A Feminist Manifesto for Playwrights
Catherine Castellani’s “What Is a Feminist Play, Anyway?: Getting Specific” was a wonderful way to create dialogue about contemporary feminist theatre and feminist playwriting practice. However, advocating an “open definition” permits almost any play or playwright to claim a work is feminist. As Kim Solga writes in theatre and feminism, men and women who use feminism as “a marker of identity” must “push its boundaries by critically investigating its meanings and impacts.”
This essay proposes criteria and ways of thinking about what it means for a play or other theatrical work to be considered feminist.
1. Fights for Liberation/Struggles Against Patriarchy: Feminist plays dramatize women’s resistance and marginalization within social and cultural systems of straight white male supremacy and dominance. Characters may be in engaged in these struggles on a small or large scale whether it’s a fight for women’s rights or discovering one’s voice or true talent in a world that does not acknowledge women’s achievements. A feminist play could also present a different (anti-patriarchal) way of seeing and being. Brooklyn Bridge by Melissa James Gibson is about a girl from an immigrant background who enlists the help of her neighbors in writing a school paper about the Brooklyn Bridge. The play redefines community among strangers in a world that increasingly alienates us from one another. Plays that challenge patriarchal systems and the status quo are feminist plays.
2. Women Characters in Nontraditional Roles: Typical jobs and positions held by men include scientists and doctors, mechanics and garbage collectors, mathematicians and physicists, business peoples and scions of industry. When these same jobs and positions are held by a woman, she resists being defined by her “femininity” or “a woman’s place.” Often women in nontraditional roles face opposition from society (both male and female) for their chosen profession or calling. Caryl Churchill’s Top Girls has a slew of women who defied traditional roles in a play that redefines women’s success. David Auburn’s Proof, features a female mathematician and Sylvia Milo’s The Other Mozart features Mozart’s’ composer sister. Women in plays featuring the working class include D. W. Gregory’s Radium Girls and Josephina Lopez’s Real Women Have Curves (play and movie).
3. Women not Defined by being Mothers, Wives, Daughters, or Doormats: They can be these things, but that should not be the primary role that defines them. Women should also not be defined in relation to men. In the first play of Mac Rogers Honeycomb Trilogy, Advance Man, Amelia, the wife of Bill Cooke and mother to two children, has no independent identity outside her role as wife and mother. She plays a supporting role and antagonist that enables and gets in the way of the more important action of the male protagonist. A good example of a woman not defined by her relation to other men is Wendy Wasserstein’s American Daughter. The protagonist Lyssa Dent Hughes is the daughter of a senator and the great-granddaughter of Ulysses S. Grant. She is also a wife and mother. However, Lyssa is also an accomplished hospital administrator and is being nominated for surgeon general. Her friendship with Judith, a Jewish African-American, likewise shows her connection to others outside the nuclear family.
4. Welfare of the Community Above the Individual: In his essay “A Plea for Radical Children’s Literature,” Herbert Khol stresses that radical stories have the following characteristics: “the major social force in the story is the community or some natural social group larger than the family” and that “collective action is involved.” A good example comes from the recently released stage play Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. When Scorpius Malfoy realizes that the past he and Albus Potter change is better for Scorpius but worse off for the world (“I am better off. But the world is not better.”), the son of Draco goes back to correct the past, even at personal cost to himself.
5. It’s All About the Eco-System, Sustainability, and Balance: In a April 22, 2016, HowlRound essay, Chantal Bilodeau in “Why I’m Breaking Up with Aristotle?” argued that the hierarchal pyramidal worldview in which Western drama is based “justif[ies] a slew of abusive behaviors such as feudalism, colonialism, slavery, genocide, violence against women and children, economic injustices, the plundering of natural resources, etc.,” and goes on to state that the this worldview promotes values of competition, control, and scarcity. Instead, she advocates for a more egalitarian “heterarchical worldview,” one which organizes relationships “laterally instead of vertically.” Such a system “promotes innovation, collaboration, and creativity” and “works on the assumption of abundance.” A good example which falls under the previous heading is How to End Poverty in 90 Minutes (HTEP), which brings attention to poverty in a community and utilizes community resources (in the form of the price of admission) in order to work towards solutions.
