Theater Review: Necessary Targets

It’s been a while since I posted a review piece on this blog (no coincidence that these things fall by the wayside mid-semester), but I saw a theatrical performance of Necessary Targets on Sunday at the University of Arizona’s Tornabene Theater as part of the Arizona Repertory Theater series and I thought I’d share a review.

This play was written by Eve Ensler, author of The Vagina Monologues. (I’m ashamed to admit as a feminist that I’ve never seen that work either. What do you want from me? My life is busy and unless they stage a production in my office during office hours, I’m unlikely to make it.) The focus is on women in the aftermath of the war in Bosnia, sometime around the mid- to late-1990s. The two primary characters, Melissa and J.S., are Americans. J.S. is an upscale New York psychiatrist who’s been asked to join a presidential commission to help war refugees, and Melissa is a seasoned war reporter working on a book who may or may not be going as J.S.’s “assistant.” The two journey to Bosnia in the play’s first act, where they meet a group of female refugees they are charged with helping. Over the course of the play, there are two themes of development: The development of the relationship between the refugee women and the Americans, leading to the revelation of their stories, and the development taking place within the American women.

I was lukewarm on this play overall. As characters, the refugee women are far more developed than the two Americans. As the stories of these women unfold over the course of the play, the Bosnian women come to feel real. This is likely no accident, as the play was inspired by Ensler’s own interaction and interviews with women in actual refugee camps. The stories of rape, murder, and abuse are therefore close to the ugly reality of what transpired in the conflict. The American women, on the other hand, are crudely drawn. While their character development is central to the play, these women are  caricatures and they to some extent remain that throughout. J.S. has such a stick up her butt, reflected in her very prim speech, dress, and actions, that one wonders why she would have ever been chosen for this assignment in the first place. She comes across more as a neo-Victorian society matron who would swoon at the first sign of danger than she does a seasoned professional. Likewise, hard-as-nails Melissa also seems a poor choice. We’re told she’s been trained as a trauma counselor, but from the very beginning she shows little to no interest in the wellness of the “traumatized war victims” she’s working with, and at no point in the play does she demonstrate any kind of sensitivity toward them.

There are also weird inconsistencies and many points that seem not fully developed. At the beginning of the play, we are told that refugee Asra is a lonely old women and it is insinuated that she’s never been married or had sex. Yet later, it is revealed that she was once a wet nurse for a child in her village. Is that possible? There are also hints that Melissa is suffering from an eating disorder, but this plot point only comes up at the beginning and end of the play and is not fully fleshed out. The play’s final scene, with J.S. reflecting on her time in Bosnia, has the potential to be masterful, but it fell short for me. Almost as if she (and Ensler) are unable to truly articulate the meaning of these encounters.

That said, the play does have moments of brilliance. When the tragic past of one of the refugees, Seada, is revealed, it has a powerful emotional impact. Another of the refugees, Zlata, a former doctor who has lost everything as a result of the war, consistently steals every scene she’s in. In this particular performance, all of the young female actors (drama students at the U of A) did a superb job. Kudos also to those who worked on the costumes and set designs. Sunday’s performance was the last day of this play’s run here in Tucson, but it won’t be my last visit to an Arizona Repertory Theater production.

The Post-Romantic World

I’m tired of being told that there’s someone out there for me.

It’s now been five and a half years since I was with anyone who actually wanted to acknowledge being in a relationship with me. That was the man I was engaged to, a man who was kind enough to absolutely eviscerate my self-esteem before ending things. People told me even then, “you’ll find someone else, someone better, in no time.” I doubted it, knowing my own patchy dating resume: That I never went to my prom or a high school dance, never dated as a teen, and was almost a senior in college before I even had a boyfriend. Back then, in 2006, I found an Internet message board for women with broken engagements, and I was cheered by the stories of women who got out of bad relationships and within six months or a year they had met “the one.” Deep down, I still wondered if I would find anyone else, but those stories gave me a sliver of hope. Maybe I wouldn’t be waiting so long, after all.

It was well over six months before I even tried dating again. In the year following that, I dated a lot. In fact, it’s the only year of my life that I ever felt desired, popular, and that I ever enjoyed just dating as many guys as possible without really looking for love. That being said, I also made some questionable choices about who I spent my time with. A couple of those guys remain friends, none of them were “keepers” for sure.

