Thursday, 7 April 2011

This One's For the Ladies...

Originally published March 10, 2011...

Hello Friends.

Well, I hope you enjoyed your day, women around the world. I’m glad we solved that pesky gender-inequality thing. So we’re good now, right?

I saw the play Oleanna by David Mamet last week at Soulpepper Theatre, and it was amazing. The play deserves, in my opinion, to be read and passed around like a great novel. It should be up there with The Great Gatsby and Catcher in the Rye and Judy Blume’s Fudge series in stuff that just ought to be read. I studied Oleanna for a semester in my third year of university and put on act two of the play (the whole thing is a two-hander, which is a theatrical term meaning the performers in the scene each have two hands) for my final grade. It was one of those experiences that was wholly discouraging to me as a wannabe actor, but completely inspiring to me as a wannabe playwright. As an actor, I knew I could work for years on this play and never, ever get it. I just don’t have the acting chops to portray something that well-written. But as a writer, or at least an appreciator of good writing, the play amazes me. Even after reading it countless times, I turned to my lovely companions at intermission and said, “I can’t believe this was written by one person.” The reason I say that is this: the crux of the play is that two people, a woman and a man interpret the same series of events in wildly different ways. The woman and the man both believe they are absolutely right, and they are. Each person thinks the other one is absolutely wrong, and they are. I won’t go into the story here, you’ll just have to read it (or see it!! Closing March 19 at Soulpepper, rush tickets are only $22, just go and thank me later), but let’s just say terrible things are alleged and terrible things occur and if you come down definitively on the side of one character over the other, the message of the play is either men are pigs or women are bitches. Our fellow theatre-goers, judging from the murmuring we could hear after the show, seemed to believe this production proved the latter true. I was shocked to see that The Globe and Mail thought so too. The reviewer claimed that this production left no doubt in anyone’s mind who was right and who was wrong, calling the woman character “emotionally disturbed” and a “feminazi.”

Maybe the reviewer is right. Maybe this production was slanted to cast the man as the clear-cut hero and the woman as the villain. Maybe that was Mamet’s intention all along. Or maybe there is a far more insidious notion at play here, one far more pervasive in our culture than we’d care to admit. That I, as a man, one who strives to be progressive and forward-thinking would be loathe to consider in myself. That we have not come a long way, baby. That beyond lip-service and one fucking day of acknowledgement a year, statistics on wage disparity, worldwide reproductive rights, domestic abuse, sexual assault and a plethora of other issues getting worse instead of better seem to indicate that feminism is something we’ll get around to later.

But I’m no feminist scholar like Camille Paglia or Katha Pollitt or Lady Gaga. I’m just a guy with a blog and lots of crazy sitcom-inspired scenarios in my head. Yet I want to be a real feminist, good and true. I want to wear one of those t-shirts that say “This is What a Feminist Looks Like” and have people go “Yeahhhh” instead of “Grossss.” But there may be only one way to truly appreciate the feminist cause; to understand it all deep in my bones. It is my new Dream.

Dream: To spend 24 hours as a woman. No, let’s make it 48, I think I’d spend the first 24 in consult with
whatever mystical being made this come to pass. “Now you’re sure I’ma gonna git my weiner back tomorrah?”

Goal: Unachievable, of course. Yes, there are ways for a man to become a woman, but there’s no takesies-backsies. I want to experience it just for a weekend so I can turn back into guy James and be like, “What the hell?!?!” By the way, did you ever see those people on Oprah who, as men, grew up, got married, had children, and then in mid-life decided to have a sex change and “become their true selves?” I’m not minimizing what is surely an extremely difficult internal conflict, but really? Why get married if you secretly felt this way but weren’t able to admit it? Why have children? And then these men who transition to women expect their wives to stick by them and continue on the life they always lead, but as a different gender. I know they have lady-parts, but the notion that they would throw the lives of their loved ones in great upheaval for the sake of their own satisfaction and then expect things to continue on as they were? That’s something only a man would do, methinks.

Plan: For the sake of this entry, let us all suspend our disbelief and pretend this could actually happen. That if you were found to be of sound mind and body, you could pay a fee and have this medical team perform a temporary sex-change that would last for two days. Of course there would be an uphill battle, but the procedure would become legal in Canada first, but only a few states in the States would allow it, like Vermont and Massachusetts and it would lead to a dangerous rise in illegal lady-makers, operating out of the backs of vans in the cover of night. But for 48 hours you’d get the complete physical makeup of the opposite sex and everyone you came into contact with for that 48 would think you were that gender your whole life. So if I saved my pennies, let’s say, and for my 30th birthday bought a Chick Weekend, here’s what I would do:

Play with my boobs. I’m sorry but I totally would. Jon and I watched this documentary a few weeks ago called Boobs: An American Obsession and it was all about the objectification of, and the awesome power yielded by, a woman’s breasts. It was fascinating. There was nothing in it that was new and startling information, but it was interesting to hear things articulated that everybody pretends they don’t think about, but everyone does. I can’t imagine what it must be like to be judged instantly by a physical attribute you have absolutely no control over. And even if a woman tries to hide her breasts by baggy clothes or taping them down (which must be crazy painful), that in itself sends a message; breasts seem even more noticeable if they are somehow concealed, how fucked up is that? And I have to say, I’m really confused by the fashion trend of late where women wear shirts that v-neck down to the bottoms of their ribcage or lower, so as to show off the whole area between her breasts. That girl from Glee was on the cover of something recently, we carry the magazine where I work, and her neck to just above her belly button was totally exposed. Maybe that’s just a different way to show cleavage, one that small-breasted women in particular can utilize, but all I see in those pictures is clavicle. I go right to the protruding collar-bone or the jutting out breastbone and think, “Too skinny, what’s wrong? Are you eating? Girl from Glee, what did you eat today?” But again, that’s just not something I will understand or appreciate until I get my own lady parts. By the way, those of who going, “Oh that’s ridiculous! A woman wouldn’t just sit around playing with her boobs all day!” I beg you to consider where I’m coming from. Given some free time, men would play with their junk from sun-up to sundown.

Stand tall and speak up. If you can, watch a group of young men, then a group of young women, walking out of a bar. The men are loud and boisterous, crashing into each other and just generally taking up space. The women can be loud and boisterous too, but they’re baby-stepping in their heels and tugging down at their skirts and hugging their chests and just being so little. This is of course a huge generalization on my part, but I happened to see this exact scenario once outside the same bar. And how many movie posters, Facebook pictures, or magazine ads to we have to see where the man is standing, feet firmly planted, tough and strong, and the woman is facing him in profile? Tilting her head deferentially, or hunching to squeeze in, as if to be an accessory to his hulking frame? And how many DVD covers have to show the woman looking up at the man who looks down at her? Or where the woman looks to the man in a zany way and the man looks to the camera as if to say, “How am I gonna get out of this one!?!” Do you ever see that reversed? Do you? And when I’m a woman, I’m going to be loud. Like Bill O’Reilly loud. Maybe this is a trend of men and women, but I definitely notice it more in women where there seems to be a prize for the person who can speak the softest in every day situations. I work with this young woman who is super funny and kind and pretty and she speaks so softly I can barely hear her. She’ll crack a great joke no one will hear and I just want to shake her by the shoulders and say, “Speak up! Don’t slouch! Be hilarious and awesome and let us all hear you!” But that’s the kind of behaviour that gets me uninvited to a lot of sweet sixteen parties.

Finally, if I were a woman, I’d dress up as a black male comedian and ask anyone if it was funny. Yes, white comedians do this too but I can’t think of many examples where a movie is based on this premise and the joke seems to be on the woman. But come on, Eddie Murphy, what are you doing? Is that what you think of women? Martin Lawrence, how many Big Momma’s House movies before you acknowledge the crazy misogyny going on there? Isn’t it hilarious when old fat women wear ugly dresses and break the beds their sleeping on? Ha ha ha. And Tyler Perry, I wish I understood it. Not that he needs my understanding, Tyler Perry has an empire of tremendously successful plays and movies, many which feature Perry in drag as his character Medea, a wise-cracking old lady who offers lessons. But if that is the purpose this character serves, why is she played by a man? There’s no older actress who can convincingly play the matriarch of a large family, who is Christian and loving and sassy? Why does a character who supposedly embodies the wisdom of the female experience have to be carried on your broad shoulders, sir? Because it’s funnier? What’s so fucking funny about it?
The sad thing about this Dream is that it exists only as a false premise. I will never be a woman, nor do I have real desire to be one, but I do want to know. I want to understand, if only to keep seeing the inconsistencies and injustices in a society some claim to be “equal.” And let me clarify that being a gay man gives me no extra knowledge of, or sensitivity to, the issues of women. It really refries my beans when gay guys think they get some sort of “woman’s pass” where they can make raunchy jokes and grab breasts with impunity because “it doesn’t count, we’re the same!” It does count, we’re not the same. But I will say that I’ve enjoyed countless amazing relationships with women that straight men aren’t often privy to. It’s weird how so many straight men my age seem to only know what they truly know about women based on their interactions with their mother, or sisters, and then their girlfriends or wives. We could all use a few more lessons about the other half of the world’s population, even if some of these lessons are really hard to learn. But we can handle it, I think. We just have to nut-up, grow a pair, and take it like a man.

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