Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Jill Dolan Under Attack

In a pained response to an attack about her Bourne Ultimatum review by one of her blogreaders, Jill Dolan eloquently talks about how stereotypes about feminism get in the way of true dialogue, and how what we write in the the theatrosphere really matters. She writes:

I don’t believe I’ve ever suggested that women are a “superior force on this planet,” nor have I suggested that men are the problem. But for writers like these, it most likely doesn’t matter what I really write. They see “feminism,” and bring to what they read their own prior assumptions, then damn a perspective they conjure, rather than one that really exists.

As a writer, I’ve long accepted that people understand what they will about what they read. Part of writing is being misread. We speak knowing that what we say may or may not be truly understood; that’s part of the contract, I think, of public exchange and commerce. I wouldn’t maintain a blog if I wanted every reader to agree with me, and in fact I relish debate and disagreement.

But Smithers’ attack is an entirely different thing. Hers are words that those of us who teach feminist subjects or methods often hear—the knee-jerk, willful misreading, drenched in stereotypes of feminism propagated by the media and fearful conservative politicians. The pain in receiving posts like these comes from the writer’s unwillingness to engage in real dialogue, and her eagerness to damn a stranger based on something she already thought about feminism.

The comment reminded me of the conference panel on feminism about which I recently wrote. This kind of angry, self-righteous presumption is what feminist teachers regularly confront in their classrooms. I think about the young women who organized the panel and spoke so eloquently about their commitments, and it pains me to know that they, too, will suffer these attacks for trying to consider theatre and performance from a gendered, activist perspective.

This is why our pedagogy and our writing and our thinking, spectating, and reading is so important.

Expectations about what a blog writer "stands for" can cause, as Dolan notes, "willful misreading." I think it is something to which we all are prone. It is painful to think that someone as generous and kind as Dolan -- someone whose writing and personal interactions are filled with even-handedness and open-mindedness -- is subjected to these sorts of things.