To Do a Shakespeare Play or Not To Do a Shakespeare Play

William Shakespeare

“The history of men’s opposition to women’s emancipation is more interesting perhaps than the story of that emancipation itself.” ~ Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own

“If men could see us as we really are, they would be a little amazed; but the cleverest, the acutest men are often under an illusion about women; they do not read them in a true light: they misapprehend them, both for good and evil: their good woman is a queer thing, half doll, half angel; their bad woman almost always a fiend.” ~ Charlotte Brontë, Shirley

For quite some time I have had a slow burn on about misogyny. The research I’ve been doing for my second book has fueled some of my anger. My protagonist in the past is a member of the suffrage movement, and the one in the present is caught up in events much like the ones going on today. This project has made me acutely aware of how women have been misunderstood and mistreated over the centuries. If you’ve been reading these posts, you’ll recognize a theme.

When I’m not writing, I’m teaching theatre classes and one of those classes offered by the college each semester is a performance class. I don’t always get students to sign up for it because we have a relatively small population at the local campus, and five other campuses spread around our large county, and beyond. With my focus so much on women’s rights, lately, I’ve been thinking about doing Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure. Which means I’ll have to begin right now doing a lot of recruiting because doing Shakespeare is quite a challenge.

Measure for Measure is about how a seemingly pious and upright man, Angelo, shows his true nature when given absolute power. In the play, the city of Vienna is ruled by a Duke. The laws are harsh, especially when it comes to relationships between men and women. Sexual offenses are supposed to be strictly, and harshly enforced, but the Duke, for reasons we never discover, has not done this. At the beginning of the play he decides to turn over his duties and authority to his second in command so he can take a trip to Poland, which, of course, he doesn’t do. He pretends to be a friar to observe what happens in his absence. Right away, power goes to Angelo’s head and he imprisons upstanding citizens, except for the fact that they have engaged in sex outside of marriage. The most prominent of these is Claudio, Isabella’s brother, and his betrothed, Juliet. When Isabella, who is about to take her final vows to become a nun, leaves the convent to plead for her brother’s life, Angelo is so taken with her innocence, devotion to her brother, her caring, and devout nature, that he finds himself lusting after her. It’s as if he wants to claim her pure goodness by defiling it.

To modern audiences the central problem of sex outside of marriage which drives the true theme of the play, seems inconsequential and even silly. However, during Shakespeare’s time the laws of the church were taken very seriously. Sex was, and still is, considered original sin and is reserved for married couples alone. You can see why Shakespeare may have used this as a jumping off point for the play. Love and lust are sometimes confused. And there are men who will risk their reputations to take possession of a woman they desire as if by doing so, he can absorb the qualities he admires in her.

When Isabella comes a second time to get Angelo’s answer about her brother, Angelo at first suggests, and then demands that to save her brother’s life, she must sleep with him. It’s the kind of situation women from the beginning of time have found themselves in. From Isabella’s point of view, she would be committing a mortal sin and damning her immortal soul. She’d gladly give her physical life for her brother, but does not want to give up her soul.

In a modern context, Isabella might not lose her soul, but she would lose things just as precious, her sense of self and safety, and her peace of mind. She would carry the degradation of giving into a man like Angelo with her for the rest of her life.

Fortunately the Duke is there to save both Isabella and Claudio, and expose Angelo for the fraud he is. The implication is that this was the Duke’s intention all along.

With the current attacks on women from federal, state, and local governments, as well as the ones from powerful men, this seems like the time to revive this play, or at the very least, adapt it for a modern audience. So, though I’ve been going back and forth about whether or not to direct it, writing this post has pretty much made up my mind to do it. Besides, it’s always a good idea to go back and learn something from Shakespeare.

Thanks for reading. I appreciate your likes and comments.

Lucinda Sage-Midgorden © 2017

Lucinda is the author of The Space Between Time, a historical, time-travel, magical realism, women’s novel. It’s available in all ebook formats at Smashwords, and print-on-demand at Amazon and other fine book sellers. To join her email list, click here. She will never sell the names on her list.