Nearly two years after “the” breakup, I quit my office job, moved to Arizona, and started life over from the ground up. I think I needed that, but I also desperately wanted to be in a relationship again. In my first year here, I found three different guys who I thought were “nice” guys, all of them intelligent and men who I viewed as real potential mates. And every one of them proved a disappointment. One of them would continue to break my heart over and over intermittently for the next three years.

Now that I’m on the outs with that one again and maybe for good, I’m taking stock of my situation. Last time I was in a relationship with someone who could be described as a significant other, I was 26 years old. I am soon to be 32. I don’t remember what it’s like to wake up next to someone. Valentine’s Day is so hopeless that I pretend not to notice it. When my friends get married, they don’t even ask me if I have a guest; they already know. And don’t get me started on sex, or the lack thereof. I’ve thrown good money after bad on online dating, and have been on at least half a dozen sites. I’ve speed dated, joined groups, and begged my friends for fix-ups. And yet my dating has been steadily on the decline for the past several years. In the last year, I’ve only been out with two men. It can’t seem to fall much farther than that.

My therapist has told me that I need to keep thinking positively. I need to get over the guys who give me crumbs, and periodically tell myself that I will find someone who will truly love me, the right person at the right time, and I’ll have the life that I want. The problem is, every time I say it, I can’t shake the feeling that I’m lying to myself. Those words don’t feel like the thing I believe is true, they feel like the thing I say just to keep myself going. I hate feeling like I’m once again buying into false hope. I’ve come to the point in my life where I wish I could learn to just be happy with my career path and my dog and the friends that I have, and stop craving more. Wouldn’t that be the Buddhist thing to do? Isn’t it better to accept my current reality, rather than fixate on an uncertain future outcome? And, if so, why is it that I can’t let go of that desire for love and a family of my own, in spite of the ache it gives me on a lonely night like this?

The Weighting Game Pt. 2: Adventures in Sizing

Why in God’s name do women’s clothes suck so much at sizing?

On the heels of my recent weight loss, I’ve discovered an unpleasant side effect of losing 15+ pounds: I have no clue which of my clothes fit me anymore, and limited funds to buy new ones. The “good” news is that as my waistline has fluctuated over the years, I’ve acquired an assemblage of clothes in sizes 8-12, so you’d think there would be a smooth progression. I move from the 12s to the 10s to the 8s… right? Wrong. Instead, I’m now wearing a crazy patchwork of whatever I grab on any given day that isn’t: a) falling off me or; b) cutting off circulation. It turns out that women’s sizing, much like the pirate code, is less like a rule and more like a set of guidelines.

Yarrr.

A year or two ago, in an attempt to achieve consistent sizing, I had the brilliant idea that I was going to pick one or two brands and, once I figured out what size worked well, I’d stick with them. That should have meant “problem solved,” but it didn’t. For a while, I had Levi’s. A size 10 regular was pretty comfortable on me, I wore one pair until the wore out, then I went back to the store at Christmas to try on a new pair and–surprise surprise–it turned out I now needed something like a 12 short. Umm, when did I become short? But it’s not just Levi’s to blame. Lucky Brand jeans is another label that I’ve been into for a while. I’ve actually bought three pair of their jeans in size 10/30 in the past couple years (deeply discounted, if you were wondering), and all of those were fine. Then, last fall, I went a little wild in an online clearance sale and decided to buy two pair of their capri pants for about $15 each. In the same size. Shouldn’t be an issue, right? Well, it turns out that both of the size 10 capris were significantly smaller than the size 10 jeans. I was stuck with them since they were final sale, but here’s the kicker: Now at my current weight, one of the pairs of capri pants I can wear and they are loose on me, the other is still snug! WTF? And how is it that I can now wear an old size 8 jean from J. Crew, and I struggle to get into size 10 capri pants from Lucky Brand? As for dress pants… don’t even get me started on that debacle. I need to just give up and go for elastic waistbands.

With the clothing industry popping out ads like this, it’s no surprise that they don’t seem to have a clue. It turns out that women (and men) are getting larger. To keep up with the times, many retailers are clearly engaging in vanity sizing. The difference between a size L top I bought at New York & Co. seven years ago and a size L I bought last year is clear. The later fits, the former still feels like it’s binding my chest. But vanity sizing doesn’t help anything, especially not when some retailers are doing it, some are doing it less, and others aren’t doing it at all. Is it any wonder I’m wearing three different sizes right now? Oh, what a tangled web we weave.

