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Monthly Archives: November 2013

Contradictions in Living

Halloween is my favorite holiday.  But Thanksgiving follows close behind for second, even though it is wrought with historical yuck.  I recently tried to explain to a student, who is from Lebanon, why it’s such a nice holiday while she was talking about the historical fallacies of the American Indians and the Pilgrims having a lovely meal together.

She’s right.  Just like Columbus Day, we celebrate a day based in colonialism.  How does one reconcile this history?

For me, what is nice is that my husband and I invite friends and family to our house for a home cooked meal.  My husband is an amazing and generous cook and his love and ability to make food, like an artist, really brings people together.  We’ve always invited friends for Thanksgiving since we first started having them and those Thanksgivings are much more memorable than the ones with just family.  So how does a radical feminist reconcile colonialism with what has now become a day to reflect on gratitude?  All I can say is I don’t know.  I just know that we try to take a moment and be grateful for what we have.  And I try to include a diversity of people around my table.

There are other contradictions like this.  Thanksgiving is quickly followed by the corporate sponsored holiday, Christmas, which was once a christian sponsored holiday.  The commercialization is nauseating.  In fact, I’m so overwhelmed by it, I try to just tune it out to the best of my ability and work hard to avoid wanting anything I see on tv, like the new kindle fire!  I don’t even have a kindle, even though I have been asking for years. (Hint Hint, Jefferey Gonsalves!)

Last year I made a concerted effort to buy gifts on Small Business Saturday. But even that is sponsored by American Express.  And I love shopping online, which of course means going to Amazon, and more recently Etsy.  I wish I had the time and energy I had in my 20s when my partner and I would make presents for everyone.  We had so much fun figuring out what to make and then mass producing them for family and friends.  We made chimes out of recycled materials, block prints of peace signs, homemade kahlua, homemade sambuca.  Then we started earning a better living and got too busy, or was it just lazy?

On the in-law side of the family, we try to do a Yankee Swap so it is fun and each person can bring just one gift.  And it is fun, if everyone participates.  This year, I bought two of the same things we are going to give to a lot of different people.  Both of these items fall under the tool category and are really helpful.  I want to give present’s that make people’s lives easier.

My husband and I stopped giving each other Christmas gifts a few years ago.  We usually do a stocking and a card.  Our birthday’s fall in February so it seemed silly to spend money on each other with a month in between.  This year we will buy new hiking shoes for our trip to Hawaii in January.  But no matter what, and no matter where I shop, it will be overwhelming and stressful and a lot of money.  This is the piece that stays with me as I tune out all the commercials for Christmas.  And that is the emotion I want to remove from the holidays.  And that is probably why Thanksgiving is so nice, because it’s not about giving, it’s just about being present.  And isn’t that enough?  I don’t know.  Maybe not.  Maybe while we’re eating our Turkey we should talk about how we’re trying to end commercialism and racism and all those “isms” that make our world such an icky place.  This year, instead of sharing something we are thankful for, or sharing gratitude, maybe we will share a way we are trying to make this a better world.  For everyone.

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Does Calling Out Racism Negate it? Hardly.

Last week on Saturday Night Live Kerry Washington stole the show.  Read this article to see clips from her hosting.  http://popwatch.ew.com/2013/11/03/snl-recap-kerry-washington-eminem/.

Producer Lorne Michaels addresses the lack of black women in the cast through the cold open sketch, by publicly apologizing to Washington for having to play multiple black women.  This was a direct response to Kenan Thompson’s interview in TV guide where he stated that they couldn’t find any talented black women to be on the show.  WHAT? 

The article in the The Atlantic, linked below, suggests it isn’t about  finding women of color to diversify the cast.  It’s that the writers don’t  know how to write clever parts for women of color.  Even the amazing Kerry Washington played a few stereotypical roles this week:  nagging girlfriend, Ugandan beauty queen, sassy assistant.  This was all they could come up with (While it was stereotypical, I did like the parody of What Does the Fox Say?)?  The Spelman College Political Science professor piece was well written and the entire sketch poked fun at white people, which is something that rarely happens these days on SNL.  This piece, however, was critiqued for being a similar sketch to one starring Maya Rudolph. 

http://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2013/11/the-real-problem-with-snl-and-casting-black-women/281280/

This lack of diversity on SNL harkens back to my blog last week about the lack of women playwrights being produced at local theatres.  The men in charge of hiring the actresses of color or finding the women playwrights are so enmeshed in their own privilege and power, they don’t even THINK about how diversity would actually make their theatres, their shows, their work so much better.  We know that a diverse workplace is one that is more profitable and better overall for its employees.  Why can’t we apply that same model to the arts? 

If you google search “who are the writers at SNL” you get a list of 16 images of white people, two of whom are women. This is the problem.  As much as we can judge producer Lorne Michael’s for his lack of diversity in his actors, perhaps what happens behind the scenes needs a more critical eye.  If there are diverse actors on stage, what is the point is they are not given good sketches? 

