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.

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