I 100% believe it is possible. The reason I’m skeptical is because it’s already not what’s happening. The funds and resources and attention are, for the most part, going to Broadway and celebrities and theatre celebrities. The National Theatre in England is asking for donations in sharing its work and getting them. Meanwhile, that is a publicly funded organization. So, we have a major, tax payer funded organization sharing its work internationally and raising money. Not to say that I’m not enjoying getting to see shows I couldn’t get across the ocean to see but an organization like that has a built-in audience, thousands ready to click on it and has already invested buckets of money in high quality filming of their work.

The digital space is being dominated by the winners in just the same way that our live space was. The winner take all philosophy has been ruling our theatre world for ages and given the way things are going digitally, it does not look likely to change. I’m glad people can be hopeful about it and that they’re re-reading Towards a Poor Theatre – but I can tell you, as someone who has been making theatre without many resources for the last two decades, resources are what make the difference.

It feels to me like folks are interested in a Poor Theatre Empty Space sort of world as long as they can have Patti LuPone in it. They want to make “poor theatre” but with all the usual rich ones. (Not that I wouldn’t get a kick out of seeing LuPone in some freaking experimental basement empty space production. I would.)

And, of course, I started writing this piece before American theatre really started reckoning (or, in many cases, pretending to reckon) with its racism and watching that continue to unfold might give me a kind of hope, except I have yet to see any particularly profound shifts. Everyone is saying, “We’ll do better when we get back.” But I don’t see a lot of people doing better now.

Look, I know there is no theatre right now. But a lot of places still have budgets and are still paying their (mostly white male) artistic directors while their artists are unemployed. There are things to be done. Instead of writing up toothless diversity statements, maybe they could commission some BIPOC writers to create some new work or hire some BIPOC directors and designers to begin pre-production work on a socially distanced show of some kind. I know there’s no theatre. But I’m a tiny theatre company with a four figure budget; If I can figure out how to make something, I know that the million dollar organizations can, too.

I have yet to see a leader in American theatre do anything even remotely close to what the guy from Reddit did and actually give up some of their own power. It’s all well and good to write a diversity statement but it’s meaningless without action – and action is actually still possible even though theatre as we’ve known it is still on lockdown. What we do now is a clear reflection of our values and interests. If all we’re promoting are celebrities on Zoom, then that is what will we have upon our return to the stage. What we nurture will grow and it’s become clear to me that celebrity, even just theatre celebrity, is what drives the clicks so it is what is driving our theatre. I get it. I like clicks, too.

So – I have a solution. We just gotta lean in to it. If celebrities want to help and “take responsibility” like they said in that video, then let’s do that. Let’s give every major theatre a celebrity sponsor. And that celebrity sponsor lends their name and their platform to the show and pays for it. They pay for the BIPOC writer and director and cast and they get to say, “Julia Roberts presents” over the title but that’s it. The theatre gets the celebrity boost, the clicks and the cash to make sure they actually keep their freaking promise to produce more work by BIPOC artists.

Or – and this will be a lot easier to get going – we go ahead and start promoting the BIPOC artists and work that’s already being done right now.

Or – and this is the one that I know that nobody’s going to do – all the white folks who’ve been leading our major institutions all these years and drawing six figure salaries and above, can quit those jobs and name BIPOC successors, preferably artists, who can run those institutions in their place. And it’d be okay with me if we just broke those big institutions up and just funded a bunch of artists instead. The buildings aren’t doing anyone any good at the moment.

But that’s me dreaming. I know how unlikely it is that change that dramatic could shift what’s happening. It’s never been more clear how the theatre business has actually worked thus far and it is rather dramatically a winner take all world.

The way things are now, theatres that survive this will be the ones who can suck up the most resources. The ones who can survive long enough to grab all the funding that might be left in a year will be the winners. And maybe those of us who are used to making things with a cardboard box and a piece of string will survive, too.

Cardboard and string have gotten us this far without resources – maybe there’s hope for us, too. I don’t know, though. I would love a more meaningful theatre climate but based on what’s happening right now, I think we’re looking at a future of Google, The Musical and Amazon! The Story of Jeff Bezos! And it is unlikely to move a single one of us.