6. Characters Who Eschew Violence and Utilize Nonviolent Problem Solving. This doesn’t mean that a woman never picks up a sword to slay the proverbial dragon, but violence is always a means of last resort, and feminist heroes will engage in nonviolent, nonaggressive, nonoppressive options, especially when the customary response is aggressive or violent action. Jennifer Stuller in the book Ink-Stained Amazons and Cinematic Warriors: Superwomen in Modern Mythology stresses female heroes who incorporate “redemption, collaboration, and compassion” when battling enemy forces. In the early suffragette play, Votes for Women by Elizabeth Robins, the public square, not the battlefield, is the contested territory in the fight for women’s rights. Robins’s play not only brought “street politics of women's suffrage to the stage,” it also displayed women’s transition from silence to speech at a time when women were discouraged from speaking in public
(Feminist plays) include characters who favor cooperation over conflict. Contrast, mystery, revelation, surprise, and suspense are other types of dramatic plot structures that don’t necessarily include conflict.
7. Characters Who Favor Cooperation over Conflict: Conflict is not the only form of drama. Contrast, mystery, revelation, surprise, and suspense are other types of dramatic plot structures that don’t necessarily include conflict. An example is the relationship between Bennet sisters Elizabeth and Jane in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Their relationship is more a study of contrast than conflict. Jane sees the good in everyone while Elizabeth is more discerning and quick to judge. There’s not a lot of friction between the two sisters. Each wants what’s best for the other although both have different ideas on how this is achieved.
8. Volunteers/Not Chosen Ones: Katniss Everdeen in the book series The Hunger Games wins the award for best volunteerism when she offers herself as tribute in place of her sister Prim at The Reaping. King Arthur, Luke Skywalker, Harry Potter, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Neo from The Matrix are all examples of chosen ones. Chosen Ones imply that there is something special about a person that sets him or her apart from everyone else. Volunteerism, on the other hand, demonstrates that anyone can be a hero. In Harry Potter and The Cursed Child, Albus Potter, unlike his famous father, is not a chosen one.
9. Different Points of View and Dissenting Perspectives: Plays that contain narrative polyphony or present plot or themes from differing points of view foster greater tolerance and acceptance of dissenting perspectives. A multiplicity of voices is an opportunity for the playwright to highlight the limited, flawed, and even unreliable subjectivity of the protagonist or give voice and agency to an otherwise minor character, especially if that character is from a marginalized or disenfranchised group. Eve Ensler’s Vagina Monologues is a good example of polyphony and the television series Orange is the New Black presents a multiplicity of perspectives from its mostly diverse female ensemble cast.
10. Nonideal/Nonconformist Women: Young Jean Lee’s Untitled Feminist Show features women (mostly naked) of all shapes, sizes, colors, and persuasions. The theatrical version of Josefina López's Real Women Have Curves features the struggles of a family of five plus-sized Latina immigrants, who are successively described as plump, plump, large, huge, and a bit plump. Suzan-Lori Parks’s In the Blood recounts the travails of an African-American homeless mother and her children, and Taylor Mac’s Hir features a newly out transgender character. Most women cannot fit the ideal of a Hollywood actress or a billboard supermodel or even want to.
Feminist plays are not just about sex and gender, but also create dialogue around class, race, privilege, and other forms of oppression.
11. Women Who Are More Than Victims: Women should be more than the battered ex-wives and ex-girlfriends from an episode of Law & Order: SVU. An example that shows a woman as more than a victim is George Brant’s Grounded. This one-woman solo piece is about an Air Force fighter pilot assigned to pilot weaponized drones. She’s both victimizer and victim, as she drops bombs on targets and later becomes traumatized by the experience. At the end of the play, the unnamed pilot becomes a martyr as she takes a courageous stand and pays a terrible price.
12. Intersectionality: Feminist plays are not just about sex and gender, but also create dialogue around class, race, privilege, and other forms of oppression. Annie Baker’s The Flick isn’t simply about the depressing lives of twenty-somethings in dead-end jobs trying to connect. It’s also about race, as the two white movie theatre employees betray their black co-worker. Intersectionality recognizes that sexism is connected to many other forms of prejudice and that the struggles of seemingly disparate groups for fair treatment are actually intertwined.
13. Good and Evil Are Not Absolutes: The idea that good and evil are two diametrically opposed opposites is a binary patriarchal way of thinking and has led to some of the greatest atrocities in history. Any category of person can be labeled as wicked and in need of reform if not outright eradication. For centuries, unconventional, rebellious, and inconvenient women have been condemned as witches or accused of hexing others with a curse or evil eye (see Caryl Churchill’s Vinegar Tom).
