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Week 13--Feminist Drama

Anne Dalke's picture
In her essay on Emily Dickinson, Adrienne Rich said that "the novel...can be a construct, planned and organized to deal with human experiences on one level at a time. Poetry is too much rooted in the unconscious; it presses too close against the barriers of repression...."

This week and next we turn our attention to a third genre, that of drama. Post here your reactions to The Heidi Chronicles and/or How I Learned to  Drive (which we're reading this week) and/or Age of Arousal (which we'll be viewing next week @ the Wilma). I invite especially your thoughts about how theater operates as a critical feminist text or intervention. How  does it differ,  in its form and in its working, from  the novels and poetry we've just been reading?
Pemwrez2009's picture


So, Jessy, i like you I think we could be friends. All of these talks about relationships, why do women need traditional monogynous relationships to be fulfilled, there is far too much emphasis on this sort of narrative. This doesn’t help the single mothers or alternate family dynamics who aren’t benefiting on a economic and societal level from not being with one partner, yet alone, one male partner.

Also, I just want to make a point of saying that I think the gay male figure is extremely privileged in society at least nowadays, (just clarifying, NOT in the late 80’s and early 90’s). Also, definitely not in bible belt, America. However, in popular culture, we are showered by images of the flamboyant gay man in all of his fabulousness. There is an entire culture of gay men who are redo-ing the hopeless straightman’s wardrobe and singing “it’s raining men”, cosmo in hand in tight jeans a funkyfresh hairdo and pink polo which we see all the time! Meanwhile, the lesbians have one television show, on Shotime, which you have to pay extra for, and we have one and half mainstream comedians, oh and of course Dick Cheney’s daughter...but lets not get into that one. If a straight woman is friends with a gay man she is a “fag hag”...and furthermore, just the fact that straight people are even saying the word “fag” even if it is in conjunction with “hag” is completely gross to me. Anyway, “all of the good ones are gay”...this just gives the male figure more fuel for the fire. But yes, it is true, men get fucked over by the patriarchy too. And we can see that with Peter’s role in Heidi. 

kwheeler's picture

Can we really have it all?

Having just seen Age of Arousal and read the Heidi Chronicles I’m beginning to see a pattern of feminist women making sacrifices and ending up alone. It would have been nice to end with a more upbeat piece! It’s depressing that in Age of Arousal Mary tells Monica that in thirty years women will be able to marry and not have to compromise their feminist ideals because men and women will be equal. Sure, feminists have made a lot of progress but I don’t think we’re anywhere near being as equal as first wave feminists envisioned we would be by now. Even in the 60s when the Heidi Chronicles is set we see that feminists can’t have it all. Heidi essentially has to make a choice between being alone or staying true to her values. For all those who think that feminism is dead or no longer necessary I guess this is evidence that we still have a long way to go… After the performance Professor Dalke assured us that we can “have it all”, I guess it would have been nice to have even some fictional examples of that. It reminds me of Kauffman’s argument that feminism is about justice and not happiness. If we can really have it all then why do all of these authors seem to think that having feminist values means compromise things?

YJ's picture

Feminist Plays?

I do think feminist plays could be a powerful alternative to the novel in terms of pushing us to think harder about what feminism is and should be. I'm not sure what exactly that feminism drama would look like or be-though I do think there's something to be said about both plays this week leaving us feeling sad.

What I really wanted to talk about though, is Heidi's role in "The Heidi Chronicles" (brilliant title, which I think I may appropriate for myself). I think it's fitting that she ends up "alone" (though with a child) because she is the individual in the play. She can't quite fit into the "sisterhood" of feminism because they won't let her be who she wants to be and she certainly can't fit in with the "good 'ole boys" who can't or won't understand her as an individual. To me, I read Heidi as a sort of prohet for the next wave of feminism, a woman looking forward to the future because it's only gotta get better from here, right? The ending of the play, with Heidi moving into an empty space, away from all the other people of her life in order to better write is a literal rendition of Virginia Woolf's call for "a room of one's own."

For me, one major difference between reading a play and a novel is that I'm forced to try and visualize the play a lot more. In this way, the ending of "The Heidi Chronicles" was more powerful to me because I could literally envision Heidi sweeping into this gorgeous, empty and silent room with sunlight flooding in-the most serene-looking place ever and I literally felt happy for her. I also literally cringed when Scoop came waltzing in, completely disturbing the quiet and peacefulness of the space.

