Thursday, October 5, 2017

'Sassy' and 'Poorly Behaved' - not Enough

"Revolt.  She Said.  Revolt Again."  by Alice Birch, presented by Frank Theater, 2017

This is a play by a young feminist English dramaturge, which was billed as  'sharply funny,' 'searing,' and exploring the ' power of language' in the context of the oppression of women.   Considering we are talking about 'the power of words,' let's look at the key term here: 'feminist.' There are a number of types of feminism and which one you are talking about is key.  The generic term actually hides a multiplicity of ideologies, so just saying you are a 'feminist' hides more than it reveals.
They Liked it in New York

The play was actually somewhat sad, confused and gave up on exploring language.  But most prominent was the idea that feminism is about men as the root of all evil.  And men do horrible things.  Only last week in Minneapolis, a man lit his ex-girlfriend on fire with gasoline after years of harassing her, killing her. Another choked his wife to death with a phone cord because she threatened to divorce him. A local St. Paul school bus driver was accused of sexually-abusing 10 children.  The mass murderer in Las Vegas abused his girlfriend in public and hired prostitutes for violent sex, which gives you a hint of what type of guy he was.  This is a pattern by other mass killers.  The jails are full of men who have committed violent crimes but unfortunately are not full of rapists, who normally get away with rape.  Restraining orders aren't worth the paper they are printed on sometimes.  Are we living in India or Pakistan?  No, but the class structure and profit motive in India, Pakistan or the U.S. is still the same and women's oppression is 'baked in.'  Inequality in economics makes inequality among the genders or ethnicities inevitable.

The first scene involved a somewhat clever dialog between a stupid male Lothario and a woman who turns the tables on him verbally, until he sexually is the 'woman.'  Another is about a guy who proposes marriage out of the blue and his overly-talkative girlfriend can't quite say no, but compares the offer to being asked to take part in a suicide bombing.  Barely funny, but at least coherent on a 'micro-aggression' level. 

Another is about a male boss who refuses to give a woman every Monday off, another somewhat coherent set piece.  Let me look at this one, as it is the only place in the play where economics, that invisible and monstrous creature, plays a direct role.  What does the female employee want to do with her day off?  Walk in the woods with her dogs and maybe sleep!  Loeverly, aye?  What would most women want to do with their day off?  Probably avoid a day of expensive daycare if they have children, or do all the chores they haven't done on the weekend.  Yes, get more sleep (why is never explained but it might have something to do with overwork...), maybe do homework on some night-school class, visit their aging parent whom they never see, but walking in the woods might be last on the list unless they have a pretty calm life. 

Now the male boss offers every ridiculous enticement in the books to get her to quit asking for Monday off ... and she refuses.  Now who is she?  What is her job?  If she is an ordinary, working class white or blue-collar employee working full time, non-exempt, there is no flexibility in the schedule and asking for Monday off is impossible.  If she is 'exempt' from overtime, and gets paid a salary, then she might be able to work 4 days a week if there was not a crush of work, but again this conversation would not be so fraught, and could be easily denied.  If she is a temp or part-time worker, it could be arranged, but then this scene would not be the way it is.  Is she a high-ranking corporate manager who can set her own hours?  Evidently not, or the scene would not be taking place either.  She stands up to the boss and tells him she will see him Tuesday.  In the real world, if she was a regular worker, she would be terminated for job abandonment.  So the whole scene takes place in a situation of 'everywoman' unreality.  And on purpose.

From there, the play descends into confusion, with rape and incest failing to get laugh lines, lots of running around, words upon words, underwear gyrations and other 'experimental' methods.

The most disturbing parts of the play, though I'm not sure if they are on purpose, is that black woman actors have to do somewhat humiliating things.  One is stuffed in a shopping cart, to be yelled at by a young, cute white woman. From there she has to gyrate around in her underwear on the floor.  Later she gets to dump water on her head.  Some other scenes also play out like this, yet there is no mention of the double-oppression of black women in the play.

Portrayal of these 'micro-aggressions' is insufficient, though this seems to be as far as modern middle-class feminism goes right now.  If you want to really 'behave poorly,' attacking the 'MACRO-aggression' of the capitalist use of the patriarchy might be a good place to start.  Capital actually makes money off the oppression of women, which is why, many years after the beginning of the feminist movements, things continue as before.  Democratic rights alone are insufficient.

Free labor at home by taking care of children or the elderly or poorly paid labor in the work-places like minimum-wage tip exemptions and the practice of 'tipping' are the lot of many women.  Jobs where women are kept out or harassed, as in Silicon Valley or the military.  Then there is the 'male bribe,' which tells some sad-sack men they are superior to any woman.  We are familiar with police and judges coddling rapists and domestic violence to back up the male bribe.  Sexual exploitation is profitable.  

Then there are the politics that back up the economics.  There is the cult of manly violence portrayed in film, as a backup for our imperial war-like Spartan society.  Our foreign policy tolerates the oppression of women world-wide in reality while paying lip-service as a cover.  The government supports archaic religions that encourage the oppression of women in their practice and texts.  The U.S.  military and schools tolerate sexual harassment or rape.  Rape kits sit in police evidence departments all over the country unopened.  Even marriage itself is an legal contract with the state and an economic contract with the partners.   It is now more and more confined to those with higher incomes. None of these somewhat realistic points were brought up by the play.  I could go on, but you get the idea.  'Macro-aggressions' like this should be the real final target for any feminist worth their salt.

These latter are all points of proletarian feminism, which was strong in the 1970s but is weak now.  Yet it is going to come roaring back as bourgeois feminism (the glass ceiling feminists like Hillary) and this middle-class feminism (men-suck feminists) are seen as basically unable to change society.  Yes, words do mean something.

The play ends with the four women donning combat gear while admitting that something has gone dreadfully wrong in the feminist movement. No matter. Their solution it seems is a 'revolution' where it will be necessary to 'kill all the men.' This last scene really exposes the sad bankruptcy of their ideology.  After that, the audience filed out quietly...

The play continues until 10/22/17 at the Gremlin Theater, at the back of the Vandalia arts complex in St. Paul.

Other plays, including Frank Theater plays, reviewed below.

Red Frog
October 5, 2017

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