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We Must Stop This

Susan B. Anthony

“To see what is in front of one’s nose needs a constant struggle.” ~ George Orwell

“Feminism is hated because women are hated. Anti-feminism is a direct expression of misogyny; it is the political defense of women hating.” ~ Andrea Dworkin

“Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.” ~ Abraham Lincoln

Welcome to the new Saturday Sage Woman Chronicles posts. Thanks for joining me here.

Today I’d like to share my thoughts about the controversy surrounding Harvey Weinstein because the novel I’m working on addresses women’s rights both during the suffrage movement and now.

In Time’s Echo, both Jenna in the present and Morgan in the past are struggling to break down the barriers that women have had to deal with for many centuries. Surprisingly, I’m having a difficult time writing it, because misogyny is such a complicated issue. It’s like a huge fortress that everyone has assumed is impenetrable, but as we’ve seen in recent years, and especially in the last few months, the fortress is beginning to crumble. Part of my dilemma comes from not wanting to make my novel preachy. I’m trying to walk that fine line between showing what happens to my characters on a personal level in a truthful way, so that my readers can empathize with their struggles, while being accurate to what was and is really happening. If my readers connect emotionally with what’s going on with my characters, maybe it will help shed some light on how to move forward.

When I got the idea to tackle this complicated situation, I did some research so I could get a better perspective about what women have had to deal with throughout history. Misogyny is centuries old. One of the books I read was A Brief History of Misogyny: The World’s Oldest Prejudice by Jack Holland. The reasons for men subjugating women are extremely complicated but maybe we don’t really need to go back and look at why they felt they needed to take control. What we do need to do is examine how it works right now.

Holland says that misogyny can be summed up in four words: pervasive, persistent, pernicious, and protean. (pg. 270) And the reason breaking the back of misogyny is difficult is because men and women are linked by biological, sexual, psychological, social, economic, and political ties. If the human race is to survive, men and women must cooperate with one another. And maybe that’s the main reason women are rising. It’s high time men and women had true equality so we can break down this fortress of misogyny and reshape the world to be a friendlier, more supportive place in which to live. I’ve got some ideas about how we can help that happen.

First of all, it seems to me that some men have the idea that everything that exists belongs to them. That applies to territories they “discover” or women they meet, their children, or people they think are inferior to them, and so on. They claim the Scriptures back them up. “And MAN shall have dominion over the earth” or words to that effect. But if we’re all created in the image of God, then we ALL have the right to navigate our own paths without interference.

Second of all, I’ve been a teacher for many years now. At the beginning of every school year we are required to take refresher workshops. one of them on harassment. The law states that whether or not harassment has taken place is determined by the victim (for lack of a better word) rather than the perpetrator. That means when a person claims they are being harassed, the law says we are supposed to believe them and take appropriate actions. So victim shaming and blaming has got to stop. A woman, or any other victim, does not ask to be harassed, raped or abused in any way. People need the support of the law, not condemn the victim.

Third, people have to speak up when they’re assaulted in any way. I would be willing to bet that almost any woman you care to ask has at least one story of being harassed. We need to teach our children to not only respect others, but to have empathy for them too.

I was so lucky to have the father I did. He taught me that I had every RIGHT to say no to a boy who thought that he had a RIGHT to my sexual favors just because he paid for everything on our date. And I did have at least one time when a boy tried to play that card. I pushed him away and told him if he wasn’t going to take me home, I was going to get out of the car and walk. He drove me home and we never went on another date.

When I was about to enter ninth grade, we moved to a new small town. I was the new girl amidst a group of students who had grown up together. As a result, I was harassed by the boys of the school. They thought they were teasing me as a way of welcome. That’s not how I took it. It was the age of mini-skirts and one day when the teacher was called away from the classroom, a few of the boys decided it would be funny to put me into the tall, narrow trash can in the room. They then pushed me out into the hallway and stood by watching hoping I’d try to get out. Fortunately I was rescued either by the teacher, or the girls in my class. That wasn’t the only incident at that school. Another day a group of boys, teasing and harassing me, pushed me into the boys bathroom. When I came out, the principal happened to be walking by. Fortunately, he had been my principal at a school in another town, so when I told him what had happened, he believed me.

