I ran my first impressions of Animal past the director before posting it, and his questions on three important aspects of the play inspired an early morning reply that I think should sit beside the original piece.The director asked if I had picked up the theme of absent fathers and I had to admit that while that theme would have registered with me, my opinions on the situation presented to the characters by absent fathers would not be put forward because I am not a man. I can only write what I know, and I know how social systems treat women. It is as plain as the nose on my face that the patriarchy project is just as destructive for men as for women, but I am not tempted to put forward opinions on how men mediate their own sense of identity. My only legitimate concern is how they create their identity in relation to women, and I have no problem expressing my opinion in that area. How men deal with their male role models is the remit of men, and I simply hope that they will steer away from the old model of manhood being constructed on the foundation of domination over and the inequality of others.
The second point was a very good one, he pointed out that I had not discussed Pongo’s mother and her personal actions. These actions were based on political ideas that were only widely accepted as right and civil decades after her actions were carried out, to her grave disadvantage in her lifetime. I had not really needed to discuss her heroic and progressive ideas because I know that, no matter what the patriarchy project communicates through cultural mediums, large numbers of women dissenting and acting on that dissent is a millennia long tradition.
I expect to find people with modern political ideas in the past because it is a legitimate and essential part of being a historian. No matter WHO or WHAT you are looking for between the lines of Great Man History, the great project of history is to find the statistics and sources that show the people not seen by the patriarchy project. What always gives me pause is when a punter whose only consumption of history is mediated by the patriarchy project dismisses the existence of dissenters because they simply haven’t heard of them. The generation of Pongo's mother were the best of dissenters, as the director points out, because they resisted social norms because it was right, not because there was a society that supported the legitimacy of their ideas.
For me it is even more interesting that this generation of women participated in the workforce for five years and clearly demonstrated that men and women could contribute equally to the public and private sphere. These women showed extraordinary grace when that contribution was ignored and reversed, they showed great forgiveness towards the wilful blindness of the men in power and they paved the way for the feminist movement. The fact that I expect to see such women respectfully portrayed on stage, as in Animal, reminds me of the privileged position I hold as the student of history illuminated by feminism and other challenges to Great Man History. I am an anomaly on Earth now and in history in general because I am allowed to voice these opinions openly and without the grave disadvantage Pongo’s mother endured.
And finally the director asked me to unpack my dislike of female hysteria on stage, and while I would really like to reframe my reply, I think it is better that my raw dissent (although edited for plot spoilers, personal information and sense) is communicated as I framed it this morning:
“Dr Lee is portrayed with even emotional delivery almost all the time, and when the play has moments of what I regard as moments for an actress to show 'typical hysteria', her reactions are real and logical, not hysterical. Sally really got to me with her brief but utterly lost emotions.
I really respect you and Sally for not using the shorthand of ‘the mother/woman who brings womanly humanity to her job because she can't separate her private emotions from her public emotions.' Most people see an actress on stage giving an emotionally stable and even delivery of large emotional changes as cold and impersonal. I find that kind of direction of actresses more useful. I hate female hysterics on stage. I hate it. I hate it in Shakespeare; I hate it in modern work, I HATE FEMALE HYSTERIA ON STAGE.
Just so we are clear! :)
I dislike Ophelia and most direction of Kate in Shrew. I really, really disliked Rylance's fluttering and hysterical Olivia in The Globe's Original Practice Twelfth Night (although the actor playing Maria was amazing, not a trace of hysteria and he was utterly convincing as a woman). The notion that female characters on stage communicate strong feeling with hysteria is archaic and holding a lot of actresses back from the way they would like to portray characters.
GAH. Sorry. I just really, really hate hysterical women portrayed as the norm in characters.
Women are tough, we enter the world of being an adult at thirteen with hormones and blood and the potential to be raped almost inherent in our lives, we are the emotional rock of entire networks of families that never thank us and mock us for our emotional range, and then we have to endure the dramatic conventions of making angry male characters powerful or dangerous and angry female characters screaming, crying messes. Fuck. Angry men get weapons and wars and great speeches and cold fury and terror. And we get crying. I really, really fucking hate it.
And that is my early morning rant.
Yay for F Word Friday ...”