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Applying 20th Century Feminist Theory to 21st Century Women: Rapture, Blister, Burn

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Phyllis Schlafly, the anti-Equal Rights Amendment female powerhouse of the 70s once stated, “men should stop treating feminists like ladies, and instead treat them like the men they say they want to be.”  I’m not sure any second wave ladies claimed to want to be men, but they were certainly fighting to shatter the status quo and Betty Friedan’s Feminine Mystique.

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Schlafly felt that the ERA would devolve us into a society of unisex bathrooms and of women having to open car doors for ourselves.  Friedan maintained that the ERA would elevate women from MRS’s feeling trapped by housewifery and homemaking to glass-ceiling breaking female MAs, JDs and PhDs.

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Perfect 20th century examples of the two sides of the “lady” coin, Schlafly and Friedan are two of the feminist theorists invoked in the new off Broadway play “Rapture, Blister, Burn” by playwright Gina Gionfriddo.

I saw it Saturday night at Playwrights Horizons with my hubby.

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It was awesome.  (And freaky.  We had seats in the 2nd row and I could see all the actors faces.  That like never happens to me.  My eyes are purely decorative, so usually, at the theatah, I simply enjoy the fuzzy halos of light flitting around the stage.  But Saturday?  I was up close and personal.  I was practically in Amy Brenneman’s lap.)

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Gionfriddo uses the theorists to frame the timeless and yet extraordinarily 21st century problem women face today:  How the hell do we win at this game?

No, really.  How?

Beautiful Amy Brenneman plays the role of Catherine.  Catherine is a fiercely smart, glamorous, feminist academic who’s taken the world by storm with her two controversial books.  In one, she posits that the degragation that occurred in Abu Ghraib prison was informed by mainstream (and not particularly creative) internet porn.  The talk shows love her.  She’s single, in her 40s, successful, and lonely.  She also knows how to party like a friggin’ frat guy.

Opposite Catherine is Gwen, played by Kellie Overbey.  Gwen dropped out of grad school to get married and start a family.  She’s disgruntled with life, unhappy in marriage, and totally suffers from the modern day feminine mystique.  She has poured all her love into her gay 13 year old musical-loving son and has nothing to call her own, except her AA meetings and her inability to self-censor.

Through exquisite and poignant dialogue, Gina Gionfriddo crafts a 21st century world in which the girl gets the guy by Schlafly-ing: she strokes his ego, but not too hard, holds him to a clear standard, but not a high one, and allows him to wear the pants in the family, but knocks him down as necessary.

In short, Gionfriddo claims that 21st century guys are still male chauvinist pigs.

I suppose not much has changed for us gals.  I mean, I sneak out of work to pick up my kids from school.  If I expected to be treated like a man, ala Schlafly’s quote above, that shit would not fly.  Men don’t leave work early for the purposes of child rearing.  Do they?

Today, we feminists have choices that were forged by our sisters before us.  We can be CEOs, COOs, Secretary of State even.  But in the game of work-life balance, we are still struggling to find the sweet spot.  Those of us career-driven ladies who are lucky enough to fall in love with men who don’t run away screaming, struggle.  We question ourselves.  We question our choices.  We cry in our children’s freshly washed hair.  We are exhausted.

Yes, I made it out to a show that ended past 10pm on a Saturday night, but trust me.  That shit is an anomaly.  Well worth it in this case, but anomaly nonetheless.

To be able to “have it all”?  Well, that would be like rapture, wouldn’t it?

But I think Gionfriddo’s point is that even after all this time, society isn’t ready.  We still kinda have to choose.  And if we don’t, we aren’t Catherine or Gwen.  We’re an island.  Clearly, we still have a way to go.  Thanks for putting it all on the table, Gina!

DISCOUNT TICKETS to Rapture, Blister, Burn:
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*Disclosure: Though I received comp tickets to Rapture, Blister, Burn from Playwrights Horizons, the thoughts included in the post above are my own honest reflections on the play and my experience as an audience member.

One Response to Applying 20th Century Feminist Theory to 21st Century Women: Rapture, Blister, Burn
  1. deb
    May 26, 2012 | 1:22 am

    yes. we have done so much to change the potential roles of women, but we neglected to adequately address the ways the roles of men must also change. if a woman combines work with motherhood, then her spouse must combine fatherhood with work. we were behind the curve on fighting for that one with all that 1980s a-woman-can-do-it-all crap. we need to fight for a man’s ‘right’ to leave the office early to get the kids!

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