Her story

I am realizing more and more how important it is to the development of my craft to create with women in the room. Not just the token love interest, but women empowered to speak up, critique, cry, yell, make a mess, make mistakes, and roll around on the floor unrestricted by the omnipresent male gaze. Not only does the male gaze strip her of her complexity, her stories, and her history, she is reduced to the sexual chemistry and domicity of herself to serve men telling men’s stories. Her silence in the room is not noted because she is inexperienced, agreeable, over sensitive, or cold. 

It is still a radical act for women to support women creating work. It is still a radical act for man to invite women into their process as equals without first asking them to prove their value to serve the process or sleep with the director. It is still a radical act for women to create art and tell stories about and for women without trying to appeal to the masculinized universality. It is still a radical act for men to create and art and tell stories that celebrate femininity and give it room to breath without limitations or restrictions. It is still a radical act to pay women to create art and culture that reflects their wholeness, experiences, hopes, dreams, and losses instead of trying to reduce her to a singular voice for all women.

Most of my collaborators and close conspirators are men perhaps by default perhaps by fear. In part due to the internalized misogyny that still hinders my development of close relationships with women. In part because more often than not it is a man in a position to offer me a contract, critique my work, and add credibility to my voice. The women I work with are often self-depricating and humble, and work twice as hard to pull their weight as is asked of them. They are careful and gaurded about how they come across, what they are allowed to say, even the out spoken not wanting to directly call attention to their obviously unique position as a woman with a voice at the table. Understanding their bodies as a living sculpture, which angles and colors to work, how to present a pleasing figure on or off stage to land the part, promotion, gallery show. And often taking on the lions share of the work to care for and educate their peers as leaders in the movement. These are strong amazing women that I admire deeply so I want to see room for them to sprawl out and flourish without having to cater or apologize for taking up more than their fair share of space. 

How do we tend this plot of earth we call life so that we have room to grow? What do I need to create the work I want to create with women I admire? When will women have a room of their own not tied up in masculinized industry gatekeepers and taste makers?  Who are we bringing up as the next big thing and why?

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A personal history of sexual violence

I am five years old playing at the park next to my house with a little boy. I tell him I have to go home to pee. He tells me that I’m not allowed I have to pee on the tree in front of him. I tell him no I want to go home, and he gets mad and throws a truck at my head. I have a goose egg for three days. I have to tell my parents what happened, they are mad, but I still believed it was my fault for making him angry.

I am seven years old attending a backyard BBQ. I am excited to wear my new red sheer top from value village tied up at what is suppose to be the belly button but hangs down past my waist on my tiny frame. As I step out of the car one of the boys runs by and yells “Slut!” At me before disappearing into the party. I am instantly devastated I hide in the car for the next ninety minutes until the one of the other girls coax me out with a t-shirt and a wealth of clever insults her mom taught her to yell back at rude boys. I am too shy to use any of them because secretly I think the boy was right.

I am eight years old and all I want in the world is a boyfriend. There is a boy who lives across the street who agrees to be my boyfriend if I kiss him and show him my tits. I don’t have any tits but I let him watch me change anyways. We play house and I kiss him on his way to work while I take care of the kids. He never wants to play with the kids he always wants to play nighttime when mommy and daddy go to the bedroom. Eventually I break up with him and he yells at me and tells me that I’m not allowed to and grabs my arm and twists it when I try to leave. He isn’t allowed to come over anymore but he still yells at me from across the street.

I am eleven years old walking to the ice cream store with my little brother, my friend, and her little sister. As we get near 33rd street a car pulls up beside us and starts following us, a man in his forties rolls down the window and starts calling to us “where are you going? Can I give you a ride? How old is your friend?” I walk faster and pretend it’s funny so as not to alarm the younger kids. I laugh at him, and tease him, and pretend not to hear his questions, when we finally get up to the street he turns right and speeds away.

I am thirteen there are men yelling at me and my friends all of the time where ever we go. There is the homeless man who asks me to marry him in the library, the teenagers at the bus stop who offer to give me booze in exchange for party favors, there is the boy at Sunday school who tells me all pretty girls are bitches because they won’t date him, there are the two old men in their sixties sitting in a red pickup truck who yell and honk at me and my friends as we hug on the street corner, there is my dad telling me not to yell back at the cat callers because it only makes things worse. I develop thicker skin, I stop making eye contact with people on the street, I learn to not accept kindness from strangers.

