Songs for the Struggling Artist

Overlooking Shit Ladies Say

In Caitlin Moran’s most recent book of essays, she proposes a five year moratorium on having opinions about women. It’s a proposition for embracing everyone’s imperfect feminism – forgiving ladies’ dumb lapses of feminist judgment. …and just celebrating their kick assery. She suggests maybe not worrying about Beyonce’s weird choice of naming her world tour the Mrs. Carter Tour and just getting in formation, ladies.

I’m super down with this idea. I mean, just because I find the idea of putting a ring on “it” problematic and objectifying doesn’t mean I can’t rock the dance floor when “Single Ladies” comes on.

I started to think more about this proposal because I found that in the midst of this post-election terror, I need Michelle Shocked’s music again. I have a strong palpable need for her brand of feminist folk punk and nothing else will do. I know she said some incredibly stupid things a few years ago and very possibly fell off the deep end into crazy town. I’ve decided I’m going to enjoy her music anyway. I need 1988 Michelle Shocked. 2013 Michelle Shocked can be as crazy as she wants. And I don’t know what 2016 Michelle Shocked is doing. Hopefully getting her shit together. But meanwhile – I need her. I need Ani Difranco. Who, yes, did that dumb retreat a few years ago that was a pretty bonehead move. But I need her. So I’m letting it go.

If Janelle Monáe, who I also need really badly right now, were to go off the rails, I would forgive her, too – because she’s necessary. Luckily, she’s about as careful and measured as a human can be and being a freakin’ monster of inspiration. If she fell – it’d be a hard hard fall. I don’t think she’s gonna, she’s so careful. But – if she did…I’d forgive her.

And here’s the thing…women are usually pilloried for pretty minor shit, all things considered. It’s not like we’re overlooking ladies committing child rape – for example – the way millions of people were able to do while electing our misogynist in chief. It’s also not like we’re overlooking violence incitement, spousal rape or sexual assault. If people can overlook all that shit and still vote for a dude for president, I feel like I can overlook some dumb shit that some marginalized women said one time. I mean – let’s adjust our public shaming scale, shall we?

It doesn’t make any of the dumb shit my ladies said alright. It’s still dumb shit. But the sheer amount of intolerable behavior we’ve tolerated from our male artists is boggling. Roman Polanski’s raping a child? Fine. What a great filmmaker! Woody Allen sexually assaulting his children? Big deal! What a genius! Give that guy a TV show! Bertolucci ordered a real rape on screen, for Art! Big deal! And on and on.

Obviously, this “not having an opinion on women” thing wouldn’t be total. I propose that, in an emergency, we might write about something that women are doing; if a prominent female politician turned into some manner of malign she-werewolf and sold her children to Nazis, say, we could legitimately opinionize on that. But on nearly every other matter concerning a newsworthy woman…

It’s time to start an overlooking campaign for ladies. No more opinions about ladies’ opinions. For five years at least or at least until we iron this shit out.


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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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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.

Hedgebrook Rejection
April 22, 2016, 11:11 pm
Filed under: Rejections, writing | Tags: , , ,

Twice Rejected now. Hedgebrook is a residency for women in the Northwest. It’s funny because I was never really attracted to women only spaces before. I’ve been a feminist for forever but never really felt drawn to single sex experiences. I didn’t consider a women’s college for even a second. (An option I now think might have been a really good one.) I didn’t go to women’s festivals or go to women’s groups.

But I now recognize that all of these sorts of institutions actually do help advance women’s lives. I came to understand that with the difficulties at hand in making my artist’s life – that there might be a great deal of benefit in leaning into the “minority” status of my womanhood. I’m interested in Hedgebrook, not because there are only women there – but because it exists to help support women in overcoming the cultural obstacles before them. I need all the help I can get in that department. So. I keep applying. And if they keep giving these residencies to people like Eve Ensler, Sarah Waters and Gloria Steinem, I guess it’s not too likely I’ll get it anytime soon. But I support the idea of it. So… it’s already worth a shot. And I would NOT be upset about getting to hang out at a writing retreat with Gloria Steinem.


