On Friday night, the Abigail and I went to see a production of the Vagina Monologues at the Abigail's school, the California Institute of Integral Studies. As a production the presentation of the Vagina Monologues the Abigail and I watched was very good. The actors were all great, supported by an effective minimalist set and some powerful, subtle staging choices. The heart of this production was clearly in the right place.
This is my first time seeing the Vagina Monologues, and I wish I could say I was struck by the weight and beauty of the piece and completely blown away, but I wasn't. My problem with the Vagina Monologues (and this is relevant to the Burning Zeppelin Experience, I promise) is founded in some terminology I learned a few months ago at a weekend seminar. I'll do my best to make it quick.
In any conversation, you have three factors: what one person (or faction) is saying, what the second person (or group) is saying, and the way the conversation is taking place. The nature of the conversation. In essence, the way an issue or debate is framed is the third participant in any conversation.
To me, the conversation of the Vagina Monologues was something like "how can we protect vulnerable women from bad men." Of the monologues I saw, most of them were about the pain and suffering of women - women as the victims of violence and cruelty at the hands of men, women as losing something precious about themselves thanks to our male-driven culture, women as needing women to save them, protect them, and teach them - with only one exception. This conversation is extremely well-intentioned. After all, when bad men and vulnerable women come together, the result is always pain and suffering.
The problem is that conversations make themselves true. They need to, otherwise they can't exist. So, the conversation "how can we protect vulnerable women from bad men" requires that women be vulnerable and men be bad. No matter how hard you work at keeping vulnerable women away from bad men (and vice versa), no matter how hard you work to make some women vulnerable and some men less bad, what you are working with is still vulnerable women and bad men. More and less is not a real change, it's just more and less of the same. I saw that the Vagina Monologues was totally caught up in a conversation that would never let it succeed at its goal.
To really transform the world, you need a truly transformative conversation, like "how can men and women live together" or "how can we make a world where everyone is equally valued regardless of gender." Alternately, more personally, "how can the Abigail and I create a relationship that works for both of us" is a more powerful and liberating conversation than "how can we make sure the evil patriarchy doesn't sneak into our relationship." The goal is (kind of) the same, but the way of thinking and talking about it is completely different.
How does this relate to the Burning Zeppelin Experience?
The thing I love most about science fiction, fantasy, horror, magical realism, and every other kind of fantastic literature is the power it has to transform conversations. A favorite of mine is Sharon Shinn's Heart of Gold (which I reviewed here), which tackles issues of ethnicity, gender, and culture. By making its characters blue, gold, and white-skinned humanoids with cultures made out of bits and pieces of recognizeable human ways of life glued together into new configurations, Heart of Gold allows the reader to examine the issues in a new way. With fantasy, we break out of old habits and create new ways of seeing the world. We turn our challenges into games we can play over and over again, until the pain has no power over us and we can give up conversations that can't help us and embrace conversations that will.
That's all I've got to say on the matter. I'm looking forward to your comments.