creating a/broad, November 9, 2013
Response to a column by a man about women, by a woman about that man and men and women
by Cameryn Moore
I was late with this column because I wanted to respond to yours from last week, and I couldn’t figure out how to get started. No lie: I must have re-read your piece a couple dozen times, trying to find a way inside of my own strong reaction. The main problem is that I didn’t understand what I was reacting to, because your piece is explicitly supportive of playwrights and actors who are women. Your questions are valid, ones that I have often asked myself. I share your indignation, believe me.
You mention it in the middle of your piece: “waiting for the giant machine to let you practice your craft.” I think you mean specifically the performing world, the seemingly monolithic, impenetrable world of acting, and you are right on with your advice. Don’t wait for that shit. Make it happen for yourself. This is true for ANYONE who wants to write and perform, but it is especially true for people who are not straight or white or male. I know I am not waiting. As a 43-year-old woman who falls well outside the range of what that machine is looking for, I am not even going to bother setting foot in that waiting room, because I know I’d be there the rest of my life, if I took a number and got in that line. I have always known that. That is not what bothered me, when reading this piece. Now I think I’ve figured it out.
You do not understand why things are the way they are, because you are not thinking big enough about the Machine.
I bought into the utopian dream, but soon realized: Fringe is part of it, and independent theatre, too.
Yes, in performance there is a machine, nesting gears within gears, if you will, and NO, theatre does not fall outside of that, not even the Canadian Fringe circuit. I thought so once, maybe two years ago. I bought into the utopian dream, but soon realized: Fringe is part of it, and independent theatre, too. There remains indifference or dismissal or outright hostility to women’s work—on the part of the reviewers, and the bookers, and the audience, and other performers, too, god, that always hurts—and this is because the theatre machine gets its grease direct from the source, baby, that viscous, aircraft-grade, heavy-weight sexism and misogyny. It encompasses the world. It gets everywhere. To paraphrase Madge the Manicurist, “We’re soaking in it.”
We still are ass-deep in a cultural view that makes men default humans—their experiences universally true and accessible—while women’s experiences are for women alone, not comprehensible, let alone interesting, to men. Expectations of women’s appearances and behaviours and life-choices, both on stage and off, are still fairly rigid, such that audiences see theatre with strong female leads, or only females, or a female solo, as a niche experience, not touching on broader truths. (See also 'chick lit'.) Artistic Directors have to fill their seasons with fairly broad-appeal shows, so… And women’s bodies are still subjected to vastly more scrutiny than men’s, and the standards for acceptable are much narrower; in performance industries, those standards become even harder to hit, with reviewers and directors and audiences all buying into the bullshit. God, it goes on and on. You know this. At least I hope you do. It’s hard sometimes to see because we are soaking in it. We’d like to believe that somehow Canada and the Fringe are beyond it, but they’re not. This is not a conspiracy theory or a 'poor me' whine. This is really true.
you wonder why that mindless abundance, the sheer force of numbers, has not translated to more works by and about women
You say, “every theatre school teems with female students.” (Why did you put it like that, anyway? The word “teem” has a very mindless, nature-documentary feel to it, a river teeming with spawning salmon or a dirt mound teeming with ants, or something.) And then you wonder why that mindless abundance, the sheer force of numbers, has not translated to more works by and about women. I have a theory, and it relates to something you say in the very next paragraph: “across the country, women scramble for a precious few roles. Including so many one dimensional minor parts: the supportive girlfriend, the saintly mother, the hot chick.”
You meant the roles in theatre or film, but that’s about what we have to work with outside of the performance machine as well. To switch metaphors, it’s one of the primary reasons why the performance pond TEEMS with young female students, but only a few female frogs manage to hop out. On stage those roles are minor, and don’t generally lead anywhere, and yes, that sucks. But in life, those roles are real, and they are all-engrossing and exhausting, and women are STILL funneled toward those, socialized to see those as all-important, encouraged to go after them and made to feel bad if they aren’t. Oddly enough, those roles make it really fucking hard to continue pursuing performance and writing beyond college years, say, into late 20s.
Where are the partners of the women doing those motherhood shows you talk about?
Because the pressure to conform is REAL, dammit. It is so heart-rendingly real, and I see it happen ALL AROUND ME: women artists taking a break because they have met the love of their life and want to give it a fair shake (because if they go on that once-in-a-lifetime artist retreat, it will be their fault for not giving it a fair shake); feeling torn up inside because they are away from their kids for six weeks, for three months (dads of course step up, but my feeling is they always want a gold star for being exceptional, when that’s just carrying your fair share); being their own artists but also trying to be supportive of their partners’ careers. Where are the partners of the women doing those motherhood shows you talk about? Are they taking sole care of the kids while their wives are jouncing about the countryside breaking box-office records? I hope so, but I doubt it; the nanny and childcare jokes in the indiegogo perks are probably true, so for me, they’re not that cute.