14. Explores Nonlinear, Cyclical, Experiments with Form: Some writers have eschewed the Aristotelian model as oppressive and epistemically flawed. Jill Nolan in the The Feminist Spectator as Critic notes the “gender-specific nature of theatrical representation” of traditional theatre. Yet to this day most drama follows the principles set out by the Greek philosopher and political thinker over 2,000 years ago. Augusto Boal labelled Aristotle’s Poetics, the sourcebook for dramatic structure, a “Coercive System of Tragedy.” There are several Aristotelian-structured “feminist” plays as well as “feminist” plays that do not conform to the Aristotelian way. Many feminist plays seek to subvert or contravene Aristotle’s principles or explore other ways of dramatizing the experiences and stories of women. Some experimental, elliptical, episodic, nonlinear, nonnaturalist or nonrealist, even nonliteral theatrical works produce drama where there is no cause and effect, no protagonist, or no central argument. Several plays by Caryl Churchill and the work of Augusto Boal and the Theatre of the Oppressed experiment with form and content and even the idea of theatre itself.
15. No Pointless Sexualization/Violence: Having a sex kitten or boy toy on stage just for the sake of titillation objectifies women and men and dehumanizes the actors who portray those roles. Young Jean Lee’s Untitled Feminist Show, in which the characters perform nude, is an example of when the naked female form isn’t pointlessly sexualized. As Vulture points out, Lee’s show is a “gloriously goofy rebuke to the monobody beauty myth.” Violence for the sake of violence or violence as a means of solving the world’s problems is not feminist. In Advance Man, Bill Cooke approves of his daughter’s Ronnie’s defense of her brother using physical violence. However, later in the play it’s revealed that she unleashed a series of blows against Abbie’s oppressor—i.e. extreme violence. In another moment in the play, Bill decks Lily, a female detective investigating the goings on of Cooke and his former astronaut associates, as a way of getting rid of her. Finally, Bill makes a choice for all humanity by letting loose an alien race on Earth with no regard for the consequences.
As “a place for artists to provide feedback, learning, expertise, frustration, and vision,” HowlRound, is a perfect stomping ground to engage questions of feminist theatremaking. We owe it to ourselves as theatremakers to endeavor to end oppression and liberate all peoples (regardless of sex, race, sexual orientation, etc.). Anything less defends the patriarchy and upholds the status quo.
The article is just the start of the conversation—we want to know what you think about this subject, too! HowlRound is a space for knowledge-sharing, and we welcome spirited, thoughtful, and on-topic dialogue. Find our full comments policy here
One of the reasons I wrote this piece was from hearing playwrights state that their plays are feminist because they either had round (three dimensional/strong) women characters or the women characters had agency--which many have pointed out here. I didn't bring this up in my piece because it's so overused, not that it isn't important. (However, I personally think that's a pretty low bar, but that's another matter.) I've seen/read plays where playwrights make this claim, and there's nothing in their work that is feminist and sometimes the piece is actually anti-feminist. Frankly such statements don't look at plays from a critical feminist perspective. What's often ignored in comments to my essay is the statement I make in the first paragraph: men and women who use feminism as “a marker of identity” must “push its boundaries by critically investigating its meanings and impacts.” This is not my statement, but someone writing on feminism and theater. Some of the comments I've read seem to suggest that's not important. I argue that content matters, how a story is told matters, and the type of stories told matter. Comments like "I will write what I want and what serves the characters. If my characters resort to violence, as they do in my newest work, that is their truth" could describe countless pieces that are also not feminist or anti-feminist. When I read feminist critiques of theater or any work, they simply don't point out that the women characters are three-dimensional and the women have agency and therefore the piece is feminist. What they do is make feminist arguments, debates, principles, etc. on how the content, manner of the telling, and story told is feminist or is not feminist. These are the points I make in this essay. In short, how can a work be feminist without feminism.
I'm on board with a lot of these points--at least, I'm always interested in discussing new ways to approach structure, conflict and form, and wondering what might happen were we to break from established patterns. And I appreciate the boldness and vulnerability of a piece that actively courts scrutiny. A lot of the commenters have raised insightful questions (esp. about the pressure upon women to be nurturers and how the aesthetic of nonviolent cooperation and sacrifice of the individual plays into stereotypes rather than subverting them.)
But since no one's brought it up yet... How on earth did Harry Potter and the Cursed Child make this list *twice*? It's sexist as hell.