The Theatre Development Fund is raising money, not to develop theatre, but to keep itself afloat. There are currently no grants for making things, just grants to cover rents and administrators for our big buildings. Those who are innovating in new venues are unfunded. What we do now is what we will do in the future. If we want a more accessible, open theatre when we return, we can’t just hope for it. We have to be working toward it now. We’re in the middle of a good conversation, where artists and freelancers are finally feeling free to tell some of the truths about working at these big institutions but until there is actual action, with actual resources, until someone with power hands some of it over to someone without it, we’re just doing things the same old way. We can’t just hope that when we come back things will be different. We have to make it different. It’s already started. It’s already happening. We have to make it different now.

I keep thinking about this passage from Rebecca Solnit’s Hope in the Dark:

“Hope is not a lottery ticket you can sit on the sofa and clutch, feeling lucky. It is an axe you break down doors with in an emergency. Hope should shove you out the door, because it will take everything you have to steer the future away from endless war, from the annihilation of the earth’s treasures and the grinding down of the poor and marginal… To hope is to give yourself to the future – and that commitment to the future is what makes the present inhabitable.”

Now is the moment to give ourselves to the future.

One of the most inspiring theatre things I’ve seen during this time is the Virtual Toy Theatre Festival by Great Small Works. Someone give those folks a pot of money please! (This is a toy theatre from the olden days.)

 

This post was brought to you by my generous patrons on Patreon.

They also bring you the podcast version of the blog.

It’s also called Songs for the Struggling Artist.

You can find the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

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Every podcast features a song at the end. Some of those songs are on Spotify, my websiteReverbNation, Deezer and iTunes

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The Collective Emily Davis

You guys. Sometimes I get a little cranky about how common my name is. Like that time, a while back, when some other Emily Davis got into some serious debt and caused debt collectors to call me at various relatives’ houses because they couldn’t be sure I wasn’t THAT Emily Davis and they really wanted to find her.

Or when they wouldn’t give me a mailbox at my college post office because they said I’d just come in and withdrawn. Uh. Nope. I’d just arrived for my first year of college and I was super freaked out and the thought of not getting mail seriously wigged me out. (It was before email. No mail was serious back then.)

When I started to explore putting solo music online, I discovered an Australian Emily Davis who seemed to be doing pretty well. That was one other Emily. Then, a few years ago, I started to get tagged in Facebook events for shows I was not in. There was a new actress in town with my name and she was starting to get some traction.

Then recently I got a postcard in the mail for a show that declared “Emily Davis is mesmerizing” and I felt very weird.

On one hand: how nice! I am mesmerizing. I am glad someone finally noticed!

On the other hand: It’s not actually me that has been declared mesmerizing and it’s distressing to feel like this will be the only way I will ever be declared so. I started to feel bad about it and a little bit jealous of all the other Emily Davises who are doing better than I am at things I also do.

I mean, that’s the thing, I think. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t begrudge the success of a lawyer Emily Davis or a VP of marketing Emily Davis or a construction onsite Forewoman Emily Davis. It’s only the Emilys in the arts that trouble me. And maybe not even just the arts in general. I think I’d be delighted about a sculptor Emily or even a lighting designer Emily. It’s just the Emilys who do stuff I do. The actor Emily and the singer/songwriter Emily are the ones I know about. I’d for sure struggle with a writer or director Emily, too.

This is not a new problem. When I started acting, I was pretty sure I wouldn’t be the only Emily Davis out there so I used my middle name right out of the gate. (My middle name is Rainbow for those of you who missed the announcement last year.) I thought it would help distinguish me from the herd – not just the other Emily Davises but anyone. When I moved more into writing and directing, though, I worried that my middle name might be a hindrance in people taking me seriously so I dropped it. As a woman in a male dominated field, I felt a need to project a tougher image. I needed all the help establishing authority that I could get. I submitted my plays as E. Davis, with the hope that someone might think I was Edward or Edgar or something and give E a shot they wouldn’t give Emily. There is evidence that this sort of thing makes a difference. That’s why I did it. But my work is pretty obviously made by an Emily and not an Edgar, I think – so that strategy never worked.

Anyway – I am still Emily Davis, regardless of whether the Rainbow is included and there are a lot of other Emily Davises. Because I found myself getting jealous and resentful of another Emily’s success, I decided I needed to reframe my responses to the others. I think I need to think of us a collective – the collective Emily Davis instead of competing ones. Instead of seeing another Emily’s success as a challenge to mine, I can see it as a lift for the collective. When one of us does well, we all benefit.

And this is not just a mind trick, I’ve realized. Practically, if Australian Emily has a hit song, it will drive traffic to my music as well, even if it’s only accidental. I mean, she gets 5000 listeners per month on Spotify and I get 36. I’ll take her spillover.  As the other New York actor Emily gets great reviews for her production at the Vineyard, there will be those who, in searching for her, will end up on my website, who check out my theatre company. And vice versa. Maybe someone looking for me will find one of them and fall in artistic love.

Previously, I’ve really only experienced the painful moments – when someone expected to see a different Emily and is disappointed to meet me instead. But I think, as a collective, we can turn this around. I am uniquely myself – the one and only Emily Rainbow Davis but I am one with the collective Emily Davis and I am proud of all of us.

This post was brought to you by my generous patrons on Patreon.

They also bring you the podcast version of the blog.

You can find the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

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Every podcast features a song at the end. Some of those songs are on Spotify, my websiteReverbNation, Deezer and iTunes

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Harry Potter and The Hangover

We watched The Hangover one night, when it seemed like a couple of dumb laughs might be just the remedy for the world’s cruelties. A couple of dumb laughs were about all we got out of it in the end and half of them were from us about what extraordinary stereotypes all the “killjoy” women were. We cracked ourselves up adding lines, “That no-fun bride is mad we lost her fiancé right before her wedding. God! Women are so annoying!”

My friend could not get over how conventional and conservative it was. It seems like it’s this crazy hair-brained tale of wild excess – but in the end (I don’t think this needs a spoiler alert,) really all that happened is that the guys got super drunk and gambled. Sure, they also stole a tiger and one of them got married but the crazy things were all sort of socially fine. All sexual behaviors were within appropriate Hollywood bounds – that is, they ogled and groped the strippers but didn’t have sex with them. Even the one who got married to a stripper only cuddled with her. It was a crazy night in Vegas for which there was always a sort of reasonable explanation. When it’s all over, everyone could return to his conventional suburban life without incident. It’s just a little release for a couple of days in Vegas.

The most transgressive thing that happened, really, was that Zach Galifinakis’ character carried a purse and was not bothered about it’s not being manly.

It made me think about one of the theories of comedies that I studied in college. The Hangover wants to be one of these pastoral comedies where the protagonists go into the woods and lose all social convention and then can return to their more conventional lives with new information, having shifted what may have previously seemed unshiftable. Rosalind has to go into the Forest of Arden dressed as a boy to get the man she loves. And by the time she’s done, the rightful Duke has been restored to the throne and four marriages have been performed. The Hangover apes this sort of structure in that four guys go into the woods (Las Vegas) and by the time they emerge – one of them has broken up with his abusive girlfriend. Otherwise – everyone’s lives are pretty much the same. There’s no real release in this release comedy. Back to the Suburbs everyone – until the next time we get drunk! Conventional. Conservative.

Which brings me to the Harry Potter play. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is a lot better a play than The Hangover is a movie. It’s funnier, too. But like The Hangover, it is remarkably conventional and conservative.

There are a lot of reasons this is surprising. 1) It’s about magical people. With magic powers! In a magical land! They could be so much more interesting than us! 2) It was made by some of the most skilled, creative theatre makers we have. 3) The author of the books (and the story on which the show was based) is in a position wherein she does not need the money or the prestige from this show. She can afford to take some risks that the rest of us might not.
And yet. And yet.

Now before I break down how/why this show is conventional and conservative – I want to acknowledge some of the ways it was successful for me.

1) Cape choreography (Note to my theatre-making self: All future set changes will now require cape swirling. It is a very satisfying way to disappear a chair.)
2) Whatever that time shift tech was, it blew my mind. If I’d seen it on screen I’d have thought nothing of it – onstage it was miraculous
3) It is no small accomplishment to keep an audience interested for over five hours of theatre.
4) The staging was A+, likewise the design, performances were on point.

If you’re going, I think you’ll find something of merit. It’s a better time in the theatre than a lot of things I see. However – fundamentally – it is the story of a father and son who just don’t seem to understand each other. This is perhaps the most common story in the Western Canon. Honestly, plays about fathers and sons trying to negotiate their differences are the top of the most produced stories. And in this case, there really wasn’t even any clear reason for this difference between father and son. It seemed to just be that Harry Potter’s son got sorted into Slytherin and wasn’t as popular as his dad. That’s it. At the heart of the play is just a difference in …fraternities?

The other important relationship in the play is the friendship between Potter’s kid, and Malfoy’s kid. They’re best friends and even though the play sometimes hints that there may be more there, it never allows these two boys to actually be gay, or even entertain the possibility.