Unfortunately, that wasn’t the last time I was faced with harassment. Another incident happened when I was in college. I had a summer job working on the campus grounds keeping crew. I was paired with a man old enough to be my grandfather. At first he was nice, but soon he began making lewd comments and eventually he began touching me in inappropriate ways. I hesitated to report the situation because often in such situations women aren’t believed. Thank heaven when I finally told my supervisor what was happening, he said, “Oh, no! I’m not going to stand for that.” I was moved to another crew. I don’t remember what happened to the older man.

It’s sad to say that women throughout the ages have had to learn to maneuver, manipulate and endure all kinds of horrible situations involving men, if they survived to grow up at all that is.

So these latest revelations about Harvey Weinstein have provoked a frenzy of discussion about misogyny. Any time there’s a big controversy about any topic, it’s an opportunity to untangle the hows and whys and make decisions about how to solve the problem. The four “Ps” that Holland talks about in his book, apply to more than just misogyny and we need to be persistent in dismantling practices that were never right to adopt in the first place.

Thanks for reading. I appreciate your comments and likes.

Lucinda Sage-Midgorden © 2017

Lucinda is the author of The Space Between Time, a historical, time-travel, magical realism, women’s novel. It’s available in all ebook formats at Smashwords, and print-on-demand at Amazon and other fine book sellers. To join her email list, click here. She will never sell the names on her list.

On Misogyny

Mary, the Mother of God

“I hate to hear you talk about all women as if they were fine ladies instead of rational creatures. None of us want to be in the calm waters all our lives.” ~ Jane Austen, Persuasion

“When a man gives his opinion, he’s a man. When a woman gives her opinion, she’s a bitch.” ~ Bette Davis

“As long as she is thinking of a man, no one objects to a woman thinking.” ~ Virginia Woolf, Orlando

“Feminism is hated because women are hated. Anti-feminism is a direct expression of misogyny; it is the political defense of women hating.” ~ Andrea Dworkin

“The misogyny that is in every culture is not a true part of the human condition. It is life out of balance, and that imbalance is sucking something out of the soul of every man and woman who’s confronted with it.” ~ Joss Whedon

I’ve been reading A Brief History of Misogyny: The Worlds Oldest Prejudice by Jack Holland as part of my research for the sequel novel to The Space Between Time. In the new book, Morgan in the past becomes part of the suffrage movement, and Jenna in the present faces terrible misogyny because of what she has written. As I’m reading this book, I’m not finished with it yet, these are some things I discovered.

First, misogyny is ancient. I knew this from my studies of the Old Testament in college, but Holland places its introduction into written documents at the eighth century BC when Hesiod, a farmer turned poet, writes the story of Pandora. This means that misogyny was probably around long before that. Of course, the Greeks aren’t the only ones to use misogyny as part of their culture and or religion. Which means It’s so deeply ingrained into our way of thinking that it makes it extremely difficult for us to notice, let alone change.

Second, the root of misogyny has to do with man’s self-hatred or at the very least lack of self-worth in comparison to women. This produces a deep seated fear and a desperate inner struggle. Perhaps the ancient Greek myth of Zeus creating man first and then woman as an after thought to punish him, was the male writers way of trying to make themselves feel in control. Because that’s a common reaction to fear, we want to control people and events on the outside so we feel better, without doing the inner work necessary to bring about lasting peace. Trying to control things on the outside eventually backfires, people rebel, and events go against us. To truly get rid of fear, we have to pay attention to our thoughts and feelings, what triggers them, and then change our thinking. That’s an inside job.

The thing that makes misogyny so insidious, is the fact that the Greeks weren’t the only men who had this idea. The Hebrews wrote a similar kind of myth, God created Adam first, then Eve from his rib as an afterthought. Even when I was a child, I didn’t believe that story. If God created man first, then why didn’t they have the babies? And men say women are illogical.

It also seemed to me that Adam was lazy. He was content to have all his needs met without doing any work, while Eve was curious and wanted as much knowledge as she could get. And the final point of that myth that I just can’t buy is that God takes his vengeance out on the couple. If God is love, then that’s the most illogical part of the story. God doesn’t take revenge. She would celebrate Eve’s desire to become more than she was when she was first created.

Other ancient cultures around the world have different creation myths with a woman being the first created, or as female and male energies creating the cosmos together. But since Holland is tracing the origins of misogyny, he goes back to the most dominant myths that include it, and have influenced much of the worlds thinking.

