BACKSTAGE AT THE REP: Rapture, Blister, Burn

Curious Clips: Excerpts from The Curious REPort

Thursday, May 19th

You Can't Have It All...Where Would You Put It?

Stephanie Daventry French, Rapture, Blister, Burn Associate Director and Dramaturg, shares how the play’s themes are both personal and part of the national conversation.
The title comes from my partner poking a little fun at me. Many people, including me, are scrambling incessantly within the promised ‘having it all.’ The struggle to have a meaningful career and on-going engagement in raising children. The last few years have been, well, exhausting: 6 of them as a college Department Chair fighting to reinvent our Theatre Department to save it (successfully so far) from the arts chopping block, on top of a 6-classes-a-year teaching load, directing shows, committees and community service, plus writing and publishing a textbook, all while commuting 300-miles a week for better public schools, more miles for soccer tournaments, trying to maintain a high level of involvement in the lives of my two teenagers, at least as much as they still want me to.
An argument on this subject unfolded between two very high powered women, Sheryl Sandberg, Chief Operating Officer at Facebook, and Anne-Marie Slaughter, Director of Policy Planning at the State Department. Sandberg gave a 2011 commencement speech for Barnard College. She proposed to the mostly young women in the audience “lean way into your career…You’re going to pick your field and you’re going to ride it all the way to the top.” In 2013, Sandberg elaborated on this trajectory in her 2013 book Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead. Slaughter on the other hand, left her high-level government job (granted to go back to her high-level Ivy-league academic job at Princeton) so she didn’t need to live mid-week in Washington, away from her husband and teenage son. She responded to Sandberg’s Barnard speech, as well as describing what she had found to be true for herself and many women leaders who opt out in her in 2012 Atlantic article, “Why Women’ Still Can’t Have it All.” In it, she confesses, “I’d been the one telling young women at my lectures that you can have it all and do it all regardless of what field you are in. Which means I’d been part, albeit unwittingly, of making millions of women to feel that they are to blame if they cannot manage to rise up the ladder as fast as men and also have a family and an active home life.” What both of them had to say was valuable, but there is more to say, and many have been saying it.
Taking a different tact, Tressie McMillam Cottom in Racialicious challenges Slaughter, and indirectly Sandberg, in an article entitled, “The Atlantic article, Trickle-Down Feminism and My Twitter Mentions. God Help us All.” She acknowledges the value of the Atlantic article but notes, “It could be race, class, or experience (I’ll get to that later) but I don’t have fond memories of attending the Seven Sisters or an experience of being told that I should want or have “it all.” She goes on to say, “I will also admit that is greatly shaped by social processes that limit the potential of my access to power….I know that fat, black, southern bodies that went to low-status schools and come from rural, formerly enslaved people have limited avenues into power.” She dissects Slaughter’s premise, “that when powerful women are in power, en masse, their relationships with their family demands will necessitate that certain accommodations be made. Those
accommodations will, in turn, become organizational policies that will spur policy positions that will positively affect all women i.e. powerful feminism will trickle down to the rest of us. [...] What has been known to happen, however, is that power makes allowances for the power(ful) and the powerless continue not to be the beneficiaries.” An example of this is Marissa Mayer’s decision as Chief Executive Officer at Yahoo “abolishing its work-at-home policy and ordering everyone to work in the office” (The New York Times, Miller and Rampbell). How does this benefit non-executive working women with children who tended to have much less flexible schedules?
