Getting the Goal

by Jessica Abrams

I’ve been musing about something for a while now, so when I realized it was my turn to blog, I jumped at the opportunity to make those wayward ramblings of my brain public.

A few months ago I submitted a play to a friend of a friend who was looking to produce some theatre for herself and a handful of actor friends.  She wanted “women’s stories”, she said, something different from HBO’s “Girls”, which she didn’t really connect to; something that spoke to her in a truthful way without the glibness and arch that categorize so many current female-driven mass-produced stories.  I sent her a play about a woman who finds out she’s pregnant and the various people in her life she tells.  She liked it, she said, but it wasn’t for her.  Where are the stories about women being empowered, she asked.  Where are the stories where women are actively pursuing a goal and being the driving force in their own lives?

I’ve thought quite a bit about that lament, probably more so than usual because the taste of rejection was still lingering on my tongue.  But the truth is, not long before I’d seen an article written by a literary manager of a well-known theatre (it was a while ago so specifics are blurry) whose argument for the gender disparity in American theatre was the same cri de coeur: women are not writing about women who are active participants in their own lives. Women are not driving the story.  Female characters are too passive.

This, of course, is up for debate; but it got me thinking not only about my own characters but about the characters that, across all storytelling mediums, I’ve loved and connected to.  I happen to love “Girls” myself, and what I enjoy most about it is Lena Dunham’s Hannah, who is anything but clear-sighted and goal-driven.  Look at Blanche Dubois and her conflicting desires.  Liz Lemon.

The truth is, I find the conflict that is at the core of our being, the struggle to reconcile certain biological imperatives with the world in which we live, to be endlessly fascinating.  That’s obviously a matter of taste, but it does pose a broader question: why insist on telling  male-driven, goal-seizing stories when our biological, social, emotional, and spiritual make-up lends itself to a different experience? That’s not to slap on a set of stereotypes for either gender, but to allow for the innate differences in each, and allow those differences to be reflected in the creative work that each brings forth.  By mandating that women should be a certain way, and that way has typically been more associated with men — male protagonists and men in general — blurs the lines that make our differences, as people, artists and characters in stories, so sublime and rich.

In theatre especially, where the truth of our existence has a better chance of being mirrored back to us, I believe it’s even more important for women to stay true to the types of stories we want to tell, whatever level of “activated” and “empowered” our characters may or may not be.  And I don’t scorn those words by any stretch, I simply yearn for the day when those labels are not the deciding factor in having our voices heard in as broad a scope as possible, and for us to be given the chance to be the fearless storytellers we were meant to be.

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