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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.

No applause for the Ladies
June 7, 2014, 5:54 pm
Filed under: Gender politics | Tags: , , , ,

The Thrilling Adventure Hour podcast (which I love) will sometimes have two of its lead actors (Marc Evan Jackson and Paul F. Tompkins) answer questions from listeners. In an episode I heard not too long ago, they discussed something that I cannot stop thinking about.

Thrilling Adventure Hour often features well-known guest stars from TV and Film. Apparently, when they enter, the audience tends to applaud but it never applauds for the women the way it does for the men. Both Tompkins and Jackson were confused and distressed by this fact. They wondered: Is it that the women aren’t as beloved? Or is it just that the audience doesn’t recognize them?

I don’t have an answer, obviously. In addition to not having ever seen a live performance of this particular show, the psychology of an audience will always be a mystery. But I can’t help turning over the problem. Are women on TV and film less recognizable? Or said in another way: Are women on screen more alike than not?

Certainly, given the extreme standards of beauty in the Industry, women tend to fit into a very narrow band of physical appearance. There is less variety in body type, in shape, in bone structure even. And when there IS variety, make-up, hair and stylists do a great deal of work to even that distinctiveness out.

The actors that appear on Thrilling Adventure Hour don’t tend to be mega stars. Many of them are featured players on TV shows. You’d love them from Firefly or Freaks and Geeks, not from a movie blockbuster – and at this level, men are in a position to be distinctive character actors. They can look any which way. Every man can look different.

Women, however, are styled (and chosen) to be objects in pretty much every scenario. And as objects are often seen as interchangeable, they can be more forgettable, perhaps. So when a man from someone’s favorite TV show shows up, the audience applauds wildly, thrilled to see their old friend. They can be fat, thin, FBI types, Doctor types, Garbage Man types, whatever. And when a woman shows up, it’s not clear which TV show she was the girlfriend or wife on and thereby draws less applause. She might be familiar but not immediately recognizable.

Is this what’s going on at Thrilling Adventure Hour? I have no idea. But I don’t think the adulation for men and tepid applause for women is unique to that show. And I think it is really worth thinking about.

And, of course, I’d like to see the crowds go crazy with applause for the ladies, too.


Where the Women Go
November 26, 2013, 10:32 pm
Filed under: art, Gender politics, theatre | Tags: , , , ,

Over the years, I have made theatre with a number of extremely talented remarkable women. I started a company with women and make work with a woman-centered sensibility. These women are also my dear friends and most of them left NYC a long while ago. Until recently, I just saw myself as an odd victim of fate, surprised by fortune that almost every major collaborator has picked up sticks and gone elsewhere.

Then I started to think. Almost to a person, these friends/collaborators have gotten married and moved away to follow their husband’s (or wife’s) career path. Many of them have, in that moving, also given up theatre. I can name you former theatrical collaborators up and down the West Coast, in the mid-west and in Vermont. As far as I’m concerned, the country is littered with former NYC theatre practitioners and their partners.

Is this a post about how women shouldn’t put aside their own ambition to follow a partner? Nope. In almost every case, these women are happier, more at ease and thrilled to be able to have livable homes, babies and actually afford healthcare.

So what’s the problem? Well. NYC has lost a slew of remarkably talented female theatre practitioners. It is a loss to Theatre in this city. Given what a hostile environment it can be for women, it is no surprise that many of them hitch their wagons to their partners’ stars and just hightail it out of here. But the loss to the culture is profound.
When it comes down to it, it’s almost impossible to advocate for your own career when it has nothing to offer you. So when your partner gets a nice job across the country or is getting offered enough money to support you both, there’s absolutely nothing stopping you from going.

The only female theatre artists I know who have stuck it out in these NYC trenches are either single or partnered with other theatre people. And listen, I know this isn’t a scientific sampling but I wonder about it. I wonder if theatre is losing its most smart talented women because the circumstances are so ridiculous. And if you’re one of those who hasn’t left yet, I want to meet you. Because I’m very afraid that the next wedding I attend will mean the loss of yet another collaborator.

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