Do women, in reality want it all? Amy Westervelt in “Having It all Kind of Sucks” in the Huffington Post protests “The purpose of all that bra burning back in the 60s was to give women choices….Doing it all at the same time was never the idea. By that definition, single working moms have been ‘having it all’ for ages and yet soci-ety does not hold the single working mom up as the goal for women everywhere. No, no, that’s just what happens when you’re poor and have no choice. Except actually, that’s what happens to all but the very very rich when you encourage women to work and have children but don’t change any other part of the world they live in.” The Families and Work Institute’s 2008 National Study of the Changing Workforce found that only “39 percent of mothers of children under 18 said they wanted jobs with greater responsibility. The share was 44 percent for fathers” (as reported in the second article of this REPort). Westervelt weighs in on Sandberg’s leaning in “Instead of changing the systems, we tell women to lean in. Because of course, it’s our fault for not taking initiative. Fuck you. I’m leaning so far in I’m falling flat on my face.”
Sandberg, advises, “the most important career decision you’re going to make is whether or not you have a life partner and who that partner is. If you pick someone who’s willing to share the burdens and the joys of your personal life, you’re going to go further.”
Most career women I know say, “I wish I had a wife.” My partner is essential in my be-ing able to dive into a theatre production for weeks on end. He gave up a lot career-wise to do that, and mostly doesn’t regret it, except when I am less than grateful for that sacrifice. But, regularly people say to me, in a (hopefully unconscious) judgmental tone, “I don’t know how you could leave your children.” In our early years of parenting it was my husband who traveled frequently for work, he missed the children, but not once did anyone ever say the same to him. Not once!
Touré in his TIME society piece titled, “Men Never ‘Had it All, ’” empathizes, “We don’t have both the maternal voice and the feminist voice in our heads telling us we should be at home nurturing our kids and also at work building fulfilling careers. But it’s nearly impossible for men to have it all too. Many men want fulfilling family lives.
Most of the time I feel like I’m not involved enough in either my career or my kids’ lives. I usually feel as though my life is like a plate of food sitting in front of me, but there’ so much that the plate is overwhelmed, unable to hold it all, so it spills over onto the table.”
My husband and I often said that it would be ideal for both partners to work part-time while raising children, both to have interesting careers and time to know their children. However, part-time jobs usually don’t pay enough to live on, even if you have two of them, and don’t provide benefits to cover the needs of a family.
My young female students often tell me that I am a role model for them – a career woman with children. Sometimes I feel proud of this and other times, I believe what they see is so little of the truth, of the real toll of this so-called balance.
Westervelt captures a familiar experience of working mothers, “Stop telling women they can have everything without sacrificing anything. Here’s the truth: You want to have a career and kids? You totally can, but both will suffer. You will never feel like you are devoting enough time to either. You will never feel like you are good enough at either. You will never get time off (at least for the first several years). You will always be choosing between things that need your attention, and you will almost never choose yourself. You will be judged for nearly every move you make and never measure up to anyone else’s expectations.”
Personally, while I almost always wish there was less to do and more free time, I couldn’t have been a stay at home mom only, for one thing we couldn’t afford it. But as much as I value my career, and sometimes wish I could do it more fully with less interruptions, I wouldn’t miss having children and being involved in their lives for the world.
Catherine in Rapture, Blister, Burn has a thriving ivy-league career but has neglected personal relationships to achieve it. Now, she is looking for a partner to put some life back in her life. If a woman’s partner is another woman or one of the rare men out there who are willing to even do 50% of the domestic chores and childrearing, that could be helpful. Is Catherine chasing a fantasy?
When I am away, my husband takes on the role of primary parent, getting our kids to their activities, helping them with homework, making sure that they are fed, and giving advice and emotional support, but he doesn’t do the housework. Still, I am grateful and lucky to have someone willing to take this active role, this is not a choice available for all women.
So, I have it all, and often, mostly, it is too much. I frequently think of an old Jazz record of my parents, “Stop the World, I want to get off.” Yet, I have a good job in difficult times, pretty amazing kids and a supportive husband—the fridge is too full—first world problems. Okay, because neither my partner or I are the housewife, our house is mostly a mess, a homey mess where my teenage children actually like to be, but a cluttered mess none-the less. So my husband is right, and any of you who ‘have it all’ can attest—there is literally no where to put it.


