Monday, August 26, 2013

Rapture, Blister, Burn-ed

A couple nights ago, some friends and I saw Gina Gionfriddo’s Rapture, Blister, Burn at the Geffen Playhouse in Westwood… and we haven’t stopped talking about it.

In the play, Catherine, a successful feminist theorist, returns to the small college town where she grew up and reconnects with Don, her college boyfriend, and Gwen, the friend that “stole” him from her, now married with two children. She is smacked in the face with the life she could have had if she hadn’t followed her career, and this dilemma of the road not travelled becomes the central question of the play, the age old crux faced by women everywhere: is it possible to have both a successful career and a well-cultivated marriage/home life? Gwen, too, is disappointed with her life, especially with Don as a husband, and she longs to return to school and pursue the career she gave up to become a mother. When Don and Catherine start having an affair, Gwen gets on board with the idea and decides the two women should essentially switch lives. Don moves in with Catherine and Gwen goes back to school in New York, on Catherine’s dime.

I found myself relating to Catherine to the point of discomfort. When she and Don shack up together, she basks in his sloppy, teen boy lifestyle – they stay up all night watching porn and horror movies, fucking, and eating funyuns. Then, in the morning, she encourages him to write that book he always wanted to write and never did because of his laziness and inertia. An older man I spoke to after the play expressed that he didn’t quite buy that a woman as smart, independent, and put together as Catherine would engage in behavior like this. Clearly, a woman wrote this play. For some reason, I don’t think men can quite comprehend the seeming contradiction of an intellectual, independent woman getting sloppy in a love nest with her “loser” boyfriend. I understand because I am this woman – I will stay up all night with a guy, smoking pot, eating pizza and watching The Devil Inside – then, in the morning, I’ll hop out of bed because I don’t like sleeping in, and I’ll want him to get his act together and live up to his potential.

In the play, this contradiction becomes too much for Don and he inevitably goes back to Gwen, a woman whose expectations are not too high or too low for him to live up to. “Gwen holds me to a grade-C achievable standard,” he explains to a devastated Catherine. She doesn’t allow for his sloth, but she also doesn’t expect him to ever write that book he’ll never write. I found myself sucking back tears at the curtain call because I can see this exact thing happening to me – choosing my career over a man and then being rejected because I wouldn’t do the woman thing and sacrifice for him and because he knows he can’t live up to my expectations.

When Catherine, her mother Alice, and her student Avery reflect on Don’t actions, they reference anti-feminist theorist Phyllis Schlafly who argued that independent career women who are too “easy” will be the end of marriage because, as Alice so eloquently puts it, “No one buys the cow if he can get the milk for free.” Catherine theorizes that this behavior goes back to cave men, because cave men wanted to conquer a woman and keep her by their fire, but if a woman was too easily conquered, she might get bored and go fuck another caveman. As my male friend put it, “Guys don’t want a girl that wants casual sex because they are supposed to be the ones that want casual sex and if the girl is too casual about it they lose control.”

I asked my married friend what she thought was the message of the play. “I think it’s that maybe we have to stop expecting so much from men. We can’t expect them to provide the love and comfort we need. Maybe that’s what our female friends are for.” Tears streamed down her cheeks as she opened up to me in a way I’ve never seen before. “There’s just a lot of disappointment.” I thought a lot about this and, although I have a different perspective and I’m not married, I do think there’s something to be said for this theme of women’s expectations and disappointments in life, and especially in their dealings with men. Because I honestly think we expect more from them than they expect from us, and we’re constantly setting ourselves up for disappointment.

My married friend and I started talking about the upcoming wedding of our engaged friend.
“All this wedding stuff is bullshit.” I was surprised to hear such vehemence coming out of this woman who usually keeps such a constrained demeanor. “It has nothing to do with what marriage is really like.”
I had a Woman’s Studies teacher in college who talked about how a wedding is to marriage what porn is to sex. It’s like a hyper-realistic, fantasy version of the thing itself and the two really don’t have much to do with each other. Again, I think there’s a huge expectation-disappointment cycle going on here, because weddings raise women’s expectations for marriage to Disney movie happily-ever-after extremes that make some level of disappointment inevitable. And weddings are often more a fulfillment of the bride’s fantasy than the groom’s. Because, again, men simply have less expectations. I think they accept their reality much more easily than women do and they don’t spend half their life thinking about the what ifs and the what could’ve beens.

The play ends with the three generations of women standing together, sans men, raising their martini glasses in a toast.
Alice: “To Phyllis Schlafly! She said you girls would pay for your independence and your whoring. She said men wouldn’t stay with you and she was right. You’re free. You’re free… I think it’s wonderful!”

I left the play feeling exhilarated, energized, and on the verge of tears. I felt empowered, like a dialogue had been started and my values were shared by a group of strong women, and even some men. That progress was possible and imminent. Then, I left the theatre and found myself at a party… with Gaffer Guy. It seemed my newfound feminist strength was being tested. And once again I found myself, involuntarily, with expectations. For what, you might ask? What could I possibly expect from this individual who had proven himself again and again to be nothing but disappointing? We had known each other would be at the party, and he had even said he was going to ask me to go with him. I didn’t want to go with him, or anyone, because I wanted to be a free agent that night, but I did expect there might be a little fun flirting or at least some kind of sexy attention from him. And yes, I know he’s a proven dick, but typical female that I am, I’m riding the expectation-disappointment-expectation merry-go-round like there's no tomorrow, and this guy is like CAT NIP for me. And guess what, he showed up with another girl. She was by his side all night, and he kept walking past me and catching my eye across the room, but never left this girl’s side, and never came to talk to me. Until I ran into him at the bar and I met the girl and a couple of his creepy male friends, and Gaffer Guy looked from me to his date and said excitedly, “I see a wrestling match about to happen.” I shook my head, picked up my drink and walked away.

I think this might be another crutch of being an “easy” independent woman – I feel like my one night stands sometimes don’t think I deserve respect. Because I let them fuck me on the first night and they don’t have to work hard to conquer me and I’m never going to sit by their fire. Or they think because I come across as strong I don’t have feelings. I suddenly felt like Avery, the 21 year old in the play. She is this brassy young woman with all these contemporary views on female empowerment and sexuality, and then her boyfriend dumps her for a Mormon girl who is definitely NOT giving it up on the first date – and Avery is crushed. Despite all my independent woman bravado and my loud vocalization of strong feminist values, I am still human. Underneath it all, I am a vulnerable woman who wants love. And, in the face of men like Gaffer Guy, sometimes it’s really hard to admit that.  


  1. I'm constantly provoked and enlightened by this blog. I identify with EVERYONE. And my generation STARTED women's lib, for God's sake. I hope to God there's something to be learned and achieved BEYOND Phyllis Schlafly. Jeez. Have we really come back to that???? Depressing. But what if.....just what if.....all expectations of "ownership" were dropped, and we just enjoyed each other. What if?

    1. I think the conversation has progressed so much, and we are now able to look at all kinds of feminist theorists from a totally fresh perspective. I love what you said - Let's get to the point of simply enjoying each other. And lighten up about sex! Have you heard of the Bonobos??

  2. I have long been the outspoken one when it comes to women expecting too much from men. I have sang that song from the highest mountain tops and when women inevitably are disgusted and wounded by their men, I smile sweetly and ask them what they expected. Women have been raised to believe in the Disney fairytale happily ever after story but for those who still buy into it, I have no pity. What's worse is that, despite the eventual disillusionment, women continue to then teach this same B.S. to their daughters once they become mothers. Is there no shame? Fact is that men still dominate all aspects of the world's patriarchal society. What applies to them does not apply to us. Very Simone de Beauvoir- women as "second sex" or "other". Women have only themselves to blame for this since, even after all of the women's sufferage and liberation, collectively, women do not rise up against this oppressive behavior, although we could given that we make up 52% of the population.

    What I like about this post is that it highlights the "Grass is always greener" philosophy. But it also tries to paint a black and white portrait of what men and women want and expect when life is anything but black and white. There is a shit ton of grey and the sooner we looks at the whole rather than the parts, we cannot draw the correct conclusion, for ourselves that is. We are all different and what works for one, does not work for everyone universally. Personally, I have chosen career. I am not cut out for the marriage and family life but have a healthy appreciation for those who do. The important thing about family is that choices do have to be made and children and home should come first. It's not to say that nannies can't do a perfectly good job of raising children for career oriented parents, but then those children will be more the children of the nannies more so than the parents if the parents are never around. I suppose there is a balance but in the end, most people are not emotionally where they need to be themselves to strike that balance. The world we live in is more complex than ever before.

    The more we examine the more we can understand but one constant seems to remain whether you are a family woman or a career woman and that is that men still have a double standard when it comes to sexuality and the grass is always greener when we don't have a strong sense of our own purpose. For me, I will continue to have sex when I feel like it without regret regardless of what the guy I'm fucking thinks of me afterwards and I am going to pursue the career goals I set for myself without giving in to losing sight of those goals should I enter into a relationship. It is great to know that this play evokes such emotion and afterthought on the subject matter. Sounds like we could all benefit from a trip to the Geffen this week.

    1. Thank you for your thoughts. I think you would find this play very interesting, if you are able to see it. It brings up all of these ideas and more, some things I never even thought about... and I obviously think about this stuff A LOT. I think you are right, being a woman is full of gray area, nothing is black and white... this play really sheds light on that notion.

  3. i think woman need to start expecting more not less from men. if we constantly allow boyish men to step into a relationship with us, then we, yes, will be disappointed. BUT as we see from gaffer guy, it's not too difficult to spot the immature boy/men... the selfish, the narcissists... blah blah blah. WE KNOW.... and it's our acceptance that betrays us. We think.... well, that's good enough... I don't need more.... I think we do. We need. Men need. Why can't we satisfy our needs and build love.. unconditional love? This is different from fairly tale love... from Hollywood love.. and perhaps we women need to really become clear about what our needs are and how to ask for them to be met. it's evolutionary. it's damn important too!

    1. Yes yes yes. Absolutely, I think you can't get what you want until you are totally clear about what you want. For me, I know I'm not always clear about what I want from a man/ what my expectations are, and therefore what I end up getting from him is not clear and is often disappointing. I'm fully aware of this and I take responsibility. What I find interesting is my attraction to disappointing assholes. What makes me fall for these "bad boy" characters I know are trouble and only really good for a one night stand (if that). Is it not wanting to take responsibility for my own happiness? Fear of asking for what I really want in case I don't get it? Fear of falling in love and further complicating my already complicated relationship with my ex-boyfriend? Or D) All of the above. Oops, I may have just answered my own question.

  4. I love this. I saw the show as well and related to all 3 ladies for different reasons! I will never forget the day my now husband, then fiance told me to lower my expectations (of him). I think I punched him in the face and then later I thought that maybe he was right. I fluctuate between acceptance and desire every couple of minutes inside my marriage. I want the bar to be high but not so high he can't reach it - if he tippy toes. LOVE YOUR BLOG!

    1. Haha!!!! At least he was honest! And by god that was ballsy of him to tell you BEFORE you tied the knot. I guess he warned you which gives him a big fat hall pass. Your sense of humor is awesome and essential. Thanks for reading!

  5. First I want to say your writing is a delight to read my friend. Composed, clear, well-structured. A touch of flair but not overly-poetical or tangential, all in all a great economy of thought. And dripping with wholesome forthright honesty!

    SO many of my female friends (I’m a dude) have had an awakening (or open acceptance/acknowledgment of things already felt) to a variety of "feminist" or gender/sex-related thoughts and feelings in the past two years. My Facebook feed has in that time suddenly bloomed with a peppering of articles about attacks on women, sexual studies, videos about the porn industry (both pro and con), sexually explicit gifs (from women), declarations of love for a specific kink or that they are now a “radical slut”, incendiary rape culture thoughts/ads/facts/art, analysis of how women are depicted in the media, etc. etc. etc. And I don't think this blossoming of feminist thought is just within my own life as an artist in LA. The trend can be seen across many popular cultural and entertainment mediums, as well as in the fact that all those articles in major publications are being published on a regular basis in the first place.

    I think it's pretty great. I almost always read/watch most of everything, and a good half of the time I find analysis or personal narrative that's compelling and/or thought provoking.

    At the same time, there’s been something nagging at me as I read/experience journals such as yours, analytical thought in the form of essays and editorials, or art created from both: Where am I in this discussion? My particular man-ness seems to be pushed to the wayside by these smart, brave, female gender/sex philosophers, in favor of the discussion of incendiary outliers, and a focus on making sure that there is an understood separation of gender (and specific limits placed on the genders) despite their intentions seeming to be the opposite.

    I read things like:
    “I think they accept their reality much more easily than women do and they don’t spend half their life thinking about the what ifs and the what could’ve beens.”
    A prime example of creating an attitude of inequality of gender. I think this shit ALL THE TIME! No, really. I think about past relationships, I dream of the future, I worry about the choices I make/made. Do these intelligent, outspoken women see me and others like me on the street and think “there goes another made-of-stone, half-brained, emotionally retarded ape. I wonder if he’d wanna fuck...”? Have they read any of the great male writers/screenwriters of this or past generations? The passion of Shakespeare? The neurosis of Woody Allen? Even the ultra-brute Bukowski’s writing is filled with confusion and regret and desire and rage and hope and love all battling against each other. The what ifs and what could’ve beens can be seen in male thought throughout recorded time.

    1. Or I read things like: “So, I hope the next generation of single males are learning how to "love" from porn stars like James Deen, because we deserve better.”
      Men shouldn’t look to porn for sex-ed because it gives them a fantasy of porn that doesn’t imitate reality, but we SHOULD watch the fantasy that’s tailored to your specific needs? First you presume here that all women want exactly the James Deen type of lovin’ as you do. I’ll just say sexual preferences from women in what they want from a man are as unique as snowflakes, and leave it at that. Furthermore, that scene you saw was set up, and I can only imagine that you holding it as a bar to which other men should meet will only lead to more disappointment. Not because there aren’t men who can’t fuck that way (or at least have that intention, minus the perfect lighting, makeup, and fluffer between takes). Hell, I LOVE basking in whatever sexual pleasure I can give a woman. But having any set standard on either side is totally fucked, and the unknown hypocrisy of that statement was a little staggering to me.

      The last part of the statement is a bit more important, and mirrors the attitude of the first quote:
      “We deserve better” ie WOMEN deserve better. Another statement of separation. I’ve been sexually disappointed in women MANY times. A few times I’ve had lovers who could ONLY get off by grinding their clit against me while riding on top of me, completely motionless. Nothing else worked for them or they were unwilling to try meant zero friction on my end and grim periods of waiting for them to finish. Some women are limp fish, some are deathly scared of oral, some lack confidence to the point where they’re unwilling to voice their needs or their satisfaction. Don’t I deserve better too? And in my discussion with male friends, I'm certainly not alone.

      So many times I feel excluded, separated, forced into a position of being the enemy by the pieces I read. I want to join you. I really do. Great orgasms, great sex, great everything for all, I say!

      Am I perfect? Fuck no! Have I done shitty things? Of course! Hasn’t everyone? But I find the stories related or trends analyzed are of such an extreme nature that I don't feel culpable as a like-minded male oppressor. In fact, I don’t think of myself as a female-dominator/oppressor at all. A distressing thought is, WELL MAYBE I AM THOUGH! However, I'm not a fan of female-violence (beyond a bit of play in the bedroom), and have a great desire in seeing a world with more sexually smart and generally powerful/confident women. Those are traits I look for in women myself! And I have a strong belief in an evolution of the world towards greater good in general. A more empowered, less troubled, less oppressed female population could only further this goal. I’m genuinely interested in creating a future of equality, and want a partner with ambition and vivacity and challenging thought. I empathize with the career vs family dilemna. I’m aware of the double standards, and think they’re fucked. And what’s more is I don’t think such values are uncommon, at least in my personal sphere. Many (certainly not all) of the men I associate with are smart, troubled, complex, empathetic...basically, human. Maybe, POSSIBLY, as human as a woman. I have no idea how to respond to the things I read, at least in any visceral sense, because these men so oft described seem truly alien.

      I AM a representative of my gender. I AM a part of the evolution of gender/sexual thought and liberation. Right? I not? Why aren’t women reaching out to me as an equal; instead labelling men in these discussions as separate, opposed, and unable to comprehend. Creating definitions and confinements for the potential of each gender based on experiences from the puritanical/patriarchal structure they’re trying to rise from. It feels like a self-fulfilling prophecy, and one that I have no part of.

      All that said, I think this blog is great, that you are great, and hope you continue! smiley-face

  6. First of all, thank you for your thoughtfulness and engagement. I really love male readers, and I love males in general, and I don't want to polarize! Please keep in mind when you're reading my blog that I am not a saint, that I get angry and I’m not immune to making gross generalizations to try to make a point. Also, everything I say is from a place of exploring/wanting to ask questions and provoke audience response. I don't know the answers and I don't pretend to be above the material, which can be very personal and petty and convoluted with my own story/narrative/ perspective that is tainted by my specific experience. Blah blah blah. But you bring up some great points that I will really watch in my posts to come. The main one being, generalities. I have a great friend that helps me edit out my general blanket statements before I post these, but sometimes I stubbornly want to reach for some broad conclusion instead of letting my SMART readership make their own. So thank you for that reminder! Because I can see from your response and those of other readers, that I am blessed with a very smart readership. I will continue to strive to keep it specific.

    Re: men accepting their reality more easily than women, this is something I’ve observed in couples I know – does not apply to everyone. And re: the brilliance of male writers, I am so not denying that. Not intending to say men don’t have deep thoughts, simply interested in the difference between men and women in general as it relates to relationships and from MY OWN EXPERIENCE.

    Regarding porn and James Deen, I’m being a little glib in this post. I agree with you that people shouldn’t be using porn as sex-ed, but I sadly think the younger generations are. So, what I’m trying to say, which maybe isn’t clear, is that given the assumption that they ARE learning about sex from porn, I PERSONALLY hope they are learning from James Deen RATHER THAN Ron Jeremy. This is personal, and maybe I didn’t make that clear. But I have shown this video to many female friends and there’s a fairly unanimous agreement that James Deen has got better moves than any male porn actor we’ve ever seen. No, I have not asked every woman ever about this. And yes, it’s personal. And yes, porn is fantasy, not reality. (Which I also say in this post, see above). Again, I’m being a little general and glib, and reacting strongly against things I’m personally experiencing, and probably mixing in too much emotion into my generalities. NOT meant to be taken as fact.

    Re: sex. Yes, I’m sure men deserve better in the bedroom as well. Again, not my experience. You should write a blog about it!

    1. Sounds like we’re on the same page. I hope it’s clear from my posts that I love men, that my ex-boyfriend is probably the best person I have ever known, and that I have incredible male friends. Hating on men is not my agenda. I want you to join me too. I think what you’re reacting against are the generalities, and I will sincerely work to knock those on the head, because I agree with you, they are so not productive on either side. I want us to work together, we can’t do it alone!

      I’m also aware of the fact that I attract asshole men for a reason, and that is personal work I’m trying to do as well. I’m not making any of this up, but I agree with you that not all men are like this. But I do have to say they are out there. And they are learning this behavior from somewhere. It can’t just be nature, because you obviously are not like this, for example. I think our culture/society have a lot to answer for, and I think smart discussions between men and women, like this one we’re having, are a great step in the right direction. Because, honestly, I love you guys. I would say my two best friends in the world are men.

      Thank you for your thoughts. I will seek to include guys like you more in the discussion! I think you’re great too.

      Question though, when I click on your MHS handle, this kind of vile porn website called comes up with some pretty raunchy images/clips I’m trying to get out of my head. What’s up with that??

  7. oh. hahahaha, forgot I did that. kind of an afterthought. just a terribly vile asshole-man joke that boys in my middle school (and I'm sure others) would convince other boys was a really cool site to check out when the thing was a novelty in the late 90's. "lemon party" is a term that describes a group of very old men having an orgy. At the time, it was a hilarious prank. But it's definitely one of those things that doesn't translate with anyone older than 16, and especially those not of the male orientation.

    After preaching such high-handedness and describing myself in such loving terms, I had the vague thought that I should add some contradiction, and pay homage to the asshole-man and the immature boy within me, and with that site as kind of a metaphor for such impulses. It was a flippant and haphazard gesture of self-deprecation. I think...


  8. Well, good to know you're not above the vile impulse. Lemon party hmmm I learn something new every day... whether I like it or not. Thanks for the knowledge bro!


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