Wednesday, September 25, 2013

7 female playwrights have new plays being produced this year in Winnipeg. Here's why you should care.

I recently had the pleasure to be a part of a news cycle that acknowledged an incredible development. In the 2013/2014 season,  there are seven new plays written by female playwrights being produced in theatres throughout the city.

I wanted to take a moment to reflect on my personal, and our collective good fortune, and maybe write a note as to why this is such an important turn of events, not only for the seven women involved, but for the whole community.

1) Seven new plays in one season, is, in itself, a remarkable feat. These are not self-produced, festival attached, small productions (not that there would be any shame if they were). These are all Equity theatres. Anyone who works in the theatre can tell you that new plays are incredibly hard to get produced, so the number is impressive no matter who has written them.

2) Of the plays produced in theatres throughout North America, the number written by women ranges anywhere from 12% - 20% , depending on where you are. Even at the high end, this is a pitiful representation of the number of women who are writing plays which is, as you probably guessed, abut 50% (based on numbers of secondary and post-secondary grads). Individual artistic directors that I know are certainly doing their part to try to overturn that statistic, and this is a good example of that coming to fruition.

3) If you have a daughter, this is really important. As a kid, teen, and even as an adult, it is important to see women doing the things you are interested in doing. The truth is, women are more likely to tell stories that revolve around, or equally involve women. It is vitally important that women are not only seen as love interests, supporting characters, inspirational motivators or sexual conquests. Female protagonists will help girls and women feel more a part of the whole of person-kind, their stories as important, their struggles as legit.

4) If you have a son, this is equally important. I am sure you are raising your son to be a feminist ally, and to respect all people and see no difference between female and male artists, but unfortunately, you are not the only influence in your son's life. In fact, after a very short period of time, you are not even the strongest influence. The more women's stories are absorbed into popular culture, the healthier everyone's attitudes will be.

5) If you like any kind of entertainment at all, this is a big deal. Not a huge theatre person? Maybe you like movies or television or music or books....guess what? Gender bias is pervasive in all these arenas. The only thing that will change that bias is by all of us changing it. This kind of development is important to all art forms and all forms of expression. The more we see it one area, the more likely we are to see in on others.

There are lots of other reasons why this is an awesome turn of events, not the least of which is you are going to see some amazing theatre because of it. 

If you want to follow the happenings of these great lady playwrights, become a fan of the Facebook Group:

Friday, August 2, 2013

Life as a Woman: My brush with street harassment

I usually use this space to reflect on pop-culture or my opinions on contemporary feminism. But today I am sharing a story of an experience that I had that directly affected me as a woman.

WARNING: The following post contains very graphic language and a very pissed off feminist.

I was standing on the street in the Exchange district with some friends this past Saturday night enjoying the Winnipeg Fringe Festival.  (If you don’t know of it, it’s awesome. Find out more here). Anyway, the square was packed with loads of people, live music was on the stage and a grand time was being had by all, for the most part.  I was chatting with a work friend, and some ladies she had come with to see a show and because of the loud music and huge crowd it was already a bit hard to hear each other.  After a few minutes of standing there we were approached by a group of four or five young men, I would guess mid to late twenties. One of them was wearing a chicken suit.  They immediately interrupted our conversation by bursting in with a boisterous, “Hello Ladies! Out on the town tonight?” trying to suddenly chat up the women I had been in conversation with up to that very second. Chicken Dude in the meantime,  made eye contact with me and gleefully said, “Want to see my little cock?”

I looked around at the interrupted group and responded with, “What the fuck is going on here? Can you go away?”

I don’t think it was the response they were expecting.

They were still amused by our presence there for some reason, but they seemed shocked that I would speak to them that way. And instead of apologize and walk away, instead of roll their eyes at me and walk away, instead of saying, “Fuck you lady” and walk away (all, including the latter, I would have preferred to what actually followed), they stuck it out.

Never mind that they came out of nowhere and demanded our attention, they seemed legitimately surprised when I a) didn’t feel like humouring them and b) wasn’t particularly polite about it. “Whoa! Whoa! Relax! You don’t have to be rude! What’s wrong with you?” And so on and so forth.

Clinging to his HILARIOUS bit, Chicken dude pulled out a tiny plastic rooster. His ‘LITTLE COCK’ I presume.


 OK, I’m back. And just as irritated as I was before.

“OK, OK, ha ha. I get it. Can you seriously go now?”

But oh no, they were in it, to win it (the former “it” being my face, and the latter "it" being, what? My approval, I guess.) They explained to me that it was Chicken Dude’s bachelor party, and that they were celebrating his upcoming nuptials by getting drunk and harassing women on the street  out on the town and making him do silly things.