Third, for some reason for centuries, dating back to the Greeks again, men have thought that if they wanted to get closer to the divine, they must deny the pleasures of the flesh. Those pleasures are, decadent food, and environment, and most importantly, sex. And it’s my opinion that this is where the twisted rape culture logic was born. It’s the whole, “The devil made me do it,” mentality. A man has a goal to become closer to God. That’s great, but studies have shown that men think about sex a whole lot more often than women do. So, he thinks he has to deny his natural inclination for sex, (another idea that is illogical. God created it, so what’s wrong with it?) and then a woman enters his awareness. She’s beautiful, he’s aroused. Does he blame himself? Of course not, because he’s got to control his outer environment, and a woman just entered his environment, so, of course, it’s her fault. Not one moment of self-examination about whether what he’s thinking and doing is right or wrong. Bah humbug!

Since misogyny is ancient, some people think, “Well, that’s just how it’s always been, so why change it now.” I think that kind of thinking is lazy and cruel. It’s a kind of thinking that says, “The way things are benefits me and my kind, so we’re not going to change it.” And since for much of history there were more men than women it’s been easy to maintain.

“More men than women?” I’m sure you’re asking that question. Yes, here are some facts Holland points out about why there were so few women in the ancient world. Male babies were highly prized, so when a girl baby was born, she would more than likely end up dumped on the garbage heap to die. Some of these girl babies were saved by men running brothels to replenish their prostitute population, but most of them died. To be fair, some male babies ended up on the trash heap if they were deformed, or not deemed worthy to live. However, this meant that there were few women to have babies in the first place. Then, getting pregnant and having a child was a dangerous and life-threatening situation for women who did not have the proper medical care. Which meant, that often more women died in childbirth than the number of men getting killed in wars.

Since, for centuries, there were more men than women, it was difficult to fight misogyny. It was only during more modern times when medical care was better, and more women survived child birth, that they were able to begin fighting back. Oh, there were some notable women throughout history who defied male domination, but not often, and they usually didn’t live for long. (I won’t go into the whole convoluted theology about Mary, the Mother of God, as they call her. She’s a woman who could never really exist.) There have been cultures that valued women, but again they were often conquered, or annihilated.

And that brings us to our current situation. Feminists, and that includes some wonderful men as well, have only been fighting for women’s rights with growing success for perhaps two hundred years. Compare that to approximately twenty-six centuries of entrenched misogyny. Thinking of it that way, I say we’re doing pretty well in our quest for equal rights, even given the current backlash against women. Most of the time attempts to go backwards wake people up. It seems to me that women all over the globe are standing up for themselves. That indicates to me that we will one day win equality among all people, because when one group wins equality, other groups will too.

For an interesting take on a strong man supporting a strong woman, read this article from the New York Times, “Behind Wonder Woman is a Great Man.”

Thanks for reading. Feel free to leave a comment, or share with a friend.

Lucinda Sage-Midgorden © 2017

Lucinda is the author of The Space Between Time, a historical fantasy involving time travel. It’s available in ALL ebook formats at Smashwords. The print-on-demand book will soon be available as well.

Women Rising

Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman

“A Woman is like a tea bag – you can’t tell how strong she is until you put her in hot water.” ~ Eleanor Roosevelt

“I just want to say to women, ‘Be yourself – it’s the inner beauty that counts. You are your own best friend, the key to your own happiness, and as soon as you understand that – and it takes a few heartbreaks – you can be happy.’” ~ Cherie Lunghi

“No struggle can ever succeed without women participating side by side with men.” ~ Muhammad Ali Jinnah

My husband and I went to see Wonder Woman this past weekend. It’s been out three weeks, so we thought the theatre might be fairly empty since we go to the movie on a Sunday mornings when most people are in church. However, this time the theatre was almost completely full. Granted it was Father’s Day, but I think the crowd had more to do with the movie, than the holiday.

There are movies that I like because they are good fun, or they have a message that makes you feel good after you’ve seen it. Then there are movies that have universal themes, ones that goe beyond the special effects, the story and characters. Wonder Woman is that kind of movie. I’d like to tell you why I think so.

