Our authentic selves, our stories, our lives…words which came up for me, as I watched the performance of Herstory, a series of monologues performed by an all-female cast, all WEA students, threaded together by tutor and director, Mikyla Durkan. She has built and bonded a new theatre company. Only in the last four by 2 hour sessions did the monologues live…”These breasts have suckled many children…”
‘I’m not alone here. I won’t stand out as a black woman. I have a South African, a Pole and a Scot with me’, one said.
Half the cast had never acted before an audience before…
In a discussion afterwards, we talked about Patriarchy. ‘I wouldn’t mind a Matriarchy,’ said one, a LGBT woman, who told her mum first eventually she was gay but was warned off telling her dad for years for fear he’d have a heart attack. He didn’t. He knew anyway. And had his own story to tell her. Still, she’s not ‘out’ at work. ‘Every time, I go into a room, I have to make a decision…and I have been on marches and demos, everything…’
‘So many men’, a cry from the audience, ‘So many men themselves are oppressed by patriarchy. It’s not all men, who oppress.’ There’s a big difference between this and masculinity. Patriarchy is a system, which keeps certain wealthy, powerful men and their families and class in power for generations.
‘You mean the working class lads who enlist?’ Well, yes, but it’s more subtle than that. ‘Big boys don’t cry’, so boys become men without learning how to talk about their emotions or understand their partners.
‘We’re not anti-men. It’s just there are no men in the room. That frees us up to be who we are. Men always take up the space.’ I heard your stories. Did you hear mine? There on the floor, where our shadows touched, lay my story, waiting silently (for once, you might say). As each of you told your story, our story or stories lay touchingly untold, not yet our time, waiting but there present in the room, all the same.
Good luck, women. Some people believe that oppressed groups, like black people, muslims, gays, jews, white working class men, disabled people, the elderly – should not turn into the oppressors. They will just take on their ways. They should rather free themselves by freeing their oppressors and so all become free. As the black leader, Martin Luther King once wrote:
“Do to us what you will and we will still love you. We cannot obey your unjust laws…so throw us in jail and we will still love you. Bomb our homes and threaten our children and, difficult as it is, we will still love you. Send your hooded perpetrators of violence into our communities at the midnight hour and drag us out on some wayside road and leave us half dead as you beat us, and we will still love you…But be assured that we’ll wear you down by our capacity to suffer, and one day we will win our freedom. We will not only win freedom for ourselves, we will so appeal to your heart and conscience that we will win you in the process, and our victory will be a double victory.”1
I wish you hope and courage and love, women, because we men cannot free ourselves by ourselves. We need you to help us. And many of us are willing to change.
This was a brilliant piece of theatre. Forty minutes long, telling the lives of the actors and the people in the audience. But is it too radical, as one person said, for secondary schools, FE colleges and community centres? Is that our challenge then? Who would like to see this piece performed again? And is there one secondary school head out there who is willing to see this performed? I hope so. I know these stories. I’ve been in them. We all have. This is how we learn.
1 The Peace Kit, by John Lampen, Quaker Books, p.63