Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The things you're allowed to say and who you're allowed to say them to

In an article in today's Guardian Jenni Murray notes that women's theatre has been held back by 'a fear of doing damage to the sisterhood':
You rarely saw a feminist play where the women characters were weak, bad or stupid. As the playwright April de Angelis put it in a 1997 lecture she gave at Birmingham University, female writers have worried that men might see a play about compromised and conflicted women, and say, "Well, if she's saying it, it must be true, and we were right all along to say women have no rights in society, should get back to the kitchen, have children, etc." There's a fear, De Angelis confessed, of writing an "incorrect" woman character. All of which has meant that the feminist theatre of the 80s and 90s has been long on consciousness-raising, but short on laughs.

Which makes me think immediately of what happened when my satirical first radio play, Rhyme or Reason, was broadcast. This was a play about a single mother taken in hand by a childless 'feminist' who sees fit to inculcate her into feminist theories including those of motherhood. All in all, she bosses her about something rotten and generally betrays, to comic effect, how little she actually knows. It was a play, as so many of my plays, about the gap we often encounter between theory and practice, and about the power that some of us wield over others, often unwittingly, in the guise of do-gooding, and I suppose, yes, it was also about certain bullying aspects I felt had emerged in the women's movement - and which were really nothing to do with the true aims of feminism, but were indeed a corruption of them - and which are now of course well documented.

Oh dear. There's me having a coffee with a mate a year or so later and she tells me that she was at this meeting, and there were women up in arms at what I had done to the women's movement with that play - especially as it had won a prize: let's face it, it had been a suck to antifeminism, and as such it had been rewarded by the antifeminist establishment.

Wow. No wonder there was that frosty reception that time I went to that feminist book launch...

And ten years later there I am in the print shop in the village and a woman I haven't seen for years, not since the time I wrote the play, comes up and explains to me, more kindly, her still-held personal opinion on the matter: There was nothing wrong with writing it, but what was wrong was doing it for national radio, for the ears of those who could use it to condemn. The only place to say such things was within the movement itself.


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