But first I have to share a bit of serendipity. I’m doing research for the sequel novel to The Space Between Time. Both Jenna in the present and Morgan in the past, are fighting for women’s rights. Because of the complex themes, I’ve been doing some research. The book I’m currently reading is A Brief History of Misogyny: The World’s Oldest Prejudice. by Jack Holland. I had just started reading the book the day before going to see Wonder Woman. The section I was reading was about what the author thought were the origins of misogyny. He says in the Western world it was ancient Greece, in the eighth century BC when the writer Hesiod wrote a poem about Pandora. In the poem he states that man was created before women, sound familiar and against nature, and that men were completely happy until Zeus decides to punish man for complicated reasons which involve Prometheus sharing the secret of fire with them. I’ll interrupt myself here to state, I’ve never liked most of the Greek gods, especially Zeus. To me he displays the worst of male qualities. But to continue, Zeus creates women as a temping but evil thing to punish man for having the gall to think they deserved better than to live like wild animals. Pandora is beautiful, but evil as she is the one who opens the box that unleashes evil into the world. I always thought that the hidden theme to that story was that man messed up the world and not wanting to take the blame, created the story about Pandora. “Yes, let’s blame women for the evil in the world.”

Now, don’t get me wrong, woman can be just as evil as men. In fact, in the movie there is an evil woman, Dr. Maru, who creates mustard gas. (In reality is was created by a colleague of Albert Einstein.) But, she’s a wounded woman. Her face has been disfigured, we don’t know how or by whom. Later we discover that the inspiration for the mustard gas formula was whispered to her by Ares, the real antagonist of the story.

The mythology of the movie doesn’t mention Pandora, what it does do is show us a community of confident, strong, capable, intelligent, compassionate women who live together in peace. They don’t always agree, but when they don’t they listen to each other, discuss and work things out.

When Steve Trevor arrives followed by German WW I seamen, they fight and defeat the men, but though they acknowledge the help Steve gave during the battle, they also use the lasso to get to the truth of the situation from him. It seems that they don’t hate men, but they’ve had enough experience to know that they need to be wary. So the old, battle of the sexes theme is a part of the movie, but the way Steve and Diana relate to each other is not combative.

That’s another thing I love about the movie. It shows the way women are treated without beating the audience over the head with it. The island of Themyscira, where the Amazons live, is hidden from the world in which the rest of humanity lives. So, when Diana decides to go with Steve back to his world to find and defeat Ares, god of war, she is puzzled by the way the men treat her. They ignore her advice about battle plans, they treat her as if she’s invisible. They talk over her and tell her she can’t be involved in their plans.

And there is the central relationship between Diana and Steve Trevor. She asks him questions about the way things work in his world that he has trouble answering. Her questions make him think in a new way. He sees her battle skills, but has been indoctrinated that women are to be protected. At one point he says to her, “I can’t let you do this,” to which she replies, “What I do is not up to you.” They also have discussions about honor, and doing the right thing. Both have a strong desire to make the world a better place. At one point Steve says, “My father said, ‘When you see there’s something wrong with the world, you can do nothing or something.’ And I’ve already tried nothing, so I’m doing something.” At another point Diana says, “I will fight for those who cannot fight for themselves.” Because they share similar values, they find a deep connection with each other.

I know that in the recent past there have been lots of strong women characters on TV, in movies, and books. They’re not all perfect, they have flaws but most of them have a strong honor code. Love is extremely important to them. That’s a good thing. We need strong women role models. I hope to see more of this kind of entertainment. Not all strong women need to be warriors like Diana, but they do need to stand up for themselves and for what’s right.

Once at a Comicon conference, Joss Whedon, who created Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and other stories with fascinating women, was asked why he wrote such strong women characters. His answer says it all, “Because you’re still asking me that question.” We have a long way to go before men and women enjoy equality.

If you haven’t seen Wonder Woman I highly recommend it because it says that hope and love are what will save our future.

Thanks for reading. Feel free to leave a comment or share with a friend.

Lucinda Sage-Midgorden © 2017

Lucinda is the author of The Space Between Time, a paranormal, historical, time travel novel. It’s available in all ebook formats at Smashwords, and at most other fine ebook stores. It will soon be available for kindle and print-on-demand on Amazon.