I used a wide range of plays and wanted to include popular works as well as plays that might be considered literary or liberal or radical feminism. There are some feminist points in the Cursed Child, which are the ones I mention in the article because it applies to a particular principle. There are perhaps better examples. Cursed Child was one of a handful of plays I was reading at the time in composing this article and sought to apply the principles in this article to a variety of types of works. When I mention points that some suggest stereotype women, these points apply to men, women, and others, though I admit this could be clearer. In fact, most of the points, I make apply to any gender/any sex. For example, Number 2, 6, 7, and 10 also applies to men who don't follow patriarchal masculine norms, but, in the interest of brevity, I cut some of those parts. This essay was originally around 3,000 words, so I had to cut certain parts to get it around 2,000. There are also some things I wish I had included, but came to me later. For example, someone who identifies as female, queer, from a minority group, etc. faces an intersectionality of oppression or is doubly, triply, or quadrupedally oppressed. However, I appreciate the fact that you and others have pointed out aspects of this essay that warrant greater scrutiny.
Also I read Cursed Child several months ago. I recall a few sections that might be problematic--vaguely one between Harry and Ginny. If there are certain sections you found particularly sexist or what makes the work sexist, that would be something useful to lookout for.
I found all of it sexist. Delineating why would require its own post. Disturbing tropes about marriage, romance, consent and female leadership, among others. Perhaps most disturbing is that, in the latest installment of a series whose popularity was largely driven by young girls... young girls don't get to do things.
This might be getting at the central issue many women have been voicing in the comments. The idea that recognizing women's humanity is a riddle to be solved, a complex list of do's and don'ts. That if we plug in the formula, we'll get a feminist piece. (Or, what I suspect some writers might really going for... a piece free from the criticism of feminists.) But it's possible to pay lip service to feminism while missing its essence completely. Cursed Child does that. A lot of works do that. That's why "give women lines and let women do things" may seem like a facile summation of feminist theater, but is still the best litmus test I know.
The following is not an argument I make in the piece: "The idea that recognizing women's humanity is a riddle to be solved, a complex list of do's and don'ts. That if we plug in the formula, we'll get a feminist piece." This is contrary to the points I make. What I often find is that some people are reading into the piece I wrote what they want but is not there. I don't know where I ever suggested that "women's humanity is a riddle to be solved" or following a prescribed formula is a sure fire way to write a feminist play. I have certainly had to clarify some points and I didn't get to cover everything I wish I could cover or go into detail on every single point or have a lengthy introduction. More explained above. I've also frequently stated that the points I make apply to men and others.
I probably did not read into CC the arguments you make at least to that degree. I was frankly disappointed that the heroes were boys--not that there is anything wrong with that. But after a series of books and films featuring a boy wizard as the central character, I thought girl central characters would be a more exciting choice. I certainly don't recall the women characters in the play not having agency. I know the women characters were not the central focus. But maybe they had much less agency than I remember.
I did not state that feminist plays are devoid of conflict (or even violence). In fact, many of the examples I list, across a range of playwrights and types of plays have conflict in them, have violence. I had to cut a few examples for reasons of space. I was simply pointing out other tools in the playwright toolbox. Many of the plays and playwrights you name use contrast, mystery, revelation, surprise, and suspense or other types of dramatic plot structures. Or are you suggesting the only plot tool or structural element these playwrights use is conflict? Besides, not all theater necessarily has conflict, some Carnivalesque works and other types of theatrical works don't have conflict or it's not the play's driving force. There are also several non-Western theatrical works that don't adhere to Western concepts of conflict, and some playwrights find this demand for conflict restrictive. You may have a preference for a type or kind of theater you prefer, but there are many different types and kinds of great theater. I also never stated that morally ambiguous plays are not feminist plays, that every feminist play needs to have a moral. The points I make are not rules, and I don't state that a playwright needs to follow every single one. While some may see the points in this essay as "restrictions," there are opportunities that playwrights don't often take advantage of, like, for instance, perhaps a playwright looks at some unconventional women characters in developing their works or to write about, or a playwright looks for areas of intersectionality.
I did not state that feminist plays are devoid of conflict. In fact, many of the examples I list, across a range of playwrights and types of plays have conflict in them. I had to cut a few examples for reasons of space. I was simply pointing out other tools in the playwright toolbox. Many of the plays and playwrights you name use contrast, mystery, revelation, surprise, and suspense or other types of dramatic plot structures. Or are you suggesting the only plot tool or structural element these playwrights use is conflict? Besides, not all theater necessarily has conflict, some Carnivalesque works and other types of theatrical works don't have conflict or it's not the play's driving force. There are also several non-Western theatrical works that don't adhere to Western concepts of conflict, and some playwrights find this demand for conflict restrictive. You may have a preference for a type or kind of theater you prefer, but there are many different types and kinds of theater. I also never stated that morally ambiguous plays are not feminist plays, that every feminist play needs to have a moral. The points I make are not rules, and I don't state that a playwright needs to follow every single one. While some may see the points in this essay as "restrictions," there are opportunities that playwrights don't take advantage of, like for instance perhaps a playwright looks at some unconventional women characters in developing their works or to write about or a playwright looks for areas of intersectionality.
I read this again, and felt the need once again to comment. I am really troubled by the notion that if a writer (I am a dramatist) does not follow these strict rules or writes plays that are tragedies, or like me, focus on the moral ambiguities surrounding sex, or if I love writers like Pinter, Barker, Kane, etc works that are morally ambiguous and then I am somehow not feminist? Excuse me,but no. The only work that you mention here that is quality is Caryl Churchill.
I saw Young Jean Lee's "Untitled Feminist Piece" and my wife and I found it to be boring, sentimental, and worthless because it had no conflict.
Also, I find nothing more useless and banal than Augusto Boal's"Theatre of the Oppressed." These works have no power. Read Howard Barker's "Gertrude the Cry" to see what quality theatre is.
I'm interested in why the author feels qualified, as a man, to give a 15-point "manifesto" for feminist theater. While I welcome men's voices to the table and believe that men can be feminists, I do not believe that men should be leading the discussion on what constitutes feminism. At its most trivial, that's classic mansplaining; more seriously, it constitutes the erasure of women's voices as those who are privileged by the patriarchy get to define how to fight it. When you are privileged by a social construct, often its contours escape you. You miss its violent effects, because they do not directly affect you. As a low-income queer woman and survivor of sexual assault, I'd honestly love to hear from a HowlRound editor on why they chose to pay a man to write this article, when that money could have gone to give a platform to a woman's voice in a conversation which women deserve to lead.
I also push back against the idea that feminism can be summed up in a manifesto, or that there are specific unchanging criteria that playwrights can use to define it. While the author prefaced the article with the idea that feminism requires an open definition, a sentiment he has reasserted in the comments, his decision to go ahead and list 15 points anyway -- and then title it a "manifesto" -- contradicts that assertion. Either feminism can be summed up in 15 points, or it can't. You can't have it both ways. There's also a huge difference between offering observations the author has discovered in his own work as aids to thought and conversation, and prescribing behavior for others. The first assumes an authorial ethos of humility; the second, one of authority. If the author did not intend to offer authoritative definitions, he should have retitled and restructured the essay.
Finally, the 7th point is blatantly sexist. Women can be confrontational, and the insistence that feminism means cooperation reinforces patriarchal gender stereotypes. It also contradicts points 9 and 10. While I agree with some of the principles laid forth, this article does more harm than good, and fails to recognize the privilege inherent in its making.
I'll definitely think about restructuring and retitling the piece. This is not an authoritative piece but thoughts on the subject, not an attempt to erase women's voices. I've read/experienced other sources that speak to feminist storytelling and theater, but have not addressed playwriting specifically, and brought some of the ideas from these feminist writers, critics, etc--women's voices--to the discussion that I have not seen previously on this forum. On the 7th point, I did not use gender specific language that women/others favor cooperation over conflict (or competition, which is the word I should have used but both apply, since I already covered conflict), but Characters (non-gender) which includes men, women, and other identified. I also used the word favor, which doesn't mean a character can't be confrontational (when push comes to shove) or competitive. However, I can clarify that statement.
Hi Michaela! Thank you for your comments. In response to your question, we accept pitches from the community so the community who opts to participate drives the content on the site. To date we have posted many articles on feminism in the theater from a diversity of voices; no one voice leads the conversation. We always welcome new contributions to this conversation and we value the robust and dissenting voices who have responded to this article!
This response is what is wrong with progressivism. You have judged the author not on their IDEAS, but their GENDER. This is illiberal. It's immoral. It's wrong. Indefensible. Stop it.
No, I'm saying that gender affects an individual's lived experience, and thus the ideas they form based on that experience. As I wrote: "When you are privileged by a social construct [as men are], often its contours escape you. You miss its violent effects, because they do not directly affect you."
Is it morally acceptable to judge someone, to tell them what they can or cannot do, based on gender? Yes or No?
Also, your comment misses out on the entire second paragraph of my response, which doesn't reference gender at all. The third paragraph also makes an argument directly based on his ideas without reference to gender. You're not actually interacting with my ideas at all.
I stopped entertaining your ideas relatively early, when you specifically said this person is the wrong gender to write this. That is unacceptable. It's fine if you want to try to explain how this is not bigotry, but it needs to be said in no uncertain terms: You cannot judge someone based on gender. Do you agree or disagree? I don't want rhetoric, I want a straight answer: Is it morally acceptable to judge someone based on gender, Yes or No?
I don't agree with everything in this (jam-packed!) essay, but one thing I definitely do is: "Chosen Ones imply that there is something special about a person that sets him or her apart from everyone else. Volunteerism, on the other hand, demonstrates that anyone can be a hero."
YES!!! I am so sick of all "the chosen one" stories. (Worst of all, perhaps, is that so many are addressed to young adult audiences, when they are particularly vulnerable to being brainwashed that only a special chosen few can do good in the world, and everyone else just has to go along with the crowd.)
In fact -- and I just realized this as I'm typing this! -- the play I'm almost finished with (I hope!) appears to involve a heroine who has been explicitly chosen, but we find out later (about the end of the first act) that she, in fact, volunteered. (I can't say more without being spoilery.) I hadn't really thought of the story in this way until now (it's just how the story unfolds for logical reasons)... funny how the mind works!
P.S. By the way, I (as someone who has never been into Harry Potter) got quite a kick a few minutes ago upon reading that the latest incarnation of the franchise is basically (if I understand correctly) just a rip-off of Harlan Ellison's "The City on the Edge of Forever"! (Of course I could be mistaken since I haven't seen the Potter play, or even read any reviews. Has anyone who has made this connection?)
I don't expect everyone to agree with what I have written, but hopefully, there are some tips on critically examining one's own work and the work of others.
“At the Foot of the Mountain is a women’s theatre—emergent, struggling, angry, joyous . . . We are asking: What is a woman’s space? What is a woman’s ritual? How does it differ from the theater of the patriarchy? We struggle to relinquish traditions such as linear plays, proscenium theatre, non-participatory ritual and seek to reveal theatre that is circular, intuitive, personal, involving. We are a theatre of protest, witnesses to the destructiveness of a society which is alienated from itself, and a theatre of celebration, participants in prophesy of a new world which is emerging through the rebirth of women’s consciousness.” Quoted in Dinah Leavitt, Feminist Theatre Groups, pg 67 and in The Feminist Spectator as Critic, pg 8.
Most of the points I elucidate here are from other sources and texts written about feminism, feminism, and theater, feminism and pop culture, etc, such as The Heroine's Journey, Towards a Feminist Storycraft and as mentioned in the article The Feminist Spectator as Critic. It's not absolutist. A feminist play doesn't always have to deal with community. Doesn't have to be bereft of conflict or violence (I mention pointless violence and sexualization). Feminist plays can and often do contain conflict (some other aspects of this essay point out how), but I have also been in a situation where a female playwright was writing a play about two contrasting perspectives where conflict was not necessarily essential to the work. I'd also be curious to hear what others think what makes a play feminist or what's the difference between a feminist play and a play that supports patriarchy.
I am troubled by the tone of this piece. I consider myself a feminist writer, and as one I will write what I want and what serves the characters. If my characters resort to violence, as they do in my newest work, that is their truth. I don't believe in putting restrictions on writing at all. To whom is this essay addressed? Male writers trying to put feminism in their plays? I'm not sure of the audience. I immediately reacted angrily at the tone of scolding and teaching and, yes, "mansplaining."
This is an example of many of the Howlround writers . . . sweeping generalizations of ideas of what theater is, or should be--everything to how we should present diverse voices, to terminology to define how we should discuss performers with varying sensory limitations. I find much of their daily ramblings to be much like the 24 hour news cycle . . . filler without much substance. Feminist Manifesto--how grand glorious.
And radical stories DO NOT involve helping the community:
Herbert Khol stresses that radical stories have the following characteristics: “the major social force in the story is the community or some natural social group larger than the family” and that “collective action is involved.” A good example comes from the recently released stage play Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. When Scorpius Malfoy realizes that the past he and Albus Potter change is better for Scorpius but worse off for the world (“I am better off. But the world is not better.”), the son of Draco goes back to correct the past, even at personal cost to himself.
A great tragic theatre has no morals. This constant shrill need for "community based creating" is killing the theatre, making it bland, didactic, and only good for a school lesson. More and more I keep turning to Howard Barker's "Arguments for a Theatre" to help me navigate the New Socialist Realism that has taken over the American theatre.
Great tragic theater which goes back over two thousands of years (though such plays certainly have evolved) and by-the-way was derived from patriarchal systems, I would argue is not radical. What is radical is overturning such a model and mode of expression. I've read some of Barker's work, though I haven't read "Arguments for a Theater," so I cant' comment on that. However, you are laying out an argument for great tragic theater and not feminist theater. The two may intersect, but they are not intertwined.
