In a Forest Dark and Deep, Second Thought Theatre Response: Identies of Women in the Context of Blurred Lines, and Society’s Judgement

So about three months ago, I finally realized that my time on earth is dwindling and will end. That’s been kind of all consuming, but I think I’m moving past it, into things like this. Since my posts here are so infrequent, I’m going to include lots of time-sensitive information that will help me understand this point in time when I read it later.

The incomparable John Gorman let me and Daniel Miller know about the Robin #THICKE “no-clothes” version of Blurred Lines on a bike ride last month. This was during a two and a half week cycling vacation that I took before and after work and on the weekends while the rest of my family was summering on Lake Erie.

After the bike ride, I watched the video on my new Chromecast. If you haven’t seen the video, it’s basically three guys singing their side of a “have sex with me” come on lines while looking suave. Gorgeous women wearing only thongs disinterestedly prance-stomp around the set while assuming the attitudes of disinterested house casts who have just been fed and groomed.

I found the Blurred Lines video thought provoking. The fact that the women were naked*, but not being sexual was interesting, and I think healthy. There has been much written about this video, and its connotations. In my opinion, the video is a statement that women, regardless of their undress, can be oogled and pursued as sex objects without engaging in their standard role as sex objects. Women can carry on with their lives and be themselves without being defined by the interest in their sexuality. The fact that they’re naked does not not change their behavior or self identity.

There has been much written and commented about the video, much of it highly negative of the women being objectified and the song’s intent as lyrically encouraging rape. The commentators who are complaining about it provoking rape culture seem to be misplaced to me. It seems to be a song where a guy is trying to get a girl to leave the guy she’s with to go have sex with him. He’s giving her the opportunity to say yes. That’s not rape. But he’s expressing his sexual interest in her. We have no idea what her response is. So, although it’s not chivalrous, and would likely cause a quarrel between  him and her current lover, I think it’s incorrect to attribute it to promoting rape culture.

In my opinion, presuming the helplessness of women is a demeaning assumption introduced by the commentators. So it’s the commentators and not the lyrics or video that are demeaning to women.

 

That said, I’ve enjoyed the discussions that Blurred Lines has brought into society about sexuality. I think it’s healthy for society to discuss things like this.

In a Forest Dark and Deep, and it’s relationship to sexual identities of women

Last night was the last performance of this season at Second Thought Theater, where I’m a board member. The play was In a Forest, Dark and Deep by Neil LaBute, directed by Reagan Adair, with set design by Drew Wall, and acted by Heather Henry as Betty and Jeremy Schwartz as Bobby. It was in the top tier of theater productions I’ve ever seen. There are about five that I’ve seen in that tier of overall experience, most recently Gruesome Playground Injuries by Rajiv Joseph, also in the 2013 season of Second Thought.

What I took of the story of In a Forest, Dark and Deep is that it’s an examination of a woman who has defined herself through her sexual exploits throughout her life. Men being sexually interested in Betty is empowering to her. Betty ignores the effects of her reputation, marriage, stability, work fulfillment or general human trust on how she defines her identity. Instead she focuses on episodic trysts that help her feel empowered and in charge of her life, regardless of what her family or other lovers (including her husband) think of her actions. It’s as though new sex partners is her confirmation that, as Dorothy Gish would say, “she’s still ‘got it'”.

Betty, at the age of 45 (per the script), is still self-defined by her ability to sexually attract and fulfill lovers. The world also defines her this way, but she doesn’t care about that. What happens when a much younger lover becomes the less interested partner and the more sexually interesting of the coupling? It crushes her.

LaBute makes a fascinating point about how women, even those who are accomplished as university deans with marriages and children, can be caught up judging themselves primarily as sex objects against college students and women who are at the pinnacle of their pure sexual attractiveness. She cedes her best attributes to focus on one that is diminishing.

Betty could assume her rightful place as a role model to young men and women. Instead, she insists on competing in the same sexualized playing field as they are, when there is a much more important one that she could participate in, where she is at a much stronger advantage.

Is real life so scary that Betty can’t address it? Are trysts her coping mechanism that help her keep from grading herself by mature and responsible terms?

It’s easier for Betty to validate herself in ways that she knows than to re-define her grading scale and place importance on her influence on the future of society.

The Conclusion: Sexual Power is Fleeting

So, if you want to have actual clout, then do important work, and make appropriate money for that work, then focus your energy on being healthy and doing that good work. Take care of yourself by finding pursuits that are meaningful to your own definitions. Don’t distract everyone (mainly yourself) with the fragrance of your sexual readiness. If you over-invest in your expressions of fertility, your forties and beyond are going to be terrible and the people who invested in self improvement, careers and families will not empathize with you at all. They’ll wonder why you’re so grumpy and pathetic, which will mean that your only outlet for happiness will be television that shows how dumb young people are.

My paternal grandmother apparently hugely invested her identity in her appearance. I’m grateful for my dad discovering this and letting me know the context of her grumpiness toward the world. When she was young, she was the attractive one among her sisters. There was a car crash at some point, and she become the one who was once attractive. She lost her identity in her twenties rather than forties, and apparently carried a strong resentment toward everyone for the rest of her life.

She had friends, three generations of family she lived within two miles of, a business in her home, yet was defined by an anger borne out of her loss of sexual attractiveness. She could have re-framed her existence, and didn’t.

My maternal grandmother seemed to be completely unaffected by vanity, and was a delightful woman who relished her family and grandchildren. She was a joy to many, and honored others. She loved to teach and listen and participate. She went down large slides, played golf, and frisbee with us when she was in her 80’s. She loved Jesus and others and never showed any scars of life that I could see. I doubt she ever read Cosmopolitan, and was likely far better for it.

I know that her grandchildren and children are far better off having a strong female role model who rooted her identity in family, religion, work, hobbies, charity and happiness.

A key difference between my grandmothers is how much of their lives they invested in watching television. It’s hard to look at how they lived their lives without coming to the conclusion that television was a source of tremendous sadness and frustration.

I love that there are plays out there that are so thought provoking, and that I have friends to engage in meaningful discussions with.

I am grateful for the opportunity to be able to serve at Second Thought Theatre that brings art, cautionary tales, and comments on society in such unflinching ways. I hope that you all will chose to share in the 2014 season that starts in January.

Epilogue

Thoughts like these come out of conversations with my wife and friends, and I am so happy to know them. These thoughts have been spawned influenced by interactions recent and not with John Gorman, Steve Guthrie, Second Thought Theatre, Alice Sheldon, June Guthrie, Iain Michie, Daniel Miller, Emily Guthrie, Marisa and Mark Elmore.

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