On a chilly November evening my good friend Beth and I attended Eve Ensler’s latest theatrical creation, “Emotional Creature.” Beth is a statistician who works at the Teachers College of Columbia University. As we all know, stats is a field dominated by men. This is a fact she has dealt with repeatedly, from middle school right through her PhD program, when she was usually the only woman, and most often the only white woman, in class.
Beth and I share a common modern feminist viewpoint about 21st century feminism that has bonded us together in our 10 years of knowing each other. We believe in the strengths of the individual, despite gender. We work to navigate our relationships with our partners in such a way that responsibilities are shared, and we also acknowledge that we all have strengths and weaknesses. We strive to have families in which career duties, personal goals, and expectations are equally shared and respected.
So it was from this point of view that we sat down in a small theater in New York City to see Emotional Creature. I had scanned The New York Times review and was prepared for the high school style of approach that Ensler took with songs, costumes, and the set. The costumes reeked of that “hottie in the short skirt and knee-high” look and the set was a cross between a teen’s bedroom and a high school locker room.
But after the opening number I was confused. I looked around the theater at an audience filled with baby boomers and a few from Gen X-ers, but the music sounded like a track from Glee.
The opening monologue recapped the generic problems that accompany the average high school girl through teen-hood: being ostracized by the “in” crowd, not dressing cool enough, having bad hair, and having all the “wrong” friends. Ok, nothing new there. “Let’s get to the meaty stuff,” I thought.
Moving forward, the play touched briefly on many womens’ issues–teen pregnancy, lesbianism, teen rebellion, plastic surgery, the sex trade, sexual mutilation, and sex crimes during war. Then in a video compilation accompanied by a song in which the cast yells “pussy riot” and breaks into a STOMP-like rhythm number, Ensler highlighted certain historical and modern figures who have worked to bring social change for women.
When the lights came up I feel short changed. There was nothing new presented in the piece about the state of feminism in the 21st century. In fact, I don’t feel the play does much of anything to move feminism forward, but instead perpetuates antiquated ideas of victimhood amongst women.
Beth and I are modern moms. We work, we raise families, and we balance all that comes with those responsibilities. We read books and blogs on raising our kids and how to balance our relationships. We work for social change in our fields and want our children to respect their parents equally. We certainly don’t yell “pussy riot” when we feel our husbands should be doing more housework. To induce a riot means that there is an entity to riot against, and I don’t believe this to be true.
The fastest way for women to be respected in our western society is to remove ourselves from any association with being victims, rise to the occasion, and take on leadership roles and responsibility for the positive influence and change we can bring to our society. We won’t achieve much wishing, hoping, or begging for someone else to do the dirty work of finding our voice.
So to Ms. Ensler, I would have to say, “I am more than an Emotional Creature. I am more than a mom or a writer, wife or teacher. I am a person who doesn’t identify with my weaknesses, but chooses to identify with my strengths. Are there plans for a play about that kind of woman?” I hope so, because the women I know would find that refreshing and far more honest than rehashing decades of old feminista leftovers.