Allison Page will not be silenced, no matter what kind of woman she wants to be.
I’ve noticed a trend I find disturbing. (Don’t worry, it has nothing to do with twerking.) There’s an awful lot of talk about feminism in relation to theater going on lately. I’m all for more roles for women. I mean…I AM ONE, so yeah, that would be cool. When I talk to sketch writing classes, or any group of writers or theater makers, or an overly chatty cab driver – I always stress the importance of expanding roles for women in comedy and just in theater and art in general. We’re not just wives and mothers, right? Right. We’re all kinds of things. Just like men are all kinds of things and people are all kinds of things. But the mistake, to me, is saying that because a female character has a relationship with a male character that it means she’s not a good female character. If she focuses at all on the male whom she is in some sort of relationship with, or maybe that she’s just having a sexual relationship with, or that she had some relationship with in the past – suddenly someone’s going to pop up and say “HOLD ON, THAT’S NOT A STRONG FEMALE CHARACTER! SHE CARES TOO MUCH ABOUT DUDES! ANTI-FEMINISM, YA’LL!” Alright, so…is the message that women who are in relationships with men are not interesting? Are not strong? Can’t be feminists? Don’t have stories to tell? That the stories they do have to tell, or are used to telling, are not as valid or compelling? That they’re not important? BOLOGNA. BALONEY. BOTH OF THEM.
Stories are not for one person, or one kind of person. There are stories for all people. There are stories about all people. I’m hard-pressed to think of a heterosexual female I’ve encountered in my life who has never had a part of their own personal life story be related to a man. Hillary Clinton is married. If you wrote a play about Hillary Clinton, very likely there’s going to be something about Billy Boy in there, right? It’s feasible to think she might have a thing or three to say about that guy. He’s kind of interesting.
Does that mean that Hillary Clinton wouldn’t make a strong female character? How about when you factor in Monica Lewinsky? Because it’ll turn into a story about two women and one man for a minute. Does that mean Hills isn’t a woman for other women to look up to? It seems recently that a question people are asking themselves about their feelings toward female characters is “How much is she focusing on a man? Is it too much?” which, to me, is a little absurd. It’s like the idea of having more diverse women on stage has somehow over-directed into having more female characters that have nothing to say or to do with a man.
I’d call that narrowing the funnel. It’s a term used at the gaming company I work for, I don’t know if other places use it but I wouldn’t be surprised. When we say something “narrows the funnel” we mean that some factor has made the feature accessible to fewer people. (It’s not a good thing.) In this case, the funnel seems to be narrowing and squeezing out a great big bunch of people. You can see that either as a good or a bad thing, depending on your perspective.
But how realistic is it? When people go to the theater, they’re going to experience something. They’re going to watch a story unfold, to watch characters go through some shit and also to see something they can connect with. They want to see something of themselves up there. Something they can relate to. You know what a lot of people relate to? Complex relationships. Love. Anger. Betrayal. Happiness. Comfort. Heartache. Sadness. Regret. Most of those words don’t specify anything about other people being involved, but if you read them and visualize them I’m willing to bet you might be picturing another person with you in, or causing, those situations. They don’t often exist in a vacuum.
Aside from that, it’s just sort of insulting. Yeah, we’re not all wives and mothers – BUT SOME OF US ARE. What’s wrong with that? (I’m neither, by the way. That shit scares the hell out of me.) It seems strange that someone would say “Why did that character have to be married? She didn’t need that man there.” It’s like saying “Why wasn’t that play just about someone else entirely?” which sounds an awful lot like you’re not reviewing a play or taking it in – but instead just thinking about some other show which doesn’t exist. Maybe you should just go home and write it. Some of the bigger realizations about myself that I’ve had in the last 10 years (I’m 29, so…there were lots and lots of ‘em. It was a big decade.) had at least some relation to other human beings. Plenty of them men. And I don’t see why if I were, for instance, writing a story about my own experiences, they shouldn’t be given any importance. And if they were, why that would make me…I don’t know…”less good” or less interesting. Or less feminist, for that matter.