I am thirteen and my boyfriend tells me he will break up with me if I don’t have sex with him. I hold firm to my position, but I spend considerable time calculating how to get out from underneath him if I had to. His feelings are hurt so I try to comfort him by agreeing to do other stuff until his mom comes home.

I am fourteen and my new boyfriend has friends over upstairs. He convinces me to come to the bedroom with him to help him look for something. He tries to take my clothes off and pushes me against the wall as he keeps saying “you like that huh?” Even though I’m insistently suggesting that we go back upstairs. His friends take turns bursting into the bedroom, but he made no effort to lock the door until his dad came home. He broke up with me two weeks later because he had a bet with his friends that homeschoolers are easy and I didn’t put out.

I am fourteen it is New Year’s Eve and I am drunk on too much Amarula. I am lying on the couch, the room is spinning, while my friends are out smoking. My best friend’s boyfriend comes and sits beside me I can’t quite make him out, he is talking to me telling me how he’s always liked me, as he slides his hands up my shirt and under my bra. I can’t comprehend what’s happening I just keep saying “what are you doing?” Over and over while he pulls at my jeans. The outside door opens as everyone comes back inside, he is across the room before anyone knew what happened. We never talked about it.

I am fifteen and there is an older man interested in my acting career. He convinces me to stay at the after party past when the buses are running. He keeps buying me double rum and coke. We go outside for a smoke and walk six blocks through residential alleyways looking for a garage that doesn’t have a sensor light. He holds me so tight against his beer belly I couldn’t escape even if I knew where we were. I go limp like a doll and let him undo my jeans and grab my panties. I start muttering about “I have to go see my boyfriend” and he laughs at me “everyone is sleeping” he said “it’s late”. He follows me as I walk home and tells me what we did was innocent, and that I shouldn’t make a big deal out of it.

I am fifteen and one of the older boys at the party starts flirting with me and giving me drinks. He corners me in one of the bedrooms and pushes me onto the bed. He starts taking my clothes off while the other people at the party peer through the window. Someone finally gets through the door and tells me to put my clothes back on. I get lectured, he gets high-fives.

I am seventeen and working nights in the kitchen at a restaurant. I get off at my bus stop at 11:00 pm every night and walk two blocks to my house. Regularly there is someone who follows me home half a block behind. I walk faster with my keys in my fist and turn all the lights and tv on when I get home to try to make it seem like there are lots of people home instead of just me again. One night there is a man who tries to smash the living room window in while I am watching tv. I check to make sure the doors are locked and turn the tv up and try to show no fear hoping he will get bored and go away. Eventually one of my neighbours calls the police and scares him off. The police never come. I sleep with my light on that night.

I am twenty-one and my boyfriend tells me that he will leave me if I don’t have sex with him. “What is the point of having a girlfriend if I can’t get laid?” he says unironically. He convinces me that there is something wrong with my libido and that I need to fix it in order to save our relationship. I scour the internet for advice from sex therapists to marriage counsellors. We agree on a sex schedule, I push for once a week, he pushes for four, we meet in the middle at three so long as I will pleasure him in other ways when I’m not in the mood. I’m never in the mood but we learn to have sex anyway “for the health of the relationship”. I didn’t think of it as rape because I had agreed to the conditions under duress. When my depression got worse I blamed myself.

I am twenty-two and recently single. I still believe there is something wrong with my sexuality. I sleep with the first person who shows any interest in my body. He lives in my first boyfriends house and I have weird flashbacks. He gets me drunk and chokes me when I’m not expecting it and cums in my hair. I thank him for agreeing to sleep with me, and vow not to let this happen again.

I am twenty-four it is valentines day and I am alone and drunk at the new club waiting for my friends to arrive. This guy saddles up to me with a bottle of champagne and is coaxing me to drink from it. I’m not interested, but he’s persistent and my friends aren’t here yet. He says that he works here and he wants to give me a tour of the place. After reluctantly leading me around by the hand while I pretend to care he ushers me into a bathroom stall. He whips out his dick and pushes my head down. He videotapes it on his phone. I leave the club confused and disorientated. On the cab ride home I run through what happened in my head over and over again wondering why I didn’t fight back, or yell, or tell him to fuck off in the first place. All my friends tell me it’s not my fault but I can’t help feeling guilty anyway. I slip into a deep depression and start having panic attacks and carrying my keys in my fist again.

