Working on Wind in the Willows made me think about collaborative writing. During what is called (by whom we don’t know) the Second Wave of the Women’s Movement, I worked with a cast to write a play about the Canadian suffragists, during what is called the First Wave of the Women’s Movement.
I researched, decided on the characters, wrote an outline, and sketched out the scenes. Then, I joined a cast of five actors and we improvised. The dialogue and eventually Nellie! How The Women Won The Vote, grew out of that work.
It was often exciting, sometimes very frustrating, and in the end, truly rewarding. We learned a lot about Canadian history of that period, beginning with this: No woman, idiot, lunatic, or criminal shall vote.
We also learned something about our own assumptions and prejudices about gender roles. In 1915, the suffragists held a burlesque of Parliament in which the roles of men and women were reversed. We wanted to recreate that but I couldn’t find a copy of the piece. Nobody seemed to have written it down. (Nothing changes in experimental theatre.)
So, we tried to improvise one in which giving men the right to vote was debated. We assumed that when they were in power, the female members of Parliament would smoke cigars, shout “Har, har,” clap each other on the back and talk about backroom deals and money. In short, they would act like men. It didn’t work.
Then, the penny dropped. If women were in charge, their values and attributes would be respected and they would treat men the way they were treated. Men, those second class citizens, would have to be taken care of, treated with chivalry, and ultimately dismissed. It worked like a charm and the Mock Parliament debated questions in 1915 that were still being debated in the 1980’s.
Here’s a bit of it:
“Madame, Speaker, it’s a well known fact, and I speak as a mother, that the male child is more difficult to toilet train than the female child, and the same would undoubtedly hold true when training men in parliamentary procedures.
Speaking as one who is rather keen on men, I submit it is poppycock to shut out half of the world’s population simply because of a minor biological difference.
This difference. A minor one, you say? Let me appeal to your finer sensibilities, woman to woman. Would you want this room, this very room, filled with the reek of cigar smoke? Would you want to hear the clink of brandy glasses in caucus? Would you want the halls festooned with spittoons, echoing with ribald laughter? Think. Can you, in all honesty, still say a minor difference?
And have you considered the suggestive nature of male attire – the colored waistcoats, the embroidered suspenders, the bay rum behind the ears, the waxed ends of moustaches and the tight trousers?
My husband doesn’t want the vote. He’s the power behind the throne. That’s good enough for him.”
I think we’re in what’s called the Fourth Wave of the Women’s Movement now and the debate about gender roles and women in power isn’t over yet. Hillary Clinton might have a lot to say on the subject.
There’s a one woman play if I’ve ever heard of one.