riffing off this last post on womens' anger.
is a play by the Five Lesbian Brothers of which I am particularly fond, although I do love all of their work, that I've seen/read, at least.
We are secretaries and we do things secretarial
And once a month we kill a guy and cut him up for burial.
--Shh! Shh! Shh!...
So, yeah, you get the premise right up front (in the actual play as well). As always, the fun is in getting there.
In the rustic town/suburb/something of Big Bone, new girl Patty joins the receptionist pool at the Cooney Lumber Mill, at the beginning of the month (this is important). It is the chance of a lifetime; a million girls would kill for the job.
--o, not literally! Ha, ha! You're so funny. (And I love your hair).
no, seriously! There's no competition here! The girls are so sweet, really:
PATTY (to audience): They all seemed to know each other so well. I thought I'd never fit in. And I wanted to. Almost more than anything. I worried constantly about what they thought of me.
PEACHES: Here you go, Ashley (she hands her a strawberry Slim-Fast)
PATTY: Is that stuff any good?
ASHLEY: You never tried it?
DAWN: Look at her. Her body's only perfect.
PEACHES: I envy you, Patty. I never see you eating.
PATTY: Oh, I eat plenty. I'm having a salad for lunch today....
And Susan, the boss, is, well, everyone just loves her. Well, not in that way; the girls aren't that way, (except for Dawn, the resident lesbo; watch out for her! Ha, ha!
PATTY: I had no idea! You're so pretty!
ASHLEY: She gives the Big Bone Organization for Women a bad name! The lumberjacks think we're ALL lezzies.)
...so, yeah. Susan. Great boss. Great motivator. Great role model.
PATTY: (Entranced) Mmm. I really love you, Miss Curtis.
SUSAN: (Feigning embarassment) Oh, my.
PATTY: (Also embarassed) No, I mean. I really admire you. I admire you and your work and your--the way you are. I wish--I wish I was more like you.
SUSAN: Thank you, Patty. See? That's how easy it is to accept a compliment. Want to practice?
PATTY: (Laughs) Oh, well, I don't think--
SUSAN: Nonsense. Ready? Patty, you have wonderful taste in clothes.
SUSAN: No, Patty. You say, "Thank you." Accept the compliment, don't question it, Patty. Patty, your typing skills are superb.
PATTY: Oh, I--thank you. Thank you very much.
SUSAN: Good. Patty, your breasts are better than any set of implants.
PATTY: Miss Curtis!
SUSAN: Just say, "Thank you."
PATTY: Thank you.
SUSAN: Better. But I can see I'm going to have to work on you...
Then the new girl and apparent new favorite of Susan (which doesn't bother anyone else, particularly Ashley, AT ALL) gets promoted from lowly receptionist to full-blown secretary. And now she is really part of the cul--team. Which includes regular meetings of the Big Bone Organization of Women (BOW). headed, of course, by Susan; and inextricably connected to the Cooney Lumber Mill and thus the job; as is the entire town.
SUSAN: Well, shall we begin?
(They all take hands and bow for the invocation)
We thank you for the opportunity to meet for shakes and fellowship. Please help us to word process without error, to follow the SlimFast Plan, and to make it through that time of the month together. (the invocation is over and they release hands). And speaking of that time of the month, since we're just completing our last cycle, no bloodstains anyone, I hope.
(All except Patty click and giggle [special "Secretary" language they all speak])
PATTY: Wait a minute, you mean you're all on the same cycle?
SUSAN: I'm sure you'll sync up soon, Patty. It's what happens when we women spend so much of our time together.
PATTY: I have heard that. I guess I never spent that much time with my women friends before.
PEACHES: (To Susan) I have a problem with bloodstains.
(There is a tense silence).
PATTY: Well, Peaches, just rinse them right away with a little cold water, and never, under any circumstances, never EVER rinse them with hot. That sets the stain...
Sound advice. Patty's clearly still not quite tweaking everything yet, though; not the giggle-click language, not why Susan collects everyone's used tampons, and not really this bit, either:
SUSAN: We just need your signature right here.
DAWN: It's a celibacy agreement, Patty.
PATTY: I don't understand.
SUSAN: One thing we all appreciate in BOW is healthy relationships. We all date, of course. But a girl needs to know how to say no and the rule just makes it easier.
ASHLEY: You want to keep your sweater, don't you, Patty?
DAWN: Here's a pen, Patty.
So she signs the agreement...but she's still surreptitiously having sex with Buzz, the sensitive lumberjack who rescued her from the cruder attentions of some of the other lumberjacks (Chip, Woody, Sandy...) Not that the others don't know. There are no secrets in Big Bone.
