"How did you learn to be a woman?" "What does it mean to be a "good" girl?" These questions are framed from the understanding that the ways in which women have been socially conditioned to act in a patriarchal society are oppressive. I walked around the space pondering this question posed by the facilitator, exploring intellectually as well as with movement the ways in which I have been told what being a woman is and looks like.
This summer I made my way into New York City to experience a theatre workshop known as Madalena, facilitated by Barbara Santos. The workshop was done through Theatre of the Oppressed New York City, which,
creates theatre troupes with community members who face pressing social, economic, health, and human rights issues. The troupes create and perform plays based on real-life struggles, which engage diverse audiences in theatrical brainstorming - or Forum Theatre - to activate communities and creatively challenge systems of oppression.
I walked in knowing no one, but understanding that we had all arrived here for a specific reason that had brought us together. Though that feeling doesn't readily elicit trust, it is a beginning point to be able to remind myself that we are here to explore these questions together. The focus was directed towards women in order to create a space where women can discuss and interact with the specific oppressions they face in different situations.
This is meant to be a space where mutual trust can be upheld and re-valued; where women find ways to overcome feelings of guilt, shame, and competition; and where women can confront the silence that has historically hid fundamental topics. Therefore, Madalena groups seek to build up an environment of recognition, visibility and empowerment so that women can reflect about their own oppressions, exchange ideas and support each other in the struggle for new quests.Women's bodies and intellect have been historically hidden for centuries, yet they are the "marketing window for mass media," which represents only certain types of women- arguably unhealthy and unrealistic. This type of media representation in the United States is hurting young girls and women.
Themes that continually came up throughout the workshop when we would engage in short improvisational sharings were, covering our mouth and faces with our hands, shutting our legs tightly, the act of shaving our bodies, and lastly working out while also having to look pretty. These are pressures that these women experienced in their lives which came through during the theatre activities. What these themes tell me is that there are double standards, unrealistic pressure to look and act a certain way (for who?) on a daily basis. Also, with the theme of covering our mouths and faces, which can mean many things for different women, one that I personally identify with is not being able to speak up (especially in the presence of men) because we are told that our voices don't matter. This reflects incredibly visibly within politics as men are predominately deciding the rights of women.
This exploration into what women's experiences are sheds light on how to engage in dialogue with women, as we all come with our own experiences, socially, culturally, personally and otherwise. Using theatre is a powerful method to interact with and honor women's stories and feelings.
We began this workshop with pinning up a canvas of the hand prints of all women who have done the workshop before us and pinned this up in the room so that the women would be with us. We ended the workshop by adding our hand prints.
"Madalena laboratory is an innovative theatrical and research experience that uses aesthetic elements, and it is directed to women only to create effective strategies that help overcome their oppressions and that promote gender equity. The beginning point is the female body, which was kept out of sight for centuries and is the marketing window for mass media nowadays. Madalena Laboratory explores taboos and highly sensitive social topics, using art to visualize concrete pathways to outdo injustice and to transform reality."
For my Master's thesis, I will be facilitating an intergenerational, interdisciplinary theatre workshop early this Fall for women. If you are interested in being a research participant, please contact me @ email@example.com. Our first informational meeting will be in September.
Quotes used from: Public Workshops & Theatre of the Oppressed NYC