Curious Clips: Excerpts from The Curious REPort

Thursday, May 12th

Leading Ladies

Sojourner Truth (1797-1883): In 1826, Isabella, a slave, walks to freedom and becomes Sojourner Truth, announcing she would travel the land as an itinerant preacher, telling the truth and working against injustice. This illiterate ex-slave was a powerful figure in several national social movements, speaking forcefully for the abolition of slavery, women’s rights and suffrage, the rights of freedmen, temperance, prison reform and the termination of capital punishment. “If the first woman God ever made was strong enough to turn the world upside down all alone, these women together ought to be able to turn it back, and get it right side up again!”
Margaret Sanger (1879-1966): a nurse who felt that in order for women to have a more equal footing in society and to lead healthier lives, they needed to be able to determine when to bear children. She also considered contraception the only practical way to avoid women resorting to unsafe, so-called back-alley abortion. In 1914 Sanger was prosecuted for distributing her book, Family Limitation, as information on contraception was considered ”obscene.” In 1916, Sanger opened the first birth control clinic in the United States, which led to her arrest for distributing information on contraception. Five years later Sanger founded the organization which later became the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, with the aims of promoting sexual and reproductive health, and advocating the right of individuals to make their own choices in family planning. “No woman can call herself free who does not own and control her body. No woman can call herself free until she can choose consciously whether she will or will not be a mother.”
Simone de Beauvior (1908-1986): a French writer, feminist, and social theorist. She is known for her 1949 treatise The Second Sex, a detailed analysis of women's oppression and a foundational tract of contemporary feminism. “Few tasks are more like the torture of Sisyphus than housework, with its endless repetition: the clean becomes soiled, the soiled is made clean, over and over, day after day.”
Betty Friedan (1921-2006): authored the 1963 Feminine Mystique, which is arguably the best known feminist text to date, and is often thought of as the foundation of second- wave feminism in the US. Friedan believed that “the feminine mystique”—a term she coined to refer to the cultural belief that women could only find true happiness by fulfilling their femininity as wives and mothers—had succeeded in scaring women away from pursuing careers. “The problem lay buried, unspoken, for many years in the minds of American women. It was a strange stirring, a sense of dissatisfaction, a yearning that women suffered in the middle of the twentieth century in the United States. Each suburban wife struggled with it alone. As she made the beds, shopped for groceries, matched slipcover material, ate peanut butter sandwiches with her children, chauffeured Cub Scouts and Brownies, lay beside her husband at night—she was afraid to ask even of herself the silent question—‘Is this all?’”
Phyllis Schlafly (1924-): an American constitutional lawyer, conservative activist, author, and founder of the Eagle Forum. She is known for her staunch social and political conservatism, her opposition to modern feminism and for her campaign against the proposed Equal Rights Amendment. She delineated her beliefs in her book The Power of the Positive Women (1977.) Schlafly argues that although her feminist opponents seek to minimize the differences between men and women, “they will have to take up their complaint with God,” because “no other power” can alter the fundamental and necessary differences between men and women. “The differences between men and women are also emotional and psychological. Without woman's innate maternal instinct, the human race would have died out centuries ago....The overriding psychological need of a woman is to love something alive. A baby fulfills this need in the lives of most women. If a baby is not available to fill that need, women search for a baby-substitute. This is the reason why women have traditionally gone into teaching and nursing careers. They are doing what comes naturally to the female psyche...The Positive Woman finds somebody on whom she can lavish her maternal love so that it doesn't well up inside her and cause psychological frustrations. Surely no woman is so isolated by geography or insulated by spirit that she cannot find someone worthy of her maternal love....”
Nancy Friday(1933-): an American author who has written on the topics of female sexuality and liberation. Her writings argue that the “ideal of womanhood” and social expectations are outdated and unrepresentative of many women’s inner lives, specifically when it comes to sex, and that openness about women’s hidden lives could help free women to truly feel able to enjoy being themselves. Her first book in 1973 became a Bestseller. My Secret Garden compiled interviews of women discussing their sexuality and fantasies. “I think biologically we are attracted to more than one person, but given society and our needs, monogamy works better.”
Anita Bryant (1940-): an American singer, former Miss Oklahoma beauty pageant winner, former spokeswoman (brand ambassador) for the Florida Citrus Commission (marketing orange juice), and outspoken critic of homosexuality. She later became known for her strong opposition to homosexuality and for her 1977 "Save Our Children" campaign to repeal a local ordinance in Dade County, Florida, that prohibited discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, an involvement that significantly affected her popularity and career in show business. “As a mother, I know that homosexuals cannot biologically reproduce children; therefore, they must recruit our children.”
Carol Clover (1940-): an American professor of film studies, rhetoric language and Scandinavian mythology. Her 1992 book Men, Women and Chainsaws: Gender in the Modern Horror Film achieved popularity beyond academia. She is responsible for the “final girl theory” that changed popular and academic conceptions of gender in horror films. “The ‘art’ of the horror film, like the ‘art’ of pornography, is to a very large extent the art of rendition of performance, and it is understood as such by the competent audience. A particular example may have original features, but its quality as a horror film lies in the way it delivers the cliché.”
Camille Paglia (1947-): an American academic, social critic, and public intellectual. Some feminist critics have characterized Paglia as an "anti-feminist feminist," critical of central features of much contemporary feminism but holding out "her own special variety of feminist affirmation.” In her book, Sexual Personae, Paglia argues that human nature has an inherently dangerous Dionysian aspect, especially in regard to sexuality; culture and civilization are created by men and represent an attempt to contain that force. Women are powerful, too, but as natural forces, and both marriage and religion are means to contain chaotic forces. Katha Politt has characterized Paglia as one of a "seemingly endless parade of social critics [who] have achieved celebrity by portraying not sexism but feminism as the problem,” and charged that Paglia has glorified "male dominance.” “A women simply is, but a man must become.”
Naomi Wolf (1962-): is an American author, journalist and former political advisor to Al Gore and Bill Clinton. Wolf first came to prominence in 1991 as the author of The Beauty Myth, proposing that as the social power and prominence of women have increased, the pressure they feel to adhere to unrealistic social standards of physical beauty has also grown stronger because of commercial influences on the mass media. This pressure leads to unhealthful behaviors by women and a preoccupation with appearance in both sexes, and it compromises the ability of women to be effective in and accepted by society. With the book, she became a leading spokeswoman of what was later described as the third-wave of the feminist movement. “Women have face-lifts in a society in which women without them appear to vanish from sight.”
Ariel Levy (1974-): a staff writer at The New Yorker and author of Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the rise of Raunch Culture (2005,) exploring the status of modern feminism. “Women's liberation and empowerment are terms feminists started using to talk about casting off the limitations imposed upon women and demanding equality. We have perverted these words. The freedom to be sexually provocative or promiscuous is not enough freedom; it is not the only 'women's issue' worth paying attention to. And we are not even free in the sexual arena. We have simply adopted a new norm, a new role to play: lusty, busty exhibitionist… we need to make room for a range of options as wide as the variety of human desire. We need… to figure out what we internally want from sex instead of mimicking whatever popular culture holds up to us as sexy. That would be liberation.”
What's in the name 'Feminist?'
by Stephanie Daventry French
Many young women do not want to identify as feminists. Yet, they go to school in whatever subject they wish, work in all types of professions even after they get married, even after they have children. They wear pants if they want to, show their ankles, cut their hair, wear it out long after they are married or dye it a multitude of colors, shave it or spike it, or cover it. They are not, in Europe or North America at least, the property of their fathers or husbands. They vote, or at least they can if they choose to. They use birth control that they buy publically at their local pharmacy, have sex and live with people before—or even without—consideration of marriage. They consider it rape even if they were dressed sexy, even if it is their husband, legally it is rape now (but not until activists got a law passed in 1993). These are just a few of the many rights that feminists of earlier generations won for them, for us.