Why don't we just smash the cannon, throw it away, and start all over. If everything is of the patriarchy then BURN IT>
You're free to throw away the cannon while others critically examine the works of the past and today, our former and current political systems, and our past and present culture--as many feminists have done. Several feminists look at how the aforesaid influence us today and either support or subvert the oppression of women and other minorities.
I honestly don't think you're making things better or more feminist. I think you're making it harder and harder to create ANY sort of theatre as now we all have to "check ourselves" to make sure something isn't racist or sexist when its NOT. Most of the theatre ideas you're talking about, and writers like Young Jean Lee, and most political theatre...all of it is toothless compared to Genet, Beckett, Barker, Pinter. I think the only true feminist writer of the last 20 years in the theatre is Sarah Kane because she respects the past and uses it. AND she seems to avoid didactic moralism and humanizes even racist characters like Ian in "Blasted" Art from the past is oppressing NO ONE. One of my favorite novelists is Louis-Ferdinand Celine, a fascist, whose writing TOWERS above any writer you can imagine in our contemporary world. Why? Because they aren't afraid of going beyond politics into this space of human suffering. I would recommend reading for theatre theory Howard Barker's "Arguments for a Theatre" as a nice rejoinder to everything you are talking about. Tragedy is beyond politics and can be re-defined.
I am truly sorry, but this sentiment here is not feminist and represents a radical decline in the quality of drama in the United States, drama without conflict is not drama but didactic message plays with no substance:
(Feminist plays) include characters who favor cooperation over conflict. Contrast, mystery, revelation, surprise, and suspense are other types of dramatic plot structures that don’t necessarily include conflict.
I'm sorry, but the intense sanitization of the arts in the United States based on this sentimental softness coming from the left is getting really suffocating.
I'm a playwright that has written a feminist play (and it adheres to all these point where applicable) but when I see theatres looking for feminist works I'm usually disqualified by their first requirement - that the playwright be a female. You can't win for trying!
This is a growing problem. Different (I'll use the term) minority groups (even though women don't really qualify worldwide) have been shunning allies in their fight for equality and influence. I have been more feminist in ideals than most of the women I know yet no matter what I may try to add to the conversation, many times some just react that I'm 'mansplaining' instead of understanding that I'm speaking from my own voice (and yes, I'm a man). And that shuts the conversation off immediately.
Here's what I know: We all need each other's help/ideas/empathy as we try to 'fix' the worlds we live in. We all need to listen to each other without shunning them first based on their gender/race/religion/whatever.
And, this is why ocatagon's post is such valuable information. Can ONLY women write a feminist play?
(interesting aside now that I looked... maybe this article needs to be disregarded since IT was written by a man?)
There's a distinction though between participating in a conversation and leading it. Men can be feminists and write feminist plays. But historically, the world of playwriting has been dominated by men. Men haven't had as hard time getting produced as a demographic to the extent that women have (not dismissing individual difficulties). Therefore, when a theater decides to engage their community on the topic of feminism, the choice to use their producing power to elevate a female voice makes sense to me. It's not a negation of the truth that men can write feminist plays, or a rejection of empathy. It's an attempt to rectify gender inequality in this area of the industry and to allow women to lead a discussion they quite rightly should lead. Men are allies, not leaders, in the feminist movement. They can model behavior and engage in discussion; but at the end of the day, we need to hear about the effects of the patriarchy straight from those it most directly and negatively affects.
If the call was for feminist plays written by women, then we're all good. However, if it was a call of feminist plays, then that should be open to all. Make the rules specific to what you want instead of creating a chasm for those who are contributing to the conversation based on their gender.
As for the second part of your comment here, I'll have to respectfully disagree (in part). It's up to men to change men's outlook/treatment on feminism. Yes, we're obviously open to everything we can learn from and about our earth compatriots and are equally needing to hear "about the effects of the patriarchy straight from those it most directly and negatively affects" as you say. However, women can't make men change. Men have to. It's a belief I have that spreads to other issues: people of color can't stop white people from being prejudiced towards them. It's up to leaders in white society to recognize and stop that prejudice, socially and via laws.
Could you also explain what you mean by being "more feminist in ideals than most of the women I know"? This statement implies that there's a right way to be feminist, and that you as a man are prescribing behavior (more feminist vs. less feminist) to the women in your life, which contradicts the feminist ideals you espouse.
Thanks for responding, Michaela, I do enjoy an intelligent conversation on matters.