“You’re too grumpy,” the Leader of the Pack informed me. “Is that right?” I asked. “Yeah, you should chill out. Stop being grumpy.” 

“Well,” said I with a smile, “I’m standing here with my friends and I’ll be whatever the fuck I want to be.”

And here’s what’s weird: at this point, despite the exchange of words, the interaction had taken a turn from hostile, to neutral, and was teetering on friendly. It seemed like they were gearing up to walk away, and my spidey senses that had alerted me to their presence were wearing off. For a moment I thought, well, maybe it’s no big deal after all. Maybe they’re just out enjoying the fringe.

Which was the precise moment that one of them stuck his finger up my ass.

Just to paint the picture and so people don’t start calling the cops, I was wearing jeans, and it was an outside the clothes poke. No skin touched. But somehow, in the moment, that didn’t provide me with much comfort.

"WHAT. THE FUCK. DID YOU JUST DO?" A voice said. A rumbling, deep, fire laden, hell-cloaked voice that came from inside me.

"This guy just touched me! He stuck his finger up my ass! Do you understand that you just assaulted me on the street? Do you know that I could call the cops right now? This just went from barely cute, to majorly fucked up, and you had better WALK THE FUCK AWAY RIGHT NOW."

To which they all looked really scared and apologetic. One of them took the offender by the shoulders and pulled him away which the other said, "Oh my god, I am so sorry. He's really drunk. I am so sorry he did that. I hope the rest of your night is really nice."

Oh no wait. That's what happened a world called "Appropriate responses from decent dudes who occasionally cross a line but know how to be human beings about it." In the world known as "Downtown Winnipeg" this past Saturday night, here's what really happened after I lost my shit:

For a moment they all looked at me with dense eyes. "Whaa?

ME: You're friend just touched me.
ME: So? So he fucking touched me! That's assault! You just assaulted a woman on the street!
FINGERER: (Sarcastically) Yeah. Yeah I assaulted a woman on the street.
ME: did! You need to go away! Now! Leave.
(All the men stand there.)
ME: Why aren't you leaving?
(This goes on for several minutes. They play dumb. I angrily explain dropping many F bombs. Finally, from what seemed like boredom, the Fingerer and another guy wander away, in absolutely no rush,  leaving me with Chicken Dude and Leader of the Pack, the latter whom starts STOKING MY ARM)
LEADER OF THE PACK: (Trying to touch my arm) Why don't you just relax, baby?
ME: (Pulling away) What the fuck did you just say?
LEADER OF THE PACK:  You need to chill out.
ME: I need to chill out? You're friend just touched me on the ass!
LEADER OF THE PACK: I don't know that he did.
ME: Um, well, I am telling you that he did.
LEADER OF THE PACK: He was just kidding.

At which point my head exploded and angry feminist brains rained down on all.

No, to be totally honest, I was so fucking pissed off at this point, I am not even totally sure what happened. Eventually they sort of wandered away. I yelled after them to Chicken Dude: "I feel sorry for your fiancé!" To which he made a big show of being offended my and stepping up to me. But his chivalrous friends pulled him away. This is where they stepped in!

I would like to find his fiancĂ© out there trying to enjoy an evening with friends and shove my finger up her unsuspecting ass. See what he has to say about that. Oh no wait, I wouldn't because a) ew and b) I'm a normal human being who doesn't treat other humane beings like (literal) puppets for my amusement no matter how drunk, rowdy or engaged I get.

And here's the thing that really, really, really bugged me about the whole event. It wasn't the obnoxious way they invaded our space immediately upon showing up. It wasn't the way they tried to make me feel like it was my fault that I didn't enjoy their playful little game that at no point had I opted to play, and it wasn't even some entitled, drunk, frankly gross douche bag violating my body on the street. It was how totally powerless I felt when, while standing up to him, I explained what he had done, I stood up for myself, and yet he and the "men" around him didn't fucking care. They didn't care that he had touched me without any consent. They didn't care that I was offended, hurt, enraged. They didn't care that I was screaming in their faces and threatening to call the cops. I didn't matter one fucking bit. It was irritating to them when I didn't laugh at their jokes. I possessed holes they found mildly amusing. I made noise when you pressed certain buttons. That was it. I had never felt so inconsequential and dehumanized in my entire life.

And if I can feel this way after one, tiny violation of my personal space that lasted three seconds, I can only have nightmares about what it must be like for sexual assault and rape survivors who have their stories questioned and ridiculed. What a fucked up fucking world.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Where my girls at?