I can only imagine how much more awkward this all would be for women who are not average height, whose body does not fit the archetypal “white girl shape,” or the plus size women whose selection is limited to begin with. Why isn’t there a better approach to sizing? This New York Times story from last year offers some insight and some hope. If companies refuse to work together and standardize sizing, offering some conversion guide like the Me-Ality scanner (evidently the new name of the MyBestFit scanner) would seem to be the next best thing. So why aren’t more stores doing this? Is it because stores just loooove having women try on armloads of clothes? Is it because women looove doing this? I doubt that can be the case. Everyone involved should want happy shoppers in, happy shoppers out, with a minimum of labor involved in the process. The only thing that’s lacking, it seems, is the demand from consumers to make these changes.

I bought a new pair of Lucky Brand Jeans today. On sale, in a size 29. I feel like I’m taking a big risk here. I wonder if men have these problems. And, once again, when did I become short?

Rape jokes–Still not funny, and they will make you look like a jerk

Pretty much the only show on TV that understands rape is not a joke.

I recently watched last week’s new episode of 30 Rock online, and I found it jarring to hear a rape joke thrown in–about Jenna and her boyfriend giving each other date rape drugs to spice up their relationship. This is nothing new: Rape jokes have been all over network TV lately. The Opinioness of the World has collected some recent ones on her blog, and I would also add that I have heard rape jokes on NBC’s Chelsea, CBS’s Two and a Half Men (which has been getting away with it for years), and I was aghast when CBS’s soap opera The Bold and the Beautiful–a drama aimed specifically at young people–featured a story in which a brother-sister team came up with the brilliant idea to get the underage girl he was interested in drunk, so that he could “hook up” with her, and this would clearly make her love him. Never was it mentioned that this, actually, would be sexual assault. It’s tempting to blame this epidemic of insensitive humor on the fact that there are so few women writing and producing TV these days, but it turns out that NBC’s Whitney, Chelsea, 30 Rock, and CBS’s 2 Broke Girls all have female writers and/or producers, and yet all turn to rape, date rape drugs, etc. as a source of humor.

Rainn Wilson made a date rape joke on Twitter yesterday, and I sent him some choice words before unfollowing him. It seems many others did the same, and I guess he deserves recognition for apologizing… But where is the sustained outrage? Where is the dialogue about the fact that this kind of humor is everywhere? I’m tired of feeling a jolt every time someone tells a rape joke on TV, I’m tired of wondering in real life whether I should get in their face or keep my mouth shut when one of my colleagues jokes about it, I’m tired of looking away or changing the channel when a rape scene, a rape storyline, or something someone says about rape in real life makes me uncomfortable. Why is it OK to joke, when this is happening every day to thousands of women, in the U.S. and worldwide, and most of them will never get justice?

Another blogger, Harriet J, wrote this post on the subject, and it’s long but it sums up my feelings pretty well:

[H]ere is my challenge for those who want to tell rape jokes:

Ask every woman in your life if she has been sexually assaulted. Ask her to tell you her story. This means your mother, your sister, your girlfriend, your grandma.

Once you have heard all their stories, go watch a movie with a rape scene in it. One you didn’t mind before. One you thought people were overly offended by.

Now tell me a joke.


The Lost Dutchman 10K: Running for the Gold

This weekend, I ran the Lost Dutchman 10K in Apache Junction, Arizona. I was super excited about this race for a couple of reasons:

  • First, in spite of the fact that I’ve done a lot of runs of 6 miles or more, I have only ever done one previous 10K race, and it was awful. This race was bound to be a PR for me, but I wasn’t sure what to expect. I hoped I could get under 1:10, but I suspected I might be able to do even better than that.
  • Second, I’d been wanting to race in the Lost Dutchman event since the first year I’ve lived in Arizona. The scenery seemed great, I heard good things from other runners, and the medals are nifty. There’s even some interesting lore behind the story of the Lost Dutchman and his mine, and those sorts of tales just fascinate me. In past years, the date of the race didn’t line up for me, but this year it seemed meant to be.

My BRF (Best Running Friend) Bean and I went up to the Phoenix area yesterday to get our packets and prepare for the running fun. She was planning to do the half, which meant getting up extra early today–her run started 45 minutes before mine. Here are some pics from the Apache Junction area, including a couple winning pics of this morning’s sunrise.

