There has been, of late, a lot of horrifying and enlightening discussions regarding discrimination and sexual harassment in the improvisation community. Each article, blog post and interview adds a deeper level of complexity to an already multidimensional conversation.
Though perhaps it isn’t all that complex. Treat people with respect. Simple. Their body is not your plaything; they are not your comedy fodder. Respect. Full stop.
As the circle of discussion widens to include many onstage and offstage frustrations, I’ve noticed a phrase that comes up again and again. Women improvisers saying;
‘I am always labeled as Mother, Daughter, Wife and Girlfriend.’
The comment communicates a negative feeling that these roles are a limitation, a burden, and a role the improviser doesn’t want to play. As a result it implies these roles are lesser roles.
Why do we consider these female roles as a burden or limitation?
I mean as women we are Mothers, Daughters, Wives, and Girlfriends.
Do we think that Mothers, Daughters, Wives, and Girlfriends are boring and unimportant?
Of course not, so why do we dislike playing them?
When cast as Mother, Daughter, Wife, Girlfriend some women express feeling like their status was deliberately lowered or they felt cast in a ‘nothing’ role. Perhaps we see these roles as sub-servant, obedient, voiceless and there to serve a male agenda. This is worrying. Perhaps it triggers our fight for equality and challenges us to defend our beliefs. Could we be leaping to an unnecessary defensive position? The answer to that question lies in the specifics of the scene, situation and company culture.
However, women are obviously feeling shackled playing these characters. There is a sense of these roles not being fun and what women want is the freedom and variety to be cast as the Captain of a Pirate ship swinging from the ropes. Arrrr! Where strength is strength and not a definition of masculinity or femininity.
I think the shackles are actually self inflicted. We here these roles and think – NO! We don’t want to play house when there are worlds to explore, aliens to fight and secret worlds to uncover. We apply a sterotype to the Mother, Daughter, Wife, Girlfriend role a stereotype perpetuated in life, TV, Film and literature.
However these titles Mother, Daughter, Wife and Girlfriend are simply identifiers denoting a relationship.
Think about it.
Mother is a relationship – not a definition of character.
You get to create the character that is the Mother.
Seeing the Mother relationship as a character description is a limitation we are applying. We cast them in the stereotype role and limit ourselves.
Mother, Daughter, Wife and Girlfriend are relationship identifiers not a description of the person. It does not restrict what the character can do, their occupation, how they act, think, their morality, abilities, financial situation or status. It is simply how they are connected to the people in their lives. It is a connection not a restriction. Somewhere lingering in the grey goo of our minds we must see it as a restriction if so many women are verbalizing displeasure at being endowed in these roles.
We are mixing being endowed in a relationship role as being cast in a stereotypical character. We forget we have the power of choice to play the stereotype or not. There is nothing wrong with playing the stereotype either. We need these characters in our stories, we need characters that are apron wearing gentle, nurturing and quiet, and we need virgins, bitches, and whores. I think we just don’t want to be forced into or limited to playing the same type of characters all the time. Yet we may be the ones trapping ourselves.
If you feel stuck, bored or trapped playing Mother, Daughter, Wife and Girlfriend change it up. Inspiration is all around us. Look at your own relationships or do a little research to stimulate your mind.
There are many amazing and varied Mothers, Daughters, Wives and Girlfriend roles in history, literature and on the big or small screen.
The Lioness of Brittany, just see what happens when you piss off a Mother of 5. She was not a gentle, demur, subservient obedient woman.
Grace O’Malley led a 20-ship fleet that stood up to the might of the British monarchy.
Lucille Ball outstanding comedian and the first woman to run a production company in the USA.
Queen Elizabeth, can you get higher status?
Gemma Teller from Sons of Anarchy is a lady in leather you don’t mess with.
Shakespeare’s Lady Macbeth power hungry, shrewd and calculating.
Chaucer’s The Wife of Bath lewd and lascivious plus she argues for female dominance and a woman’s right to control her body.
Cleopatra VII Philopator was the last active pharaoh of Ptolemaic Egypt,
Rosa Parks stood up to discrimination by refusing to give up her seat to a white man.
Ching Shin terrorised the China Sea in the early 19th century commanding over 300 ships manned by 20,000 to 40,000 pirates.
Dorothy Hodgkin British biochemist who developed protein crystallography, for which she won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry.
Tolkien’s Éowyn a shieldmaden who killed the Witch-king of Angmar.
Arya Stark of Game of Throne’s a young, vulnerable, survivor (last I checked).
Roald Dahl’s Maltilda a prank pulling genius with a high moral code.
Saint Joan of Arc lead an army at the tender age of 19.
Indria Gandhi was Prime Minister of India.
Emilia Plater made a commanding officer of the 1st company of the Polish–Lithuanian 25th Infantry Regiment.
Mae Jemison first African- American woman to travel in space aboard the Space Shuttle Endeavour. She is a dancer, and holds nine honorary doctorates in science, engineering, letter, and the humanities.
Thelma and Louise meek housewife and waitress on the run from the law.
Lavern and Shirley – Shirley perky and positive and Lavern a cynical gal who likes to pick up sailors.
Mary Tyler Moore show’s Mary Richards and Valerie Harper single women with jobs.