When I got cast in Margaret Atwood's The Penelopiad,  I couldn't have been more thrilled. Atwood is one of my favourite writers and her work has always spoken to me on a feminist wave-length. Even better, I thought, was the fact that the cast was made up of 11 local women, playing all the parts from the maids, to ducks to flowers, to rapists. What an interesting concept and challenging work it would be.

So I found it interesting that whenever I would describe this upcoming project, people would cringe and look at me with pity. "11 women? That is gonna be hard." And stranger than that, looking back, was my reaction. "Yeah, I know." I would say with a shrug of my shoulders. "We'll see."

Did I think it would be a problem, really, in my heart of hearts? I'm not sure. I can barely remember now. I did go to an all-girls camp for 5 summers as a kid. And with a few exceptions (allowed for sharing living quarters and the follies of adolescence) it was an idyllic experience, untainted by the pressure of dating or the pain of unrequited love. I have such wonderful girlfriends all over the world, many of them in the theatre, why would I assume that this experience would be any different?

But I allowed myself to. Or I played along. I agreed with people's unfair assumption that a gaggle of women in the same room can only lead to fighting or pettiness or competition, or whatever it was that people were referring to. I bet they couldn't even tell you what they were expecting. It's a knee-jerk reaction. "Oy vey, a bunch of women? Look out!"

And with a cast of 11 and a creative and management staff of almost all women (one man, the lighting designer) it was an unusual situation. But as it turned out, it was a remarkable experience, unusual in all the best ways, and it makes me ashamed that I entertained the idea that it would likely be anything else.

A few Peleopiad-ers modeling our new MTC sweatshirts.
From the very first day the room was filled with humour, positivity, excitement and an unbelievable breadth of talent. We all got along because we were professionals there to do a job. But pretty quickly we realized we were more that just working together...we liked each other. It never dissolved into the competitive bitching I was warned of...not even close. These ladies were supportive and encouraging and humble.  There were no nervous breakdowns or freak-outs at rehearsal. We were led by a supremely confident, competent woman, replete with vision and creativity and a butt-load of hilarious stories. Everyone pulled their weight, and when someone needed carrying, we did that too. I formed friendships that I am confident will last, and I learned from my director and fellow actresses in an environment unfettered by male egos or male attention.

It's a lesson to remember. We can't let a preconceived notion of how females interact predispose us to cattiness. It's an idea designed to keep us down. To promote the concept that girls aren't cool. That we can't be friends with other girls. It's an idea that reinforces the image of women as children who need to be policed, or beings that exist only in relation to the men in their lives. And without those men, well look out!

I call bullshit. Who came up with this idea that women can't get along, and why do we let it persist? Perhaps it is derived from a time when a woman was expected to view all other women as competition for male attention. Perhaps it is reinforced by reality television and the portrayal of women as conniving backstabbing gold-diggers. Perhaps it is a male fantasy that such a situation can end no other way but cat fights and name calling (with either jello or mud involved.) Or perhaps it is a fallacy emerging from a very real fear of just what women might be capable of if we see each other as the powerful allies I know we can be. A fear that empowered and befriended, women united might just take over the world.

Well it's true. Without men, look out! Women can be more than you ever thought possible, male chauvinist world.

I have seen enough to know it can be done. And I say, let it be done.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

I was a teenage "friend-zone" victim

There are a lot of fascinating things about the tumblr blog Nice Guys of OK Cupid. Whether you think it is a cruel, troll-driven exercise in schadenfreude, or a clever, simple take down exposing some dark strands of misogyny and narcissism, there's no denying it's just a really clever idea. Social media and dating sites have coaxed us (especially the younger generations who don't remember the time before) to post our pictures and intimate thoughts in the public domain. There is almost no editorializing and very little speculation. NGOOKC is simply taking people at their own word, and it is usually, enough. 


The whole "girls like assholes" and "nice-guys can't catch a break" sentiment is so enraging and blatantly ridiculous I can't even spend any time breaking that phenomenon down (not today anyway, no promises for the future) but the thing that really make me go "hmm" is the whole "friend-zone" lament.

Intellectually I know that the "friend-zoned" concept is problematic, and not only in the case of our "rape ambivalent" friend above. (You guys, he's such a hopeless romantic!) The "friend-zone" implies for men every relationship with a woman is a journey toward sex, that getting "stuck in the friend-zone" means that their ultimate goal was thwarted. Not only are they disappointed that this friend doesn't want to have sex with them, but they are angry, in some cases, really angry that they have somehow been "duped" into being friends with a woman, "conned" into being there for her, with absolutely no sexual reward! Bum-mer!

Yeah, yeah I know that none of that is cool. But here's the thing...I kind of feel like I spent some time being "friend-zoned" myself, and this NGOOKC thing has sent me on a soul search of how my experience in the "friend-zone" is different from the sad, misguided Misogynists Nice Guys of OK Cupid.

Me, freshman year. That's a Stussy cap by my feet.
In high school,  I wasn't what you would call an instant hit with the fellas. I mean, I had a sense that I had a lot to offer...I was funny, smart, there was even a pretty face beneath some of the baby chub (that still hung on until I was about 17) and I had an active sexual imagination. (yep, girls have those too!) But I found myself stuck in the "friend-zone" pretty often. For me, that meant I was often "in love" with my male best friend. Keep in mind, we were not already best friends like Keith and Watts. I didn't wake up one day and I realize I was in love. We became best friends because I thought I was in love and it was the only way I knew how to get close to someone. I spent a lot of time pining away over these boys, cultivating a weird, drama-fraught friendship because some attention was better than none.  They weren't way out of my league or anything (I'm not sure I even really believe in "leagues" to be honest, but for the sake of clarity I will use the trope), they were mostly nerdy like me. But they usually had girlfriends throughout, and THEY KNEW I was in love with them most of the time. They completely played into it, as I imagine it was pretty flattering, and on some level they did like me. So if I was friends with them in the hopes of getting into their pants, and they were "leading me on" in some way even though they had no intention of dating me and were involved with other people, how am I different from the poor saps of NGOOKC?

Well, maybe I'm not. Maybe I was just as angry and bitter and the time but didn't have a public forum in the same way to air my grievances. But I don't think so. Here are a few important differences between my experience in the "friend-zone" and what it seems like these guys are experiencing.

1) I wasn't angry with the objects of my affection.  Frustrated sometimes, confused at others, but I don't remember feeling angry at them, because I understood they didn't owe me anything. They liked me as a friend, that's all. It made me sad, and resulted in some pathetic poetry, but I didn't blame them for ruining anything because I understood that it wasn't all about me, but the result of many circumstances beyond my control.

2) I didn't think the girls they chose were bitches, or assholes, or that I was better than them. Did it bug me when they like thinner, prettier, quieter girls instead of me? You're damn right it did. But it didn't make me angry at them, or the other girls for that matter. If anything, it was a pain I internalized and turned on myself. Of course they liked girls who were prettier, thinner, more popular. Who wouldn't?  What bothered me was not that they chose them over me, but that I wasn't more like the girls they chose (btw, I am not saying this is a good option, merely pointing out how it was different that how NGOOKC process this experience.) Often it was the girlfriends who hated me, because even though she was supposed to be #1, for some reason their man kept me hanging around, confided in me, enjoyed my company. I imagine this was confusing and annoying to them.

3) I was still grateful and enjoyed their friendship. While there were peaks and valleys in those relationships, ultimately we were friends, and on the day to day, I had fun in those friendships.

4) I was a kid. We are talking experiences I had in High School and early college. By the time I hit 20, I was over it. I either moved on, or got over my sexual attractions where they weren't reciprocated to let a platonic friendship grow. To allow this shit to go on into your 20s and 30s is just indulgent. 

 As an adult looking back, I might have advised myself to branch out a bit. Spending a lot of time with someone who is never going to reciprocate your feelings is not a good idea. Not because you are never going to get laid and that is the ultimate goal, but because it might be distracting you from other possible friends and relationships. There may have been other boys that might have been interested in me that I didn't even notice because I was so focused on the drama of those friendships. But whatever. I was a kid, and I learned a lot and in the end we had a lot of good times together.

And maybe, just maybe, being "friend-zoned" might have actually been the best thing for me. I learned that friendships come in many forms, and that I could be close with a boy without any pressure of sex. I never felt insecure in terms of "hanging with the guys" because that is what I was used to. I learned a lot about what guys were looking for in relationships by being on that end of things, and if I meet a man who doesn't want to sleep with me, it doesn't wreck my self esteem or make him a write-off.

Maybe me and the NGOOKC aren't so alike after all. And yes, the differences in our experience in the friend-zone is going to be inherently different and men and women. But I know a lot of men who have been in the friend-zone and came out the other side of it as normal, non-psychopaths, so I am sure it can be done. And for this reason it is important to examine, expose and even ridicule the guys on this site, because its not OK to take a basic human experience and turn it into a personal tragedy.