As the month wears on, the strain begins to manifest a bit more clearly.
PEACHES: Susan...said Mr. Kembunkscher isn't happy with my performance. She said he said I'm not the right size. Can you believe that, Patty? Fat, old, baldy-top Mr. Kembunckscher....Susan said he said none of the girls can be over a size twelve. Damn him. I bet that fat old hog hasn't ever tried to diet....I'd like to prick him with a needle.
PATTY: Peaches...I think you're fine the way you are. Mr. K...has no right to dictate what size his employees should be. Really. it's not legal.
PEACHES: Sure. Maybe in a court of law. But in Big Bone there's only Cooney law...Patty, I have to stop eating solids....Susan said you could help me...If you see me with a bear claw or a bag of mixed nuts in my hands, just give me a little slap on my face, OK?...
PATTY: Peaches, I'm not going to slap you...
But eventually, Peaches, in terror of losing her job, persuades Patty to help.
(Patty gives Peaches a tap on the cheek).
PEACHES: That's not hard enough and it won't work.
(Patty gives Peaches a stronger tap).
(Peaches slaps Patty hard. Patty slaps Peaches back even harder).
There. Yes. That was good. Thank you, Patty. Thank you.
Soon enough, Patty is slapping Peaches--hard--without a second thought.
Meanwhile, Ashley's got her own problems:
(It is late, and Ashley is working on a little statue of Susan made out of office supplies).
ASHLEY: (Talking to herself) Just a minute, Susan, don't leave yet. I'm almost finished. I need a head. It's easy for Patty to make things; she had a mother...I think we ought to give Patty an "A" for effort. An "F" for faker? You think you know someone and it turns out they aren't sweet and nice after all. Just rotten and bad like everyone else. Still, you shouldn't compare me and Patty like that. It's not fair. It's not fair. Patty doesn't know you like I do. I do. I know you. Don't forget how well I know you. I know all about you, Susan...
and Dawn finally works her predatory magic on Patty:
PATTY: Well, what about the celibacy rule?...
DAWN: It doesn't count if it's two women, Patty. I can't believe you don't know that.
Although Dawn has apparently given Patty her first orgasm at the fuck motel, Patty still "likes lumberjacks." Specifically, Buzz. Tensions arise, inevitably; but the pettier jealousies and backbiting also seem to be fuelled by...something else. Things get darker and stranger. Susan chastises Dawn for her transgression...in a very intimate place...with her teeth. Patty goes on a surreal midnight ride with Susan, which culminates when they run over a wombat:
PATTY: I better take a look. (Gets out and looks under the car). It's still alive. You don't have a gun?
SUSAN: I detest guns. What are you going to do?
(Patty removes a tire iron and takes a swipe in the air)
Oh, I can't watch.
PATTY: (Coaxing the wombat out from under the car) Come here, little fella...
(Patty beats the wombat to death with the tire iron. Patty gets so into it that Susan has to stop her)
SUSAN: That's enough, Patty. It's dead.
PATTY: I just hate to see anything suffer.
...and so we roll around to the very last day of the cycle. 29 accident-free days. The longest the lumber mill ever goes without one. Back in the office, everyone's hard drives seem to have been erased, the uber-boss is shouting for his reports, and things are...well...
(Ashley re-enters. She's holding...a bottle of toner. She's got black marks around her mouth)
PATTY: Ashley, what's your password?
ASHLEY: It's a secret. If I tell you I'll have to kill you.
DAWN: Ashley, give me the toner.
ASHLEY: Sure, Dawn. (She eats the rest of the toner and tosses the bottle to Dawn). You'd better order more. We're almost out.
PATTY: What are you doing?
ASHLEY: You stay the fuck away from my job. I'm next in line, got it?...
DAWN: Leave her alone, Ashley.
ASHLEY: Aw, isn't love sweet.
MR K...: (Voice-over) Hello? Hello, is this thing on?...
PEACHES: I'm having my lunch, you fat pig. You know, lunch? What people eat to live? I'm eating my lunch, you dumb fuck. Leave me alone!
DAWN: Oh, shut up, Peaches!
PEACHES: Don't tell me to shut up! I starve myself and look at me, I'm fat. Patty eats whatever she wants whenever she wants to. She eats a dinner! She eats a dinner!
PATTY: I'm sorry.
PEACHES: Yeah, you're sorry and I'm fat.
ASHLEY: Stop saying that word!!!
PEACHES: FAT! FAT! FAT! How do you like that, you stupid anorexic?...
PATTY: The report!
