Wednesday, July 10, 2013

The Comparables: Women in the Workplace.

When reading the plays for this year’s Bay Area Playwrights Festival, The Comparables by Laura Schellhardt resonated with me the most. As a feminist and a student of Sexuality and Gender Studies, this play brought up issues that I find important and are still relevant in our post-feminist world. But feminism is an ugly word today; synonymous with man haters or overactive activists. To me, feminism has always meant equality among the sexes and that is how I will be discussing it. While many women are climbing slowly up the business food chain, their male associates still far out number them. The most obvious example is the United States Senate where women make up only 19% of our country’s lawmakers. Women in some circumstances are still paid less than men with the same skill sets in the same line of work. Laura Schellhardt, the playwright, also commented on the few female playwrights being showcased in American theatre today. What this play displays is not how women are being held back by the oppressive patriarchy, but how women are held back by other women which I think is a new perspective to an old problem.

The Comparables focuses on three women who compete for power in their business of high-end real estate and offers three different views of how feminism and women function in the workplace. Bette, the oldest, is a self-made women in a man’s world. She has had to adapt to survive and as a result her behavior is almost masculine and competitive. Her second in command, Monica, has learned to rely on Bette and displays feminine characteristics. She relates mostly with women and uses emotion and compassion to make connections with others. Iris, on the other hand, enjoys the company of men. She uses her sexuality to her advantage to get ahead and strives for equality with (but not power over) her male cohorts. This pits different ideals of feminism against each other with laughs and the suspense of who will make it out on top. Should women be re-negotiating business on their own terms or sticking with how patriarchy has done it for the last millennium?  The Comparables plays with this question in tantalizing ways that will leave you craving to discuss.

Schellhardt has said her inspiration for The Comparables stems from a conversation about the wage gap and what women specifically are doing to hinder the advancement of gender equality. Tennessee congresswoman Marsha Blackburn stated in early June of this year that women do not want equal pay laws saying that “I’ve always said that I didn’t want to be given a job because I was a female, I wanted it because I was the most well-qualified person for the job.” While I think most women can agree that they want to be hired because they are the best person for the job, women are earning about 20% less than their male counterparts. If women are hired because they’re the best for the job, why should they not be paid as much as a male in the same position? Women also use slut shaming as a way to control and put down other women. This technique is used in The Comparables as the characters vie for power over each other. Slut shaming is linked to sexual morality but also does not typically deal with actual sexual behavior. Instead it focuses on those with high status policing those with lower status. By calling someone a slut, one person is saying, “I would never do that,” in an attempt to raise their own moral status and lower the other’s.

Saying this play is feminist poses a problem. As I have said, feminism is an ugly word. This is not a play that will shove a message down your throats, but make you think about how we negotiate equality and femininity. I think this play can and should be enjoyed by all audiences, not just a feminist audience. The audience will enjoy all three characters’ witty banter but find a connection with at least one of the women. They are all sympathetic characters that the audience can relate to in some way. This play brings to light how far we’ve come since the first wave of feminism in the early 20th century and how much further we still have yet to go. I am honored to be the Production Assistant for this show. Please come out to the staged readings July 21st at 12pm and July 27th at 8pm. This is an event not to miss. Following the 8pm showing there will be a cocktail party where I would love to discuss your thoughts on the play.

Please visit…
…for more blogs on sexuality and gender through a biological, sociological, psychological, and cultural lens.


Theotoks said...

"What this play displays is not how women are being held back by the oppressive patriarchy, but how women are held back by other women which I think is a new perspective to an old problem."

Well, the kyriarchy oppresses us all. I think it is a challenge to show how women oppress each other because of the system they are trapped to satirize the system vs. critiquing "women being b*tches." Unfortunately many, many plays, movies and media in general show women as mutually competitive as the default stereotype.

Very intriguing to see how the play handles this.

Erin Merritt said...

Exactly! This is a play in development, which means the final product may not end up being what you see at the reading, as part of what the playwright wants is to be present to experience how audiences experience the play to make sure things are landing as she intends.

She'll be there looking at structural issues (not changing the meaning of the play or big plot points or characters), but because this play brings up so many thoughts, we've added social events after each show to give people a chance to talk to each other about what they saw. After the afternoon reading is a "Yeah I Said Feminist" Salon (which we're not widely advertising but which is open to feminists and their supporters—bring a potluck item to share) for people to hash out their reactions in a, oh I hate how touchy-feely "emotionally safe space" sounds, but, you know, a place where everyone feels like they can really dig down on the actual issues instead of being bothered by lame anti-woman rhetoric. After the evening show we have a cocktail party, where I expect the conversation to be just as thorough, but with booze. All of our plays evoke feelings, but this one is really going to start some quality conversations as well.