View at the Expo Center

Sunrise at Apache Junction

Another great view

Overall, the race went great for me. I think Bean and I both have the same complaints about the event, which are minor overall: parking was limited, and those who arrived late had quite a hike to the start; line-ups for the start of the various events (half marathon, 10K, 8K, 2 miles–the marathon started at a different location) were not clearly announced, leaving some runners surprised when the gun went off (the guy in front of me was texting at the start of the race!); and the course was a bit different than what we expected. The 10K was advertised as an out-and-back that was slightly uphill the first 5K, downhill the last 5K. In fact, there were rolling hills all the way. I’m pleased and surprised that I was able to power through the way I did.

The good news: The course was beautiful. While we were on roads the whole time, the area is mostly undeveloped and there are great views of saguaro, desert brush, and the Superstition Mountains. Roads were also completely shut down for us, giving runners space to spread out, and support along the course was great from volunteers and spectators. At the end, there was plenty of food and some entertainment (which we didn’t stick around to see). The medals are all beautiful, and the shirt is also pretty snappy.

Great medal!

This was a PR for me by 10 minutes, and I came in at around 1:05. I credit part of that to my last-minute decision to fill up my water bottle with Zico coconut water, which helped give me calories and energy along the way. I hate most sports drinks and usually just take water and Gu on longer runs, but coconut water has been working well for me. It kept me going strong long enough that I didn’t even need to take my gel. Don’t get me wrong, I was exhausted at the end of the race, but holding a 10:30 pace throughout is a big deal for me! Bean did pretty well, too, finishing the half in about 2:08.

Given all of my issues and insecurities lately, today was a confidence builder that I really needed. I have to admit, though, the whole experience got me thinking about building up some more distance. I can’t help but feel ambitious when I’m surrounded by so many marathon and half marathon runners. Besides, with all the running medals I’m getting, I’m going to have to buy a medal rack soon. Might as well fill it up! Happy Sunday, everyone!

Deadbeat Men: Let’s Talk About *That* for a Change

So the lead article in the NY Times today is about the fact that the majority of births in this country to women under 30 are now to unmarried mothers. I can’t say I’m surprised, but the more I thought about this article, and the accompanying story discussing the dynamic at work in an Ohio town, the angrier I became.

Here’s the fact, folks, unmarried mothers didn’t get that way themselves. And yet in the headlines of both of these articles, the men are missing. In the second story referenced above, it is “Young Mothers” for whom marriage has a fading allure and in the first it is “Women under 30” who are described as having children out of wedlock. Where are the men? Where is the responsibility on their part?

The He-Covery in Action

I’ve heard and read a lot about the “mancession” and the “crisis of boys” in education, and I don’t want to be insensitive to that, but I’m sick of the argument that men of a certain generation (let’s call it under 35) are systematically oppressed because a generation of women have been emasculating them. For those unfamiliar with the “War Against Boys” theory, most vocally advocated by Christina Hoff Summers at the turn of this century, the argument goes that males are now more likely than females to fail classes, get punished in school, or drop out, and they are less likely to complete college degrees at all levels except the Ph.D. (where they are roughly at parity with women). The reason for this is purportedly that we have created an educational system that is hostile to men, focused on female achievement. This argument has been surprisingly persistent, despite being largely debunked by studies showing that the difference between the sexes disappears when we control for things like race and income-related factors. (A study by the AAUW reported this finding based on a study of 40 years worth of data on educational achievement.) Likewise, the much-touted “mancession” is now being followed by a “he-covery” (*GAG*), with men making more progress than women in getting new jobs and getting jobs in a range of fields once dominated by women. This article cautions that long-term employment rates for men will continue to suffer if male degree completion rates continue to drop, but I think that’s a fairly obvious statement.

All of this ties into the “unwed mothers” phenomenon. A common theme among women interviewed in the NYT pieces is that they not only view husbands as unnecessary, but they also see them as burdensome and untrustworthy. What we have isn’t a generation of unwed mothers, we have a generation of deadbeat men. In the past, when women failed to obtain higher education it was because they were openly discriminated against, drummed out of school when they got married or pregnant, and they were given a low priority for admission to programs in the first place. Now, when men fail to finish higher education, it’s not for any of those reasons. Some men, because of race or class, start off at a disadvantage, but many men don’t finish or don’t go to college in the first place because they just don’t want to do the work. Even among those men that I see in my classroom and in my graduate program, the males are also overall less likely than females to be involved in extracurricular activities, service projects, to volunteer for committees, or basically to do anything they aren’t forced to do. Then, when these same guys can’t get jobs, I hear them complaining that “it only went to her because she had a vagina.” Right. A vagina, a string of grants and scholarships, multiple publications, and a page full of demonstrated service credentials. Try again, guys.