DAWN: Oh, fuck Kembunkscher, Patty! You fuck everybody anyway!
ASHLEY: (To Peaches) If you don't shut your fat trap this minute, I'm going to come over there and shut it for you, you whore!
PEACHES: (Referring to Patty) I don't think I'm really the whore in this room, but you can call me that, if you like...
Susan returns at this juncture, which only escalates matters. Big hair-pulling catfights and so forth. Eventually, the crisis is dealt with...but there's still the evening meeting to contend with. And here it is. Patty finally confronts Susan with her worst fears:
PATTY: I'm not stupid. I notice things.
SUSAN: What things, Patty?
PATTY: Like every girl has a jacket. A lumberjack jacket.
SUSAN: They're nice jackets aren't they? Good and warm. Better made than a woman's coat. Have you ever noticed that, Patty? How men's clothes are better made than women's and usually half as expensive? It's a crime. A while ago, before you came on, we decided to rectify this crime. We decided we wanted good jackets, too. It gets cold in winter. Only the lumberjacks won't give us their jackets, so we take them.
(PATTY tries to bolt. ASHLEY and DAWN grab her...)
PATTY: You kill them, don't you! You kill the lumberjacks!
Which, well, duh. And the next bit of information is probably not a huge surprise to those who were following along: tonight's target is none other than Buzz.
PATTY: He loves me.
SUSAN: I love you. Peaches, Ashley, Dawn--we love you. Buzz doesn't love you. He loves an idea of you. I even love the killer in you. Now that's love...
PATTY: Why Buzz? Buzz never hurt anyone. Why not one of the others? Why not Hank or Sandy--the way he's always pawing at the girls...
SUSAN: We don't kill them because they're bad. We kill them because we're bad.
Further agonized requests for explanation don't help much:
PATTY: Peaches, how could you do this?
PEACHES: I don't know, Patty. It's fun. There's food. We can eat. There's pizza and ice cream and Kahlua and you can mix them together. And it's dark, Patty. And we yell. A sound comes out of my mouth, huge, like I never could have imagined...
And Susan, after a dramatic climax wherein Patty stabs her with a phone message spike ("Good girls don't stab people, Patty"), first elicits a confession:
PATTY: You made me do it.
SUSAN: You wanted to do it. You loved it, didn't you? Admit it, Patty...
SUSAN: You never liked Peaches, did you? You just pretended to like her.
PATTY: Yes, yes.
SUSAN: Dawn was your toy, wasn't she?
PATTY: Yes, I used her.
SUSAN: And you wanted Ashley to die, didn't you?
PATTY: Yes, I loathe her. I despise her.
SUSAN: And Buzz is a lousy fuck, isn't he?
PATTY: Yes, yes, the bastard!
SUSAN: But most of all, you hate me. Isn't that right, Patty?
PATTY: Yes! Yes! I hate you. I hate you.
(PATTY collapses in SUSAN's lap, crying...she has crossed over)
and then offers her own, more or less:
PATTY: I see someone, behind the facade. Someone who hurts and needs. What happened to you, Susan?
SUSAN: Okay. My story goes like this. I was born and then I was fucked over and fucked over and fucked over so many times that I can't separate it out anymore...
and so it comes to pass that Kill Night rolls around. and after a moment of backpedalling wherein she tries to turn the ax on her "friends" instead of the hapless, drugged Buzz ("God, Patty, get a grip"), goes through with the deed, and earns her jacket.
PATTY: (To audience) My first Kill Night. It seems so long ago. Susan took it on the lamsoon after that. Now I'm office manager and I love it. I do things differently, but as we say in BOW, it's all in the execution.
ALL: ...We're at the end. We should provide a moral for this story
But this is not a moral tale or complex allegory...
But of course, it is a moral tale, and it is a complex allegory; a very complex one. As co-author Lisa Kron puts it in the intro to the published play,
LISA: The play examined the ways in which women are the enforcers of sexism. The rules that are enforced involve weight, food, sexuality. Proof that we were covering uncharted territory was in the disconnect between the responses of men (notably male reviewers) and women. Women recognized what we were doing because they had experienced it. Men did not because they had never seen it before, never had it described to them. Male viewers often focused on the cartoonish violence at the end of the play where poor Buzz is killed with his own chainsaw. The emotional violence between the women did not show up on their radar. They tended to see the play as a revenge fantasy, which it clearly is not. The only likable character in the play is Buzz, and before his bloody execution Susan Curtis makes clear that he does not deserve to die: "We don't kill them because they're bad. We kill them because we're bad."
