November 2009. Â I was working on a project with Jennie Webb and Laura Shamas. Â Laura had written a delightful play called Trapper Joan that was getting a staged reading at Theatricum Botanicum. Â We were rehearsing at Jules Aaron’s house. Â Jennie and Laura announced they had “a scheme” and took me into the kitchen.
“You can totally say no,” they began.
They were interested in doing a West Coast response to the controversial Sands Study released earlier that year. Â Someone needed to collect data on the LA theater scene — specifically, data that would reflect how frequently women’s plays were produced (or, we later decided, “nurtured”) in Los Angeles. Â This wouldn’t be a money thing, though they did offer a small commission. Â It was to be a labor of love. Â Or principle. Â Or something.
A number of factors influenced my decision. Â (Spoiler alert: I said yes.)
For one thing, I have always been a feminist, though at different points of my life so far I have been more or less interested in describing myself using that word.
My great-grandmother was a suffragette. Â In high school, a friend and I gave a long presentation on “˜the feminist movement.’ Â We re-enacted various important moments in women’s history and looked into famous women writers of years past, even reading aloud part of a poem by Sappho.
I use the word “feminist” with my own definition, or rather, a definition that came up during a recent conversation with CÃ¡itrÃn McKiernan – a young soon-to-be-attorney who recently co-produced a play about Martin Luther King with the National Theatre in China. Â (Crazy? Â Yes.) Â She and I were talking about her experiences there, and I asked her if she considers herself to be a feminist.
Me:Â “Modern feminism” — I don’t pretend to be an expert or really even knowledgeable about the feminist movement… Â I’m in favor of strong women. Â But, um, would you say that you are a feminist? Â Do you self-identify as a feminist, or… How do you feel about the word and do you think it applies to you?
CÃ¡itrÃn: Oh my, I’ve had this conversation… Â I think it’s an excellent question. Â I think that so many women of our generation have kind of eschewed that term– tried to distance themselves from it. Â But if being a feminist means believing that women should be equal with men, then I’m down.
Women’s rights have always been important to me — and I don’t think it’s just because I’m a woman.Â It’s because I was fortunate enough to be raised by a family in an environment that promoted equality.Â Unfortunately, the rest of the world– even the rest of the country– has not been so lucky.Â This saddens me.Â There are a number of traits associated with women.Â True, this could be called / is stereotyping.Â But until our minds are reconfigured, stereotyping will continue to exist.
What is too bad, though, is when women are lumped together in a group and the stereotyping is used specifically against them — to harm them, or to harm them indirectly by overlooking them.
This past year, a number of things have happened that have reminded me how necessary this kind of work, and this kind of group [LA-FPI], is.
While we may be in 2011, and while we may have “come a long way,” in a lot of ways we are still comparatively in the dark ages when you think of where we’d like to be.Â I’m not talking about the Equal Rights Amendment..
Ella Martin is a writer, director, and actor. She is the founder and artistic director of Theatre Mab Town Hall, a collective of risk-taking theatre artists conducting creative experiments & provoking audiences of all backgrounds.Â She is also an active member of 12on12off.