Until white women and women of color begin boycotting or critiquing these shows in depth, there won’t be significant change.  As  Kerry Coddett points out in the The Atlantic article points, the sheer number of women of color represented on SNL from the beginning has been lacking.  To expect change to happen with such a long history of misrepresentation is doubtful. 

 

 

 

 

 

Even Good Guys Can Miss the Point

I am continually frustrated by the paucity of women playwrights being produced on the stages of major theatres in Rhode Island.  I’m looking at the “bigger” theatres, like The Gamm in Pawtucket, RI, 2nd Story Theatre in Warren, RI (where I have been a long time subscriber and actor) and Trinity Repertory Company in Providence, RI. Out of 22 plays being produced by these three professional/semi-professional theatres, only TWO are written by women.  I have debated this subject with many a talented male director or actor, people I consider friends and even feminists.  The excuses are 1)  I couldn’t get the rights to any of the plays by women I wanted to produce; 2) The shows I am producing include strong female characters in lead roles; 3) I produce plays written by gay men; 4) Women haven’t won many Tony’s (thus there are no good plays by women.).

For some time, I blamed this local “miss representation” on the fact that the people choosing these seasons and running these theatres were white men (Tony Estrella at The Gamm, Ed Shea at 2nd Story, and Curt Columbus at Trinity Rep).  However, out of 6 plays being produced this season at ART (American Repertory Theatre) in Boston, only one is written by a woman, and ART’s Artistic Director, Diane Paulus, is a woman. 

Statistically we know that less than 17% of the plays produced in the U.S. are written by women. However, “in an apparent paradox, 31% of the plays on the Theater Communication Group’s list of the ‘Top Ten Most Produced Plays in American Theatre’ were written by women” (http://www.giarts.org/article/discrimination-and-female-playwright).  Sheri Wilner and Julia Jordan address this paradox by suggesting that fewer women playwrights stay in the marketplace because it is so hard to compete and get your work produced.  

Some of these same issues can be applied to the lack of women directors in Hollywood.  Read Marcia Giese’s article “13 Myths Hollywood Uses to Hide Discrimination Against Women Directors” (http://blogs.indiewire.com/womenandhollywood/cross-post-13-myths-hollywood-uses-to-hide-discrimination-against-women-directors)

I often feel overwhelmed and paralyzed on how to fix this problem.  But there is hope, at least outside of the U.S.  Sweden is now giving out an “A rating” to films that pass the Bechdel Test.  (https://thefeministcritic.com/2012/10/25/hollywoods-miss-representation/). Even there, however, some male film critics are missing the point of the Bechdel Test. (http://blogs.indiewire.com/womenandhollywood/swedish-cinemas-push-hard-for-gender-equity).

How are we to advance women playwrights and female directors?  Wilner and Jordan make some suggestions for Artistic Directors, but any change involves work, and are they willing to do that work?  I hesitate to say yes. 

“A concerted effort must be made by Artistic Directors to find and develop female writers with the same eagerness and enthusiasm they do with male writers. That means they are going to have to eliminate the de facto quota of twenty percent or so of production slots that, in practice, have been set aside for women and writers of color to compete for. They also need to put out the call to schools, agents, and their own literary departments, and then actually read all the scripts by women that come in. And since women inside the theatres have essentially reported that they perceive bias in their institution’s play selection process, Artistic Directors must make sure they create environments in which these perceptions can be freely addressed and satisfactorily handled. And the women need to acknowledge the possibility that they engage in prophetic discrimination, subconsciously or otherwise. Basically, if you read and like a script by a woman but think it’s not a good “fit” with your theatre, pretend it was written by someone named John and read it again. Lastly, both Artistic Directors and producers should take advantage of the free market research Ms. Sands has provided and acknowledge that her results make perfect sense. After all, everyone knows that audiences are predominantly female. So, start looking for more female-written plays with female leads. They are the least-produced and most successful plays around. We’ll even tell you where you can find them — in the hearts, minds and hard drives of female playwrights” (Wilner & Jordan, 2010).

What can you do to promote the representation of women playwrights?  To start, take a look at the seasons offered by your local theatres.  What percentage of the playwrights are women?  What percentage of the playwrights are people of color?  (Trinity Rep’s season, which includes one woman, kills two birds with one stone by Lynn Nottage being their only woman playwright and their only playwright of color.  The other five playwrights are white men). Write to those theatres and ask for a better representation.  Write Op-Eds. Don’t subscribe to theatres who don’t demonstrate a commitment to diversity and social justice.  

While I can give up on Hollywood for ever being a place that will work to make the world better for all people, I can still have hope that theatre can be that place; that we can produce plays that make people think critically about their world and their place in it.  I have hope that good guys, men I love and respect for their work and for the ways they respect women, can begin to get the point. 

 

 

 

 

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