Let me be extra clear: I’m not immune from that pressure, far from it. My relationship with my husband has been on the rocks for the past four years, as I struggle time and again to assert: YES, this is what I want to do. I want to tour all the fucking time. I want to be out there doing this. Yes, it means I don’t want kids anymore, not even to adopt, because I know the demand that role takes, and I am not willing to make that sacrifice. MY OWN HUSBAND, who knows all the things that I have written about in this post, who loves me and admires what I do, still expects me, on some level, to settle down and come home. Because that is what I should do.
THIS is the machine. Fuck the Hollywood machine. We are not post-modern anything, any more than America became post-racist just because of President Obama. All those things that challenge us in the outside, non-theatre world, those are what make it so fucking hard in here.
Yours in the glorious struggle for art,
"There remains indifference or dismissal or outright hostility to women’s work—on the part of the reviewers, and the bookers, and the audience, and other performers, too" - I agree. This is a shadow in the arts circles and other seemingly progressive circles, and a shadow in the true sense of the word - unseen, unconsidered. I have guy friends who never read novels by women. Or who've never watched a single episode of Sex and the City, despite it being their partner's favourite show. My own book and music collection is very much weighted toward men (I explored this blind spot of mine in another article on another site: http://beamsandstruts.com/articles/item/1148-unless).
It's better in the world of spoken word. And indie rock. I don't have stats, and maybe the stats would still show favouritism towards men, but it's at least marginally better there than in other circles. And I'd say the theatre world has show at least a marginal improvement over how things were, say, thirty years ago. Much less seventy years ago.
"On stage those roles are minor, and don’t generally lead anywhere, and yes, that sucks. But in life, those roles are real, and they are all-engrossing and exhausting, and women are STILL funneled toward those, socialized to see those as all-important, encouraged to go after them and made to feel bad if they aren’t." - Very interesting point. And I agree. And again, I'd say things are marginally better with respect to this than they were a few decades ago.
"I see it happen ALL AROUND ME: women artists taking a break because they have met the love of their life and want to give it a fair shake (because if they go on that once-in-a-lifetime artist retreat, it will be their fault for not giving it a fair shake); feeling torn up inside because they are away from their kids for six weeks, for three months" - have you seen the documentary Searching for Debra Winger? It looks at this exact phenomenon, with film actresses. Alfre Woodard was on the verge of turning down a very good film role that would mean spending a couple of months in Africa, away from her kids, and her father encouraged her to take it, saying "women have always had to make arrangements."
"Where are the partners of the women doing those motherhood shows you talk about?" - with regards to Mom's the Word - I don't know. I don't know any of the participants well enough, but I'll ask. But those women did travel the world. I doubt their kids were with them the whole time.ReplyDelete
With Motherlode, the one couple I'm close with, she's out of town for two months, rehearsing another play, he's staying home with the kids being a full time dad. I'll check on this, but I'm pretty sure all of the women creating that show are partnered with full time artists. So my guess is that they've learned to juggle childcare duties, as they each take gigs when they come, and/or when they've blocked off time to create their own.
"THIS is the machine. Fuck the Hollywood machine. We are not post-modern anything, any more than America became post-racist just because of President Obama." - again, I agree. But, (being completely redundant here) steps are being taken. Things are far from perfect. and there's a tremendous way to go. and the thing that I see as driving the change: women making art that's so good that it can't be resisted.
I got in a conversation about this (because of this article) on Facebook, and let me quote from that (and these aren't my words):
"Change starts with a single voice that becomes a deafening roar. We need the art that costs nothing to make because those who effect change are doing so exactly because they don't have the support of the existing system, so they likely don't have the money that is the system's lifeblood. But this has to happen in all corners of society. On the stage, on the web, in the theatres, on TVs, in the workplace, on the corner, in the conversations you have before you go to bed. It can start anywhere, but the ambition must be for it to spread everywhere. So let's not talk about the system not producing the kind of art we want to see. Let's talk about MAKING the art we want to see and making it so well that it can't be ignored, that it attracts followers and expands to all corners of society until it BECOMES the system. And then let's talk about making more, and teaching others to make more. It takes time, often generations, and it necessitates all involved understanding that the goal isn't to change theatre or entertainment, it's to change how people perceive the world around them."