The same attitude, I think, has spread to marriage. Men don’t want to do it unless they feel they absolutely have to. Maybe I’m biased by my history of crappy relationships, but it’s telling to me that none of the men I’ve dated long-term have as-of-yet gone on to marry. Two of them are now in their mid-30s, one is still in his twenties. All of them told me at some point they wanted to have kids, but none of them wanted to start having kids “for a while,” because it would cramp their lifestyle. A few years ago, a male friend who proposed to his girlfriend for her birthday very romantically informed me that it was because, “I’ve given her a lot of gifts over the years, and the only other thing I could think of to give her was a ring.” Hmm. So who’s really the problem here?

I can relate to the women of Ohio. I look around me and I see in my peer group that even among the women I know who are my age and married, none of them fit the traditional marriage mold–almost all of the women are at parity with their spouses or have “married down” either in terms income or educational level. The New York Times also kindly informed me just last week that if I ever want to marry, I should expect to marry down. No shit. You know how many well-traveled, marathon-running, Ph.D.-holding men I’ve met in my life? I could count them on less than one hand. I don’t expect to meet my “equal,” but I do expect to meet a man who can take care of himself, and who has some ambition in life. Those men are few and far between and mostly are already taken. Maybe it’s true that women these days are guilty of thinking they can take charge of life on their own, but I think the men of today are equally guilty of thinking they can take charge of life when they’re 40, and until then they’re willing to skate by on the bare minimum of effort.

The Weight-ing Game

10K Medal

This will soon be mine.

Well, today was my last day of running before my 10K this weekend. I meant to run 3 miles Thursday, but I was so busted up and sore from Wednesday night’s Krav Maga session that I pushed it to today. I still felt slow and sore, but hopefully I’ll be back on track by Sunday for the Lost Dutchman 10K.

I didn’t really want to make this a running post, though. I wanted to talk about food and weight. As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve lost about 15 lbs. in the past two months–something I credit to a mostly meat-free diet, no drinking alcohol, and lots of running and exercise. This is a big achievement for me, but if I’ve lost this much weight and I’m somewhat pleased with how I look (and the fact that I’m writing this while wearing jeans that haven’t fit me in at least two years), why am I becoming so fixated on losing more? My weight stayed exactly the same for a little over a week, and it enraged me. I’m annoyed that I still have a gut, I’m counting calories, I keep telling myself that maybe when I lose five or ten more pounds I’ll reward myself with X, Y, or Z, and I probably felt crappy on my run this morning because I skipped working out yesterday and then didn’t allow myself to eat enough as a consequence.

It’s ironic that in a society where over a third of us are obese, the pressure to be thin remains intense. As a single woman in my 30s, I definitely get it. I’ve had the same brains and personality my whole life; that doesn’t determine the level of attention I get from men. When I was 140-150 lbs. (at 5’7″), I got dates. When I was 188, not so much. Of the three guys in my life who I’ve dated long-term, two of them criticized my weight at some point in the relationship… and I dated those guys when I was at least a size smaller than I am now. I hate to be telling myself that the reason I’m single is because I’m a bit heavy, and I know intuitively it isn’t true, but once someone puts that thought in your head it sure stays with you.

Men are only part of the problem, though. Arizona is also a tough place to be a larger girl. I say large-r because I’m wearing a size 8/10 now, and I’m still bigger than a lot of the women I encounter on a daily basis. I can’t tell what’s in the water here, but there’s an epidemic of 20-something girls who are under 5’5″ and about a size zero. This is especially true on the college campus I work on, and being exposed to that every day is feeding my complex. I don’t want to be an average-sized, 30-something woman. I want a do-over of the years of my 20s that I wasted on a bad relationship, an unsatisfying job, and a place I hated living in. I can’t change the past, so I’m trying to change my appearance. There it is: A noble goal, but for all the wrong reasons.

I’m so glad this weekend is going to be a race weekend. I need to get out of town, and I consider a 6.2 mile race to be a license to forget about my body snarking and eat a big bowl of pasta, for goodness sake.