Where do you draw the line? Who decides?

ADAM:  Being a girl, growing up, is that what it’s like?  Do you have to deal with—I don’t know what words to use—do you have to deal with men being … creepy all the time?

 

The following is a scene from my full-length play DISCLOSURE, originally produced by Those Women Productions at PianoFight in San Francisco.

DISCLOSURE is available for production. Contact the author for rights: clashof[at]gmail.com.

(C) All rights reserved. The author is a member of The Dramatists Guild.Disclosure, Rehearsal photo with Gabriel Kenney & Kelly Rinehart

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Adam, a 21-year-old college student, has had an affair with his graduate teaching assistant, Janice. She broke off the relationship because of ethical doubts and from fear of being disciplined for sexual misconduct. Now Adam comes to Janice to discuss his term paper. Shortly before this scene, Adam learns that his mother was abused by her uncle when she was a child.

 

(JANICE is sitting in her professor’s office, grading papers.  ADAM knocks tentatively on the half-open door.  JANICE looks up.  When she sees ADAM, she sighs miserably and shakes her head.)

 

ADAM

I just want to talk to you about my final paper.  Like any other student.  Okay?

 

JANICE

Yeah.  Okay.

 

(ADAM enters and sits down.  He pulls books and notes out of his backpack.)

 

ADAM

This passage here.  I want to use this in my paper, but it’s bothering me.

(He opens a book and begins to read aloud.)

“One day in 1867, a farm hand from the village of Lapcourt, who was somewhat simple-minded, employed here then there … was turned into authorities.  At the border of a field, he had obtained a few caresses from a little girl, just as he had done before and seen done by the village urchins round about him …”

 

JANICE

We talked about that in the discussion section last week.

 

ADAM

I wasn’t there.

 

JANICE

I noticed.

 

ADAM

It’s hard to be in class when … I mean, it’s hard for me to see you and, you know, not—

 

JANICE

I won’t mark your grade down for attendance if that’s what you’re worried about.

 

ADAM

I’m not.  Worried about my grade.  Although, I thought you said you were going to treat me like any other student.  You did say that.

 

JANICE

If you had pneumonia or something, or a family emergency, I wouldn’t mark you down.

 

ADAM

Whatever.  I really don’t give a shit.

 

JANICE

Sorry.

 

ADAM

Me too.

(Pause.)

My paper?

 

JANICE

Yes.  Sorry.

(Pause.)

You were thinking …?

 

ADAM

About how Proust and Foucault represent childhood.  And also, Foucault uses the phrase “timeless gestures”—I thought maybe I could make a connection to Proust’s search for lost time.

 

JANICE

Interesting.  That’s good.

 

ADAM

Thanks.

 

JANICE

So what’s bothering you?  About the passage.

 

ADAM

Foucault says: “What is the significant thing about this story?  The pettiness of it all …” And he calls it an “everyday occurrence” and an “inconsequential pleasure.”  And then he says, basically, that it was ridiculous for the authorities to make a big fuss, to turn this “everyday occurrence” into a matter for policemen and judges and doctors.

 

JANICE

In the overall context of his argument, Foucault is explaining how the discourse we use to discuss sexuality has changed over the past three centuries./ He suggests—

 

ADAM

But is it true?

 

JANICE

Is what true?

 

ADAM

That child abuse is an everyday occurrence?  Okay, I know that Foucault wouldn’t call it “child abuse.”  I mean, the things that happen between the peasant girl and the farm hand, he calls them “timeless gestures” and “bucolic pleasures.”  But, whatever you call it, does it happen all the time?

 

JANICE

It happens a lot.

 

ADAM

And does that make it petty and inconsequential?

 

JANICE

Not necessarily.  It’s a controversial passage.

 

ADAM

But, an “everyday occurrence”?  Is that what it’s really like?

 

JANICE

I’m not sure what you’re asking me.

 

ADAM

Being a girl, growing up, is that what it’s like?  Do you have to deal with—I don’t know what words to use—do you have to deal with men being … creepy all the time?

 

JANICE

“Creepy”?

 

ADAM

Yeah.

 

JANICE

Not all the time.  But, yes, there are a lot of “creepy” men in the world.

 

ADAM

And only a few of them get arrested or put in jail, and not every woman spends years and years in therapy dealing with her childhood traumas … so, is it actually “inconsequential,” like Foucault says? I mean, if it’s just the way things are, then … ?

 

JANICE

Well, there are differences in degree.

 

ADAM

But who draws the line?  Who decides?

 

JANICE

That’s a good question.  You should explore that in your essay.

 

ADAM

Oh, crap.  You sound just like a teacher.

 

JANICE

Well, I am a teacher.  That’s the problem, isn’t it?  Anyway, you said you wanted to talk to me about your paper.  Like any other student.  So I’m trying to talk like any other teacher.

 

ADAM

Okay, but you can tell me what you think, can’t you?  As a teacher.  As a person.  Is that not allowed, to have a real conversation about a real subject?

 

JANICE

Of course.  Sorry.

 

ADAM

Thanks.  So.  Let’s say a person, as a child, had an experience with an adult involving sexual contact … If you say she was “abused” or “molested,” then it’s a crime.  It’s a terrible violation.  But you might use different words, like “seduced” or “fooled around” or “obtained a few caresses,” and then what?  Does it change the experience?

 

JANICE

It changes the significance of the experience.

 

ADAM

For whom?  For the child?

 

(Pause.)

 

JANICE

That’s a good question.

 

ADAM

When she was a child, my mother was abused by her uncle.  She told me about it just recently.

 

JANICE

Oh.

