For what purpose, this?
In the midst of writing the previous post about Hummingirds, I ended up with another post I wanted to write that touched on female roles on a larger scale. In researching the Hummingbird theory, I happened upon some articles and interviews regarding the treatment of female types -- specifically, those in Hollywood, but in my experience they apply to the American stage and, in a broader sense, American society. (Particularly, Emily Nussbaum's article "Hannah Barbaric" in The New Yorker about Lena Dunham's Girls, Sophia McDougall's article "I hate Strong Female Characters" in The New Statesman about -- well, you can read the title.) Then I ran into an article in the Los Angeles Times that focused on the harassment and marginalization of women in the tech industry, and I got mad.
Because this is a larger issue than what roles I get to play. But maybe that's how I participate in the conversation, since we in the arts do have a certain responsibility to make things different.
Many of us ladies have been saying for a while now that we don't see people we recognize on stage or in television and movies. Brit Marling, for example, is a multidimensional, kick-ass kind of person I admire deeply who has struggled to find roles that match her expectations -- so she wrote her own. She talks about her experience here.
Like her, I don't see a lot of ladies up there on the stage with whom I identify. (And if that's true for someone like me, who has a vastly larger proportion of the roles written to look like me [small, white, and young], then I can only imagine the frustration that other groups who don't fit those criteria feel.) Sure, there are smart girls, funny girls, sweet girls, tenacious girls, sexy girls. But there are very few -- very few -- that allow me to be all of the above without a fair amount of my own imagination. I roll my eyes at plays, television shows, and movies in which the bad girl -- shocking! -- ends up on drugs and pregnant and abused and dead or whatever. Bo-ring. Or the sweet girl who just did what you expect a sweet girl would do, who was sort of ignored and unimportant but SWEET. Or the sexy girl who . . . had sex (and probably got in some kind of trouble for it). You know.
But here's the thing: most of us gals are ALL OF THOSE THINGS. Plus more, even! But in my life, I run into people every day who are shocked that I could simultaneously like to wear dresses and like to go camping and work as an actor and an MCAT teacher.
Like: I can either wear dresses and be a dumb lady actor. ("Actress?" I'm often corrected, with a patronizing smile.)
OR I can go camping and dress solely in hiking clothes and be a smart MCAT teacher.
But not both.
I can do all the things!
So, with all this in mind, what function is theatre supposed to serve (and, to a wider audience, television and movies)? Is art a mirror of society that shows us what's beautiful and what's awful to give us a chance to make change? Is it, as Jake Flanagin of The Atlantic posits, possible that even the American sitcom could actually teach people to broaden their expectations of others? And once we do that, could the theatre teach people how to treat others when they defy preconceived notions? I say yes: that is absolutely possible.
So what am I gonna do about it? Well, let's go back to Caroline.
I explained in my previous post that people have complained about Caroline's likability. And I've spent a substantial amount of time wondering, should I make her more likable? Or do we demand that she be so charming just because she's a young woman? Does she have to be magnetic/bright/adorable, or can she just be moody when she wants to be because she's a teen who's sick and that sucks?
I think I'm going to keep trusting my gut. Caroline has told me all along who she is. I believe that she's making an impact, and maybe even teaching us a thing or two about the capacity of people to be multifaceted and the patience required to learn about someone beyond the surface.
See Caroline in action: