What's it about?
Girl Be Heard is a nearly all-female theatre company. Their mission, as defined on their website, is to "[develop], [amplify], and [celebrate] the voices of young women through socially conscious theatre-making."
Their latest original theatrical work, Blurred Lines, opens up a dialogue on the topics of rape culture and consent.
What'd I experience?
I was supposed to see Blurred Lines on a Thursday night. And it just so happened that the Thursday night I was scheduled to see the show would be the day a massive blizzard would roll into town. It wasn't the worst New York City had seen, but still, I didn't relish the thought of navigating my way to a play in those conditions (see below). Thankfully, I was able to very easily have my ticket moved to Saturday night's performance.
This ticket change gave me an opportunity to reserve a ticket for my mom as well. I had the feeling that Blurred Lines would be a real mother/daughter show. Due to the heavy subject matter, I wasn't expecting anything warm and fuzzy, but I had a strong sense that the show would contain important material that would be rendered somehow more important since I was including the generation that came before me.
I walked my mom over to the front row, clutching the sexual education informational sheets that we had been handed on our way in. I spotted a color-coded pyramid of rape culture, with the tip of the pyramid showcasing the most inexcusable offenses printed in a blood red.
At a glance, there wasn't any information that I could see that was unfamiliar to me. I mean, I was an educated woman, a college graduate. I didn't expect for my views to change or to learn anything new. I already had a lot to say...
I remember when I first felt like I was being watched. I was 11 years old and I was waiting for the bus to take me to school. I was wearing a knee-length skirt and ballet flats, with my backpack slung over one shoulder. Suddenly, a grown man approached me. I was on alert. My mother had always made it clear to me that adults should never ask children for help. He asked me if I was a dancer, his eyes running up and down my body. I didn't say anything-I couldn't. I just ignored him and waited for him to leave me alone. He hadn't technically broken any laws (that I was aware of), but something felt very WRONG to me.
Shortly before high school, my body started noticeably changing. It made me uncomfortable, and so I hid my newly minted figure underneath my brother's over-sized band t-shirts and wore my hair in two braids, one over each shoulder. As I commuted to school every day, I could feel the eyes of men raking over my form, and I hated it. I was a kid, and I felt like a kid, and yet suddenly I was being viewed as a woman and a sexual object, object being the key word.
As an adult, I've had a few terrifying experiences with men where I felt like my life was in danger, but I was luckily never harmed. I have experienced cat-calling with such regularity, I am desensitized to it. I have been pressured by men I have dated for sexual activity. I recognize that I am one of the lucky ones. I have not been a victim of rape or sexual assault. But I have been a victim to a society that perpetuates a culture where consent is overlooked and rape is excused and normalized.
I wish that my mother didn't feel the need to instruct me on how not to get taken advantage of, on how not to take drinks from people or leave my drink unattended, on how not to walk home late, but these were necessities in the world I was raised in. Similarly, my mother instructed my brother on how not to take advantage of others, and on how to respect the boundaries of other people. I long for a world in which I will not fear for the safety of my future daughters while they are walking the streets.
The cast of Blurred Lines had a lot to say too. They were pissed, and they refused to be silenced. They were sick of people making decisions about their own bodies and restricting their choices, sick of their consent being misdefined and disregarded. There were moments of humor throughout the performance to make things easier, such as a mock game show that tested people's knowledge of consent, a mock talk show called Consenting Carol, and a musical parody of Chicago's "Cell Block Tango" where the cast took turns voicing the particular instances where their consent had NOT BEEN GIVEN.
And I ended up learning quite a bit, like the exact year when marital rape became decriminalized in all 50 states (1993! Only a year before I was born!), and the number of states where rapists have a say in the raising of their child, including custodial rights (15!).
My views on rape culture and consent didn't radically shift, but I did find additional sympathy for the trans community. I could not imagine not identifying with the gender I was assigned at birth, but I especially couldn't understand the hatred certain people felt for trans people, and the lengths they would go to in order to make their hatred known.