More Reflections on Gender and Race in Today’s Theatre
This post is an attempt to pull together and work through simultaneously a number of thoughts/issues/concerns that have been rattling around in my head lately, spurred by both my own reading and writing and also by conversations that have been taking place on other theatre blogs.
As my regular readers know, I recently compiled a list of Women Theatre Bloggers, and I want to comment on why I chose ‘Women’ over ‘Female’ or something more generic and matter of fact, such as Theatre Bloggers who just so happen to be Women. To be clear, no one questioned outright my use of ‘Women’ as a modifier, but I noticed here and there references to my WTB post that used ‘Female’ instead. The woman/female labeling predicament is akin to the black/colored/African American one and the homosexual/gay or lesbian one. All these centuries of progress later, and there is still no consensus about how to describe people’s gender/racial/sexual differences. PC language has proven to be a double edged sword; even the best intentions (thinking 60’s and Civil Rights movement, not early 20th c. propaganda) have yielded multifarious, and too often nefarious, results. People continue to struggle with their words, selecting descriptors that they hope will offend the least number of people, or better yet, no one.
For the WTB list, I opted against ‘female’ as a modifier because (1) I find it to be too rigid, scientific, sterile and (2) my position on gender is informed by a Queer sensibility; therefore, I believe gender identity hinges on much more than sexual difference, genitals. If there are M-to-F trans theatre bloggers out there that are not yet on the list, hop on board.
Having said all this, I also recognize how odd it would sound if I were to compile a list of Men Theatre Bloggers. I even think Male Theatre Bloggers sounds weird. But I don’t think Black Theatre Bloggers sounds strange, or Queer or Lesbian and so on. And this is because, historically and, arguably, still, (heterosexual) white men have not been ‘marked,’ and virtually every other category of people has been. So what’s the solution? Mark everyone OR no one at all? And how?
Some will insist that we live in a post-feminist and post-racial world and that labels are, therefore, no longer necessary. That’s a great idea in the abstract, but it is simply not sinking in (at least not yet) at the level of lived experience. (And even if people in mass refrain from the verbal articulation of labeling, who knows what their interior monologues are expressing.) On the other hand, continuing to use terms to identify historically marginalized groups in an effort to precipitate greater progress, inclusiveness, acceptance inevitably runs the risk of further minoritizing these groups.
In the wake of the 2nd convening of the American Voices New Play Institute at Arena Stage in Washington, D.C., which focused on Black Playwrights this year, race has been a heated topic on theatre blogs lately. Parabasis, 99 Seats, and Love’s Labors Lost, in particular, have been spearheading honest, thoughtful conversations about race in the American theatre industry and in society at large. The question I keep going back to in light of all these recent discussions of all these dimensions of diversity is — What is OUR goal, really? And is there truly a WE, or are we just a bunch of I’s giving lip service to this notion? Personalities and political views will clash. Tastes will differ. And yet, I remain a desperate optimist, hoping that the shared passion for theatre will unite the Community. In spite of his own frustration with racial inequity in the American theatre, 99Seats remains a proponent of integration. And from my standpoint as an advocate for gender equity in theatre employment and programming, I favor integration (racial, gender, LGBT, etc.) also. In response to the grim findings of studies published in 2008 and 2009 about gender inequity in the industry, I see what appears offhand to be positive action being taken by women theatre practitioners with the emergence of several new women-oriented companies, two in Massachusetts alone (Gan-E-meed Theatre Project and WAM Theatre). This means, at the very least, that in these areas of the country there will be more opportunities available to women in theatre, more community dialogue and awareness of social injustices that affect women, and more creative and collaborative support systems in place. But will this trend (once again) of more ‘specialty’ (diversity-specific) companies lend itself to the rest of the theatre landscape remaining complacent and unchanged? And if so, are we okay with this? And is true integration, then, an impossible dream?