The term originated from the French word féminisme. Feminism means to strive to establish the equal, cultural, political, economical, and social rights of women. So it baffled me that women who take advantage of what others fought long and hard for would not want to call themselves feminists. Even some contemporary young women who have taken up the fight for women’s rights do not, even some courageous women from history who fought for important issues did not. I saw it as not wanting to honor the women who sacrificed so much for us, but there is more to it.
The term feminist seems to be most strongly associated with second-wave feminism (see the chart within these pages). For many the term feminist conjures up images of women who didn’t shave their armpits or legs, and in some cases their mustaches, women who didn’t wear make-up or bras, and let their hair be its natural color (even if that was grey), and its natural texture (even if that was frizzy). Some young women are very aware of the objectification of women’s bodies to sell products to men and the denigration of women to create a perceived need to buy various products to correct the manufactured problem.
Despite this, they choose to wear make-up, and not just bras but sexy, lacy push up ones, often with little over them. At times, young women are purposely provocative, some-times to claim their sexuality for themselves, sometimes to rebel against social shame, and sometimes they chose to appeal to men in the ways men like, even if they are part of the old patriarchal paradigm. Finding new ways to express her sexuality, one young and athletic woman I know had an open, exposed shirt showing a lot of her muscular body that said, “Strong is the new sexy.”
Second-wave feminism is associated with collective decision-making. Women created platforms for targeted issues to fight together for change, to get laws passed, but collaboration requires consensus, which requires compromise. Some women want to be uncompromising, they want to express themselves individually, define themselves in their own terms. They, like the older women that came before them, want it to be their choices, not behavior dictated to them by others of another generation. They do not want to fit into even their radical mother’s or grandmother’s ideas of what women should think, look like, or act like. What young woman does?
Some people see second-wave feminism as coming from a very binary male/female point of view on gender (while those of us who have read some of the pivotal books from this period on reproductive and sexual options, like Our Bodies Ourselves, know it actually was more expansive, none the less, this is one viewpoint). Young activists today are fighting for a broad spectrum of gender and sexual recognition and rights - LGBTQIA (Lesbian, Gay, Bi, Transgender, Queer, Intersex, Asexual, Ally) and pansexual rights. They see that a biological man who is transitioning or, for another example, a teenage gay man, is also oppressed, some consider more than women are today.
Then there is the multi-racial perspective. Many of first wave feminists delayed their voting rights agenda to fight for the abolition of slavery which they saw as an even more cruel injustice. The feminist movement rose-up out of the civil rights movement. Second wave platforms and resolutions included issues for disable women and women of color. However, the perception of some women of color, disabled women and poor women is that they were talked about, advocated for by white, middle-class women, rather than speaking for their own issues and being leaders in a movement that includes their perspectives and address their concerns.
Some young women do not want to be associated with the anger of activists from the past, the cliché of the angry feminist. I was among the many women who witnessed second- wave feminism, in my case as a child with a front-row seat on my mother’s feminist campaign. Was she an angry feminist? Sometimes. But you only need to watch the TV show Mad Men (according to my mother a very accurate portray of working conditions for women during her young adulthood) and imagine being an intelligent, capable woman coming into adulthood in the 60s to perceive how frustrating it would have been. How angry would it make you if you were one of the women or people of color depicted in that period who were overlooked, or if looked at, exploited?
In our quest for equality we need to free all of us from the tyranny of limited ideas of gender and labels we find constraining. People can define themselves across a wider spectrum of
identity and behavior regardless of gender or other identity associations put on them by others. But, I hope, within that we can also honor feminists and other women and men who have fought, and continue to fight, for social justice, however we, and they, define themselves.
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