 

ADAM

And she thinks our relationship, yours and mine, is abusive.  Was.  Was abusive.

 

JANICE

What?

 

ADAM

An abuse of power.

 

JANICE

Your mother thinks that—about me?

 

ADAM

She’s the one who reported us to the dean.

 

JANICE

Me.  Reported me.  I doubt your name was mentioned.  In any case, you are a tuition-paying undergraduate, by definition innocent.

 

ADAM

What do you mean?

 

JANICE

Just that you won’t—wouldn’t—wouldn’t have gotten in any trouble for having sex with me.  You weren’t running any risk.

 

ADAM

I wasn’t trying to put you in a bad situation.

 

JANICE

But did you think about it?  Did you think about the consequences?

 

ADAM

I thought about, you know, pregnancy, STDs, condoms—

 

JANICE

Points for that.  But you also read the student handbook, you knew the rules about “amorous relationships” and “sexual misconduct.”  You knew right from the beginning.

 

ADAM

But I didn’t think about it.  Not that way.

 

JANICE

How did you think about it?

 

ADAM

I don’t know.  Just.  You know.

 

JANICE

No, I don’t know.  I don’t have any fucking idea.  So why don’t you tell me?

 

ADAM

Well, it actually sounded kind of sexy:  “Sexual misconduct … Amorous relationships.”

 

JANICE

Sexual harassment.  Violation of ethical standards.  Does that sound sexy?

 

ADAM

No.  That just sounds creepy.

 

(Pause.)

 

JANICE

When you came to class wearing those damned pajamas—did you have it all planned?

 

ADAM

Did I have what planned?

 

JANICE

Getting me to go to your room with you.  I mean, you had a condom in your pocket—

 

ADAM

I always have a condom in my pocket.  Like most guys.  I thought that was a good thing, being responsible—

 

JANICE

Were you planning to have sex with me?

 

ADAM

Planning?  No. … I was hoping, I guess.  I mean, yeah, I thought about having sex with you.  But it was just a fantasy.  Not a plan.  I didn’t think anything would happen really.

 

JANICE

But you tried.

 

ADAM

You can’t blame a guy for trying, can you?

 

JANICE

That’s open to debate.

 

ADAM

I didn’t force you to do anything against your will, did I?

 

JANICE

No.

 

ADAM

I’m not a … creep.  I’m not a … rapist.

 

JANICE

No.  No.  I didn’t mean that.

 

(Silence.)

 

ADAM

So, now what?

 

JANICE

So now I’m a teacher, you’re a student.

 

ADAM

Until I graduate?

 

JANICE

Not only until then, no.

 

ADAM

Forever.  Even when I’m not a student?  Just put it behind us?

 

JANICE

Yes.

 

ADAM

Is that really what you want?  It’s not just what you’re saying because of not wanting to, you know, violate standards of ethical conduct, or whatever?

 

JANICE

Yes, it’s what I want.

(Pause.)

I like you a lot, Adam.

 

ADAM

But you don’t love me.

 

JANICE

I’m sorry.

 

ADAM

Right.

 

(ADAM stands, gathers up his things, and turns towards the door.)

 

JANICE

Are you okay?

 

(ADAM shrugs without turning back to look at JANICE.)

 

ADAM

See you in class.

 

(He exits.)

 

END SCENE

 

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What this woman is up to …

On International Women’s Day, 2014, I cofounded a theater company with director Elizabeth Vega. These days we’re too busy running Those Women Productions for me to post on this site. So if you want to know what This Woman is up to, please check out THOSE WOMEN: Those Women Productions. Thanks! See you in the theater.

On Mentorship and Harassment

October 14, 2015

Several times before now, I have considered writing about my experience of sexual harassment in academia in the early 1980s, but I thought: this is old news, it’s not really relevant or useful. Then a few days ago the news broke that Dr. Geoff Marcy, a famous professor of Astronomy at UC Berkeley, had been harassing his students with impunity for a decade or more.  I found myself following the news of his case obsessively and returning again and again to considerations of how my own early career had been shaped by a powerful and sexually-predatory mentor. This morning I wrote the following narrative: 

[Note: my stylistic approach in this piece was inspired by a post about “Impostor Syndrome” by Elisabeth Newton, an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics; it was shared recently on the blog “Mahalo.ne.trash.” You can read it here (and I recommend that you do): http://mahalonottrash.blogspot.com/2015/09/guest-post-by-elisabeth-newton-impostor.html]

On Mentorship and Harassment:

Young Ambitious Professional is thrilled when Powerful Older Professional praises her achievements. Y.A.P. is even more thrilled when P.O.P. recommends her work to his colleagues and nominates it for prizes. Suddenly unknown doors are opening and previously unimagined vistas of success appear on her horizon. P.O.P. seems to know everyone and everything. Y.A.P. drinks in his knowledge and his wisdom; she glories in his championship of her work. True, P.O.P. is a touchy-huggy kind of guy but that doesn’t especially bother Y.A.P. because she’s a reasonably huggy kind of gal too. Anyway, it’s California. It’s the eighties. “Sexual harassment” isn’t a thing, not a thing anybody names or talks about. Y.A.P. considers P.O.P.’s attentions to be evidence of her talent and intelligence, not her physical attractiveness. When he begins dropping hints about his “open” relationship with his wife, she ignores them. When he mentions a fellow P.O.P. at another major university who is opening doors for one of his students and also sleeping with her, she ignores the implications very hard indeed. When P.O.P.’s hugs turn into pats on the butt, she pulls away and says nothing.

Time passes. Y.A.P.’s professional career has gotten off to a brilliant start, thanks in no small part to P.O.P.’s mentorship. But now her career