It seems everyone’s got their own definition of feminism. Well, I’m 100% about equality. Not “anything men can do, women can do better”, just “men and women are both equally capable.” I understand it’s not as catchy and it’s not likely to inspire a show tune, but it’s where my brain lives. I am of the belief that a woman doing just exactly as she pleases is feminist all by itself. If that woman wants to be a single astronaut for the rest of her life – by all means do it. But if a woman wants, of her own free will, out of nothing but her desire for this life – CHOOSES – to marry, to raise children, and to open a real estate business, or be a housewife – by all means do that. Valuing one type of female character or female person over another based on their ideas about love doesn’t feel feminist to me. It feels elitist. It feels insincere. Most of all, I think it feels unrealistic and out of touch.
I’m not saying the story about the asexual astronaut wouldn’t be fabulous – it totally could be. (“SOLO IN SPACE” STARRING TILDA SWINTON.]
But so could the story of a homemaker turned real estate agent. [“SHIRLEY SELLS SEA HOUSES BY THE SEA SHORE.” STARRING MELISSA LEO.] Those facts alone will not determine whether or not these are “good” characters – whatever the fuck that’s supposed to mean. I’m not saying cut out those female characters whom aren’t strongly connected to a husband or boyfriend or girlfriend or wife or anybody – I’m just saying we should consider embracing women in general. Both ends of the spectrum and everyone in between. Stories about 8 lesbians in a hay stack, stories about a single mom and her 9 daughters, stories about a lady farmer and her stay-at-home-dad husband, stories about a woman trying to cure cancer, stories about a mom who runs a daycare full of alien babies, stories about the first woman to smoke a cigar – stories about us all. Because we are all worthy of stories. I stand for the equality of women both real and fictional, and not for the division of us by ourselves.
I had a conversation with a playwright friend of mine recently where we both expressed a concern that the inclusion of certain male characters in both of our upcoming plays would be poo-pooed by someone who would say that their existence makes our leading ladies seem less valuable, somehow. In my particular case, I’m writing something very much focused on two women. They are essentially the only people there for each of them, and they’re sort of codependent and unhealthy in that friendship. Things had to come to a head eventually, and they finally do. It’s Some Guy who finally helps to bring that about. (His character’s name is Some Guy, I don’t even want him to have a name.) The truth is, it would have had to happen some time, in some way – but because neither of them could quite make it happen without some sort of outside catalyst, Some Guy is what’s needed to bring about the explosion. The last thing I want is for someone to see it and say “Ohhhh it’s just two girls fighting over a man! How anti-female.” Because that’s just NOT WHAT’S HAPPENING AT ALL. It’s possible that I’m over-thinking that, and I’m sure someone will say “Well, it’s good that you’re thinking about that. That’s something you should be thinking about.” But I feel like what I should be thinking about, is how to tell the best story. Because after all the clutter is cleared away, that’s what the hell we’re doing here, isn’t it? We’re all raconteurs. And like I said before, there isn’t just one type of story, and there isn’t just one type of woman. In a time when the theater is always striving to bring more people in, to get more butts in the seats, the last thing that would ever help that would be to limit the types of stories we think should be told and poo-poo on the everywoman. In a time when some theaters seem to be going above and beyond to be elite (see Marissa Skudlarek’s most recent blog) I desire to go away from that in favor of the everyman and definitely the everywoman. We need her. She’s important. She is so many of us and she has a story, too.
Allison encourages you to see the San Francisco Olympians Festival – three weeks of staged readings of new plays by local playwrights based on various aspects of the Trojan War, starting tonight. Allison’s “The Golden Apple of Discord” plays with several other shorts on November 20th. She’ll also be writing and reading at Write Club SF’s 2 year anniversary show at the The Make-Out Room, November 19th.