But it's actually even more complicated than that, from this audience member's perspective. For one thing, it's not just internalized sexism but internalized homophobia, and the ways in which lesbophobia plays out among straight women, how it acts as an enforcer. Unlike the male homophobic equivalent, though, it's not the main dish in this toxic banquet; the token lesbian is "tolerated" (and hilariously, of course, also, the homoerotic undercurrents among the "straight" women are made blatantly overt; it wouldn't be a Five Lesbian Brothers play otherwise...).
No; what's really vital is that the women tamp down their anger, at least until such time as they are allowed a "safe" target for it. What this play is about, it seems to me, is the extremely poisonous results of stuffing back real, legitimate anger in the name of "getting along" and "being a good girl" and even "sisterhood"--the play skewers a wide variety of targets, from classic Cosmo-reading hetgirl culture to certain expressions of feminism. The common denominator is the incredibly warped idea of "friendship" and "love" that these women have. And part of the reason they act this way, it's pretty clear, is that they are not used to love, much less love among women (sexual or otherwise). "Chloe liked Olivia;" it's still a radical concept. And these women, like so many women, feminist and otherwise, are struggling to integrate this novel idea with the ancient messages of
"There's not enough to go around"
"Other women are your competition for those scarce goods."
Now throw in some other ancient messages:
"Good girls don't get angry. Particularly not at the people who love them and only want what's best for them"
"Good girls aren't selfish."
"Good girls aren't boastful or openly self-promoting or proud of themselves."
"Good girls control themselves, particularly physically. Don't eat too much. Don't fuck too much. Don't desire too much. Don't be greedy. Don't be fat. Don't be a whore. (You don't really need that, do you?)"
"A woman's work is never done."
"The Eternal Feminine beckons us upward. (Always be improving yourself! And if you're feminine: always be helping others to improve, also!)
"Idle hands are the devil's playground."
and, just for good measure,
"Now, girls, you're both pretty. (But you are special. Don't tell the others)
"Everyone can make it if they just work hard. (But there's only room for a few people at the top; you can only make it if you're really special). If you can't make it, it's your fault. (You didn't work hard enough. You aren't special enough. What's wrong with you?)
No wonder they're all fucking crazy.
No wonder we're...
Ironically, warped as Susan is, in a way she's onto something. Not with the monthly murders themselves; that ritual sacrifice is nothing more or less than a safety valve to maintain the fucked-up system that's firmly in place, no more or less so than the "Particutions" in "A Handmaid's Tale."
No; what's a little closer to genuine health is the naked, unapologetic claiming of her "badness." The thing is, it's not even necessarily "badness;" it's just...there. But seeing what's there, really seeing it, is the first halting step on the path out of the woods, perhaps.
And what's there, what the authors of this play have seen and put before us: that "we," we women, are, at the end of the day, only human, no more, no less. That while there is indeed a system of institutionalized sexism that affects us in particular ways, it does not say anything about our inherent nature, or even what we're each of us individually capable of right now.
We could be murderers.
We could be rapists.
We could be child molesters.
We could start wars.
We could be torturers, and thoroughly enjoy ourselves doing it.
We could commit matricide, parricide, infanticide.
Same as anybody else.
And sometimes--not nearly as often as men, statistically, perhaps, but sometimes--we do, we do do those things.
All of that and more.
And--and this is the hard part: we still don't really get that many points if we don't do those things; because, as Lisa Kron notes, there is also emotional violence. From women, and between women. Terrible, awful violence.
And often enough, not only does it not show up on mens' radars, it doesn't show up on ours, either.
And this, too, perhaps, is our cultural legacy:
"If you can't see it touch it quantify it, it doesn't exist. If you can't see the wounds, there was no real harm."
But you do see the results, is the thing, one way or another, eventually. The results are broken bonds, failed movements, irrevocably damaged relationships and psyches and souls...and those invisible damages lead their bearers to go on to commit more tangible harms.
Such is life.
"Those to whom harm is done, will do harm in turn..."
In the end, I think the moral is quite clear: it starts with owning your shit. No need to own the shit of others, mind; the system of institutionalized sexism is quite clearly laid out. That was not our creation; not our idea, no.
What we own, for good and for bad, is what we're capable of. Our power, used for good or ill, effectively or ineffectively. Our--yes--agency. Our shadow, too.
"We don't kill them because they're bad. We kill them because we're bad."
It's awful...and it's freeing. Yes. The rage is there. The hate is there. And the love, too, lying under all the crap like the last winged creature in Pandora's box.
It's not that there is no "out of here." It's that the way out, as in the Inferno, lies not up and away but down and through.
And that, that, is examination. That is the "work" that must be done.
At least: it's a start.