Ch01.B24 A new universal
In mid-2014, I saw a play called Grounded at Red Stitch in Melbourne that felt thrillingly subversive. Not because of its subject matter, although it was an unflinching examination of the moral and psychological cost of drone warfare on its perpetrators.
But because the sole character, an ace fighter pilot turned drone operator, was a woman, yet the play was not specifically about a female fighter pilot. It didn’t explore what it was like to be a woman in that environment. It simply examined what it was like to be a human being wrestling with guilt and fear.
In other words, it was a universal story, told by a woman. And I had never seen that in the theatre before.
In Western culture, more often than not, we tell our universal stories through men. The male is the default position, and a story about a man is a story about the human condition. The female, however, is ‘other’, and a story told through women is seen as being about ‘female’ things.
Well, I call bullshit.
I’ve realised that over the past year or so I have started to reject stories about men as being universal. They just don’t do it for me any more. We tell so few stories about women, so excluding women from stories that are supposed to be about us all just feels totally wrong.
You know those optical illusion pictures where it takes you ages to see the hidden image and then once you do it’s all you can see? That’s how I feel now when I see/hear/read something with no female characters – it doesn’t matter how good the story is, all I can see is the lack of women.
If I don’t see an attempt to acknowledge my existence, then I’m just not going to bother trying to engage with the message.
I made a decision recently to stop spending my money on films with few or no women in them. Leo may have deserved that Oscar, but I wouldn’t know. Of 51 characters listed on The Revenant‘s IMDb page, only 5 are female. As a friend put it, the bear had a bigger role than the women in that movie.
So I haven’t seen it, because if the filmmakers don’t care enough about women to include us in the story, then it’s not a story intended for me. It can’t be universal, because there are women in my universe. Quite a lot of them, with quite amazing stories to tell.
It’s actually liberating. To look at something and go ‘Oh, it’s not for me!’, and turn it off, flip the page, scroll down, move on. To actively question the lack of women, so that the creators are reminded it’s a choice they’ve made, not a default position.
And to search out stories which allow women to speak for all of us and treat female stories as human stories. Because the more often we hear them, the less ‘other’ they will seem.
There are some great opportunities to do just that in Melbourne. Q44 Theatre’s Sister Cities (until April 3rd) features a fantastic cast of 5 women navigating sibling rivalry and the loss of a parent. And new indie company Heartstring will be presenting an all-female Coriolanus from 27 April – 8 May.
Why not give some support to a new universal?