Are there feminist ideas? If we can agree there are (and there's so many ways to look at anything) then can we agree that we can compare ourselves to each other in relation to those ideas. For a simple example, I believe that women deserve equal pay for equal work. Is that a feminist ideal? If yes, then when I mention that some women I know do not believe that women deserve equal pay for equal work, does that not make me more feminist in that specific ideal?
With all due respect to the author, this article seems to commit the same sin it accuses others of: calling "almost any[thing]" feminist without explanation in order to simply jump on the bandwagon. Many of the qualities listed have little, if anything, to do with a work's feminism; being structured nonlinearly does not make a work feminist, and I'm not sure what the "heterarchical worldview" has to do with this discussion. Intersectionality is defined, but does not touch on truly intersectional stories (such as those of minority women, lesbians, etc.), instead discussing a play whose characters do not experience intersectional identities (white woman, white man, black man).
Moreover, I find point #7 deeply troubling, especially given recent studies on roles in the workplace and how women are consistently expected to be cooperative and nurturing - and punished if they do not fit this role. No, women don't have to be at each other's throats, and there's nothing wrong with cooperation for all genders, but this point sounds a little too much like the suggested dichotomy between "nice girls" and "nasty women." I applaud the author's intent, and welcome infinite voices at the table of discussing gender issues, but this piece sounds an awful lot like attempting to "mansplain" feminism, especially given Mr. Madden's dismissal of Ms. Castellani's work on the same subject.
I would agree with the above comment! For me, the flag of feminism -incredible and important as it is- can now be used to discredit any women's work that does not fall into a series of almost arbitrary categories of virtue. My work and the work I like to see onstage doesn't usually deal with community, non-violent characters, etc. I agree that feminism can often be about community, but can't it also be about insane, exciting, dirty conflict? About women in perhaps violent and unreasonable conflict with each other, as we are each as individual and unique as men? About women seeking glory, perhaps unwisely? About women failing and being flawed, because they are people? For me, women drawn as complete humans is the goal of feminist writing, and outside that you just want as much diversity in those humans as possible: every kind of sexuality, ethnicity, personality, and views of the world. Non-linear form, to my mind, can't be in any simplistic way categorized as more or less feminist.
I wrote Characters Who Favor Cooperation over Conflict not Women Characters Who Favor Cooperation over Conflict. This applies to male and other gendered characters too. I also did not dismiss Castellani's work, but questioned the idea of an "open definition."
Regarding nonlinear plays and other experimental an non-Aristotelean forms, from “Theatricality and Empowerment in the Plays of Caryl Churchill” by Amelia Howe Kritzer (I also quote At the Foot of the Mountain earlier):
Traditional, Aristotelian drama subjects the anarchic theatricality associated with such ancient forms as the Dionysian festivals, the Feast of Fools, and the Commedia dell' Arte to a phallogocentric discipline. It constricts movement within a linear plot, subordinates complexity to unity, and reduces choice to a pattern of binary oppositions. Traditional drama, thus, has functioned as a discourse of patriarchy and the ruling class. As Churchill reinvigorates theatre and marshals its own energy to overturn the patriarchal forms with which it has been identified, she models a process through which oppressed groups can use their collective power to overturn and re-form society.
In reasserting the anarchic potential of theatricality, Churchill's plays shake up patterns of perception that audiences may take for granted. That is why surprise is so often an important ingredient of her plays [another point I make in the essay]. In Top Girls (1982), a brusquely efficient female business manager prepares a party in a fashionable restaurant, and her guests turn out to be women from history and myth. Fen (1983) begins with the abrupt interposition of a statistic-laden monologue by a twentieth-century Japanese businessman into a wordless scene of preindustrial rural life. The conversation of the fast-track financial dealers in Serious Money is delivered at breakneck speed—and in rhymed verse. Surprise initiates a process of education about the play's subject which condenses for the audience the period of self-education in which Churchill has engaged during the creation of each play.
Regarding heterarchy, (you'll also find critiques of hierarchy in much of ecofeminism) from Literature, Nature, and Other: Ecofeminist Critiques by Patrick D. Murphy:
Only by recognizing the existence of the “other” as a self-existent entity can we begin to comprehend a gender heterarchical continuum in which difference exists without binary opposition and hierarchical valorization. And the “male” and “female” that constitute the dyad are not absolute gender categories but species generative distinctions in reproduction carried over into conceptualizations of the cultural formations of gender. Those feminisms committed to exposing, critiquing, and ending oppression of women, overthrowing patriarchy and phallocentrism, demand male recognition of the other as not only different in more ways than binary configurations can recognize, but also of equal ontological status.