Abby's picture

Paula Vogel is the woman

I just have to say how happy I am that we are reading Paula Vogel's work.  If you enjoyed How I Learned To Drive I reccomend checking out The Baltimore Waltz and Five Other Plays.  It includes my personal favorite: And Baby Makes Seven, as well as Hot n' Throbbing, The Oldest Profession and other great ones...

 Anyway, perhaps it's too late to squeeze into the lesson plan for today, but I'll try. 

 I can't shake the last image of the play.  The idea that Peck will always be in Li'l Bit's backseat, always in the back of her mind.  He is the one who initiated her into so many aspects of "adult life," long before she was ready, and he will always be imprinted on her.  When Li'l Bit asks "who did it to you?" is the moment when she matures, when she actually does become an adult, I think.  Realizing that people are not necessarily born evil, or warped, rather that they are taught, conditioned. 

llauher's picture

This is clearly keeping me up nights...

I must really love this class, because it drives me up the wall when I miss it.

I had a hard time reading The Heidi Chronicles, and I'm really wondering whether or not it had to do with missing class. I feel like I gain so much perspective on the readings and absorb so much more from them after a nice heated debate or two. I'm also a very visual person, so I have a hard time reading stage directions and such, without acting them out or seeing them interpreted and performed by someone else.

In spite of this difficulty, I absorbed and enjoyed enough to agree with Abs when it comes to the "Hello New York" scene. I was so wildly frustrated by both Peter and Scoop. I read the play on Sunday, and that anger still sticks (maybe because I didn't get to work out the kinks with the class). I second Abby's notion that Peter and Scoop blend to become a single, oppressing voice and force against Heidi. I feel like this is where Matos' point comes in effectively-- I expected (wanted?) Peter to be inherently better than Scoop, whether for his homosexuality (which could put him on the same plane of oppression as Heidi, as a female feminist) or for the simple fact that he knew Heidi so well. I'm inclined to go back and re-read the Chronicles, to see if Peter redeems himself in my eyes or just lets me down.


matos's picture

First of all I really

First of all I really enjoyed The Heidi Chronicles . It was an interesting perspective on three decades of women's issues.

In response to Abby's and Jessy's posts, I guess I want to sort of continue the dialogue about the Peter-Heidi relationship as a representation of a sort of straight woman/gay man alliance. It was pointed out that Peter failed as an "ally" when he silenced Heidi etc but Peter was also semi-victimized in this story. He was turned away from the "women's only" march for being "paternal" and "caustic". I think this goes with the theme of "feminism" being inclusive only on the surface.

rmeyer's picture

Class Summary: "Attending to a new genre: feminist drama"

Okay, this is my second attempt in posting this, so bare with me...

In today's class we started off with basic technical stuff and Anne brought up the Bi-College News article titled, "Evolving Technology, Evolving Feminism" which specifically talks about this course and the involvement of the alums. How does this inter-generational dialogue contribute to feminism?

In other news: Barack Obama continues to campaign against Hillary Clinton with his "post feminist" ideals seen in the article in the NY Times titled, "Feminist Pitch by a Democrat Named Obama." He says that gender shouldn't be the basis of our choice.

Now for the class discussion....

We began by finishing up some left-over postings from last week's readings which brought us to the idea of marginality and being privileged:

Lydia presented the question of, "why are great woman artists not remembered?"

other questions we began to ask were:

-who gets read and who doesn't?

-what does voice have to do with being able to write?

-being privileged?

Then we moved on to Wendy Wasserstein:

"Attending to a new genre: feminist drama"

After Emily shared her summary of The Heidi Chronicles we discussed questions and ideas such as:

-what does this play add to feminism?

*a feminist viewpoint towards the workplace

*demands the NEED for new representations and interpretations of heterosexual relationships

-why did we ignore and fail to highlight the heterosexual relationship seen in Kindred? Is it because it is the norm?

*slave/master relationship was bigger?

-is it possible to be a happy heterosexual feminist? and have it all?

Many people in class have asked to explore more heterosexual readings, which brought us back to discuss Adrienne Rich's 21 Love Poems. Ann added a post that asked us why we couldn't find "universality in the lesbian poems?"

Moving on to dig deeper into The Heidi Chronicles, we broke up into four groups, each choosing 2 pages from play to PERFORM.

Reading drama VS. PERFORMING drama:

It was really interesting to see the reactions and feelings related to PERFORMING bits of the play versus reading the play.

-what kind of feminism does performing this play portray?

*Heidi is attacked/challenged and doesn't appear to have a voice

*not a happy story

*Heidi is in the middle with all these people "swirling" around her

*she is the silent woman

*victimized by certain aspects of feminism

There seemed to be a lot of laughter when performing the scenes...