Inspired by Belle Jar: http://bellejar.ca/2015/12/03/being-a-girl-a-brief-personal-history-of-violence/

my wounds do not define me

i am a survivor

 

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Sense of humor

It hit me hard like a slap in the face. My cheeks stung, my neck felt hot, and my stomach churned icy and nauseous. I gripped the edge of my seat. “I can’t believe they just did that” my partner whispered in my ear, but it sounded hollow and far away. My mind was racing looking for a way out of the theatre without drawing attention to myself, but there was no way out.

This is what a panic attack feels like. As an artist with a penchant for provocative material this sort of visceral reaction might have been something I would welcome had it been intended to serve the work rather than for cheap laughs. 

Satire (noun) the use of humor, irony, exaggeration, or ridicule to expose and criticize people’s stupidity or vices, particularly in the context of contemporary politics and other topical issues.

Often I hear that we’ve done our job as artists if our audience leaves the theatre having felt something, good or bad, the worest thing is to leave your audience impartial. But what is our responsibility then to take care of our audience after we’ve put them through this emotional rollercoaster? How do we as artists create a space that is safe for our audience in order to build trust in our ability to lead them to these scary places in the work? And when is it ok to use potentially buried trauma to illicit a reaction, good or bad, from our audience to satisfy our own egos?

I left the theatre as quickly as possible. I wanted to get out of there and away from these people who were laughing and joking to their cars in. How did that make it in to the show? Why are people laughing? What year is it? “It’s like blazing saddles except it’s not the 70s anymore that shit isn’t funny” my partner was fuming. I couldn’t think, I could barely speak. Every touch, every uncomfortable silence, every cutting remark flashing through my mind. I wanted to scream. I didn’t scream then it’s too late to scream now.

Depending on what statistics you are looking at either 1 in 4 to 1 in 6 women  and 1 in 6 to 1 in 8 men will experience sexual assault in their lifetime. The number is significantly higher for the aboriginal community, trans folks, and sex workers. But we also know that a lot more go unreported so the number is likely higher. As a theatre artist looking at even a small 100 seat theatre it is basically a given that there are several people in the audience who have directly or indirectly through a close friend or family member experienced sexual assault. To flip that number on it’s head there are probably several people in the audience who have sexually assaulted someone whether or not they identify their actions as rape. So the question becomes not only how do we honor the silent survivors in our audience, but what kind of example do we want to make of the aggressors?

“I want to keep creating comedy that is, as my old improv teacher would say, at the top of our intelligence or higher. It’s easy to fall into the trap of just cranking out things that are good enough to sell.” – Tina Fey [Oprah, 2009]

It’s hard to write good satire. No surprise, Tina Fey knows a thing or two about how to do it right. As stand up comedian Selena Coppock says “[rape jokes] must be written with imagination, thoughtfulness, and awareness of societal systems and privilege. Some rape jokes are great — they don’t re-victimize the already-victimized characters in a rape dynamic.” By offering that element of surprise not only is the punchline  more interesting, but less problematic by shifting blame away from the victim. It is important to note that there are still folks that will find it triggering regardless of how progressive the rape joke is. 

The next day I woke up angry. If I had been made to feel that way how many others had suffered through in silence? Why did I feel like I owed the show an air of good humor? It had not been good humor. It had been incredibly damaging and out of place. I had made the same sort of excuses for the production as I did for my original attacker, but I didn’t have to. In the dark theatre I may be held witness to any sort of awful thing, but in the real world I had a voice and I could start the conversation to create change.

Theatre artists are dependant on our audience; therefore it is important that we are concious of their experience through out the creation process, and allowing that space for critique and discussion throughout. I acknowledge that this experience is unique to me and this incarnation of this production, but it stands that the questions raised are applicable more broadly. I don’t have answers yet. I’m not looking for an apology. I would like to see us collectively tackle these difficult questions and hold each other accountable in the work as colleagues,  and as a community in how we care for one another.

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