It feels like, the whole time, cranky old middle aged Harry Potter is just reacting to his son’s gayness without his son ever actually being gay. A play like this has the potential to open up worlds of possibility and it pretty much just said, nah, they’re two best friends who fight through time and space to stay together – but they’re just best friends. And you know – I’m hip to that sort of story, too, for sure. My best friendships are really important and I like the idea of a play about that sort of dedication. But I didn’t buy that in this story. I felt like they were gay and the writers just didn’t want to talk about it. They didn’t want to alienate the anti-gay Potter fans!

Conservative. Conventional.

Also. This was a man’s story all the way through. Sure we had a few women in it – but we basically had an old conventional daddy issue play with some magic tricks. All the women were sidelined.

Hermione was particularly hung out to dry. Despite having the most prestigious job in the magical world, she can seemingly get no one to listen to her and is constantly interrupted by men. In an alternate time line (spoiler: There’s time travel!) she has become a nasty old maid spinster teacher stereotype just because she failed to marry a man she loved. O boy. It’s only the love of a man that keeps a witch from turning into a mean old witch apparently. Conventional. So conservative.

Listen – if your play has the ability to travel in time…why not entertain truly exciting other possibilities? You don’t have to hop from one conservative time line to another. There has to be some time line where things can be truly shocking and maybe even queer, in more ways than one.

I’m 100% sure that there is some very daring fan fiction in this vein and how I wish I’d seen even a hint of it in this production.

It’s interesting to see a play that has such a long reach of a following. The generation behind me grew up on Harry Potter and the commonality of experience they have around it is extraordinary. There’s nothing like it from my childhood. The amazing thing about making a play about a series of stories that everyone knows is that everyone’s an insider. It is actually very exciting to be in a room full of people who are so pumped up and so uniform in their responses. Any references to the characters or events in the book get giant responses from the audience. It’s the “I know what you’re talking about” laugh. I mean, just a mention of Neville Longbottom drew applause from the audience. He makes no appearance in the play but he got applause anyway. It’s like a band playing a phrase from their hit song in the middle of a new one. I guess it’s bound to be a hit. There’s no real risk there.

And speaking of phrases from a hit song – almost all of the music in the Cursed Child was actually bits of the instrumental tracks of Imogen Heap’s hit songs. Now – I love Imogen Heap. I want her to make all the heaps of money she’ll get from being the composer of this show. But it seems to me they just used her instrumental tracks for their early movement rehearsals and just decided to keep them. That’s not so much composing as recycling old hits in a new remix.

And that’s sort of what this show was – a recycling of old hits in a new frame. Using theatrical techniques pulled from more experimental works to tell a conventional story with a recycled soundtrack.

I mean. It was a reasonable day in the theatre. It knew what it was doing and made use of some of the best theatrical tricks in the book. But it made me think of The Hangover.

This post was brought to you by my generous patrons on Patreon.

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You can find the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

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O God, that I were a man!

The interviewer had asked me about my early career as a classical actor. I was explaining the math I did after a few years of acting wherein I realized how terrible the odds were for me in classical theatre. I’d realized I had little interest in performing in contemporary work and that the jobs in Shakespeare for women were so few that I had really very little chance of continuing to work. Then she asked me, “Do you think it would have different if you were a man?”

I did not hesitate for even a second as I said some variation on “Absolutely. Definitely. No doubt.”

And it’s interesting how this question caught me by surprise. I have written streams of words on sexism in theatre and sexism in Shakespeare. I could lay out structural and institutional bias and break down a host of examples.

But somehow I had never before considered what my life would have been like were I a man. Like, if I were me and I had all the same ambitions, desires, interests, personality – all of it and I just was a man instead. And there is no question that things would have been very different for me if I’d come in with a different gender.

It’s like the story Dustin Hoffman tells about his first encounters with being dressed as a woman to work on Tootsie. After the first test with the make-up and hair designers, he asks them to make him beautiful and they tell him that what was there was as good as it was going to get. He describes becoming very sad at realizing that he would never have talked to the woman version of himself if he’d met her at a party. It wasn’t just that he, as a woman would never have had his opportunities, it’s that she would have been entirely overlooked. It’s a very moving speech. (Unfortunately, the speech is now undercut for me by another story about 17 year old he sexually harassed – but that’s another subject.) I feel a little like I had the reverse experience as Hoffman when the interviewer asked me that question. I don’t think I’d have been Dustin Hoffman – but I bet I could have worked for much longer than I did.

I knew from the beginning that I had a very limited window for working. It’s partly why I was so on fire to do it. The women’s parts in Shakespeare tend to be mostly young women – young wives and love interests. There is very little middle space. Maybe Lady Macbeth, Regan, Goneril, Paulina, Tamora and Emilia. But often they’re played by young women, too. You don’t really graduate from Juliet into something juicy. You age out and hope to play maybe the Queen in Cymbeline? You won’t be the lords, the thieves, the politicians. You won’t be the kings or the emperors or the princes. Men age into these sorts of roles and they are the bulk of the jobs. Maybe a guy gets too old to play Romeo but then he’s Hamlet-age and Macbeth age and then Lear and if not Lear, there’s Gloucester, Wooster, Egeus, Egeon, Claudius ,etc. No such journey awaits women in the classics. You go from ingénue to maybe a queen, if you’re lucky.

I played a fair amount of men in my time. Not just the “pants” roles – the Violas, the Rosalinds, the Imogens – but actual male characters: Poins, Quince, Vernon, Holofernes, Feste. And I was grateful to be able to expand my repertoire beyond being in love.

But I knew if I wanted to play Hamlet, for example, I would have to make that sort of thing happen myself. If I’d been a man, it might have been just as difficult to get someone to see me as Hamlet – plenty of male actors don’t get to play Hamlet either. But their gender would not have been one of the obstacles.

Classical acting is a tricky business no matter what your gender is. The men I know from my time in it have quit in the same numbers as women. They mostly just quit later. They got a few more years in.

The male version of me probably would have moved on to writing and directing just like this lady version of me did – but I suspect he would have had longer to build up his contacts. He’d have been given some pats on the back, gotten some brotherly advice, received some introductions that I never had a shot at.

If he’d started my theatre company, he’d have had some donors lined up or some mentors in the background. He’d have portions of the road paved for him before he ever set off driving on it. I had to build the dirt road and, also, the car.

Let me just state for the record that I am very happy to be a woman and have no desire to trade my gender. But this thought experiment got under my skin in a way that I have not been able to shake.

It is somehow easier for me to look at all the systemic blocks and institutionalized sexism as not personal – to feel like those things have been blocking all of us, not me specifically. But they HAVE blocked me specifically and I find that I envy the man version of myself who would have had a few more years on the boards – who, even if he never got to play Hamlet, would probably have gotten to kill him as Laertes, or be killed by him, as Polonius.

The thing, too, that I find upsetting about my particular experience is that it will never be better for anyone else. If you are a woman who loves classical theatre, it will always be thus. The plays will always have way more men than women. They will always have screwy old fashioned gender roles. There will never be new full exciting roles for women in Shakespeare. We’ve got some great ones. But not a LOT. And it will always be thus. Always.

That frustration led me to write plays, which is ironic given how little interest I had in new plays when I started. But…like me, our theatres are obsessed with Shakespeare. They’d rather produce Hamlet than some new play no one ever heard of.

When I came to grad school, Macbeth was the first show I directed and many people told me how happy they were to be doing Shakespeare instead of all those other plays that no one had ever heard of before. (I showed them. The next year, I directed my own play which, for sure, no one had ever heard of.) We have a major underlying problem in our field. Theatre is in love with Shakespeare and it means there are never enough jobs for women. I also am in love with Shakespeare so I get it. I understand, truly. Ask me to recite a speech, it’s going to be Shakespeare. Partly, it’s that I don’t remember any other ones but also, I love it. I’m guilty, too.

This problem has hit me many times in my positions as a Shakespeare educator as well. I have often been in the fortunate position to introduce young people to their first Shakespeare and when those girls light up with love and tell me how they’ve found THE thing they want to do – I start to worry I’ve not done QUITE right by them.

But this question…this “would it be different if you were a man?” – it has to change. There has to be a future for theatre where it WOULDN’T make a difference.

I don’t know what the answer is. It’s probably a combination of things. Maybe we call a Shakespeare break for a decade. Or increase the numbers of women’s Shakespeare companies. Or increase the funding and profiles of already existing women’s companies. Or just exclusively do reverse gender casting for a while. Or maybe we could, as a society, just really chill out about gender and let the fluidity run through the plays so gender wouldn’t matter at all anywhere.

I want a future where a Shakespeare loving person could have the same opportunities, the same road, no matter their gender.

In the end, Beatrice’s line from Much Ado About Nothing, “O, God, that I were a man!” continues with, “I would eat his heart in the marketplace.” And I guess I feel pretty strongly that if you want to eat a man’s heart in the marketplace, you should be able to do it – even if you’re not a man.

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