-where does this laughter come from?

*the ridiculousness?

-challenges deeper social structures

We ended the class with talking about different types of performances and how the idea of feminism should or could be performed:

-through comedy? is it appropriate to use comedy to get the ideas of feminism across to an audience?

-what do we want an audience to feel when an feminist production is put on?

-do we want to feel UNSETTLED?

Perhaps "How I Learned to Drive" will provoke an even greater unsettled feeling...

Abby's picture

"I love you, Heidi"

  First off, thanks to Jessy for her above post.  These questions were in my mind as well while reading the book, especially the one pertaining to the absence of a model for a heterosexual, monogamous relationship that is also feminist...what can I say, I'm a little preoccupied with that question.  But anyway, I'm also really intrigued by Heidi's "Women, Where are We Going Speech" in Act Two, Scene Four.  She ends with a confession of real  loneliness as a feminist, as someone who had expected to find a place of belonging and ended up having to face the nasty reality that it's every woman for herself.  It strikes me as a call to, above all else, sisterhood.  Come to think of it, none of the female relationships in this play really strike me as deep and important.  I was more often distrustful of any woman in this text other than Heidi.  The scene in Act One with the meeting of the Huron Street Ann Arbor Consciousness-raising Rap Group set the tone for me in terms of feeling this way I think.  It always felt like these women were performing for each other, performing feminism as opposed to really investing in it. 

  To switch subjects, I also think that in terms of the whole "are gay men and feminists really allies" question, the "Hello, New York" interview scene with Scoop and Peter says volumes.  This scene is a clear representation of female silencing.  Both Scoop and Peter, though one can be superficially labeled an asshole and the other more genuine, shut Heidi up.  Actually, they don't even give her a change to speak.  Then they can't understand why the hell she's so upset.  It's quite astonishing to me that, despite their opposition to each other throughout the entire rest of the play in this scene, Scoop and Peter are almost indistinguishable.  They become the same figure, the same voice.  Maybe the fact that Peter's sexuality is not open and out there for every one to know has someting to do with it.  Could Peter be a different person when he is performing the image of a "normal" heterosexual pediatrician?  Does this performance of "normalcy" relegate him to acting out oppression?  Hmm...

One Student's picture

The Heidi Chronicles: A Few Opening Questions

First impression of The Heidi Chronicles is pleasurable. Snappy dialogue, easy read. Pleasant and touching.

But I responded to someone a little while ago who said that straight girls are people, too, and who wanted to read about heterosexual ways to be feminist. What I think is problematic for the woman-attracted-to-men feminist who reads THC is that first of all Heidi does not have romance in her (happy?) ending and second that Heidi's happiness lies in her hopes for the future, her hopes for her daughter, not in her current happiness. Yes, Heidi isn't finding happiness in a man, and she isn't defining herself in reference to a man - both Peter and Scoop are important to her, but she is not their mother, sister, wife, girlfriend or lover (or by no means solely girlfriend/lover, in Scoop's case). That's good. That's something, right? But what about the heterosexual woman who wants romance in her happy ending, who wants marriage? THC, at least, doesn't provide a model for a heterosexual monogamous etc. marriage which is also feminist. I know how important models of queerness have been for me: we build on what comes before. Where is a model for a heterosexual monogamous etc. marriage which is also feminist? Possibly one of the other plays, which I don't have time to read right now ...

Another question which interests me is the alliance between women and gay men. For one thing, are all the good men gay? I've had women tell me that they'd like to turn lesbian which ... I don't exactly like hearing, even though I know they mean well. But not dealing with men doesn't make life peachy keen. Trust me, this is my seventh year of single-sex education, and I've never even tried to go out with a guy. People socialized as women tend to cause different kinds of trouble than people socialized as men. But they do cause trouble for the ones close to them, too.

(No, I don't think Heidi understands what it's like to be a gay man at the beginning of the AIDS epidemic when a whole generation of gay men were dying off from ridiculous and terrible diseases and before the disease was understood and before there were any effective medications; no, you can't understand another the nature of another person's suffering, you can only understand that they are suffering.)

Also, Scoop seems to need Heidi more than she needs him, and she breaks the traditional heterosexual mold more successfully than him - she's sad, but she's not staying in one place. Men get fucked by the patriarchy, too (I'm not even going to try to compare the way men and women and others are effected by the patriarchy; but it's not an Us vs. Them situation.) It's possible to argue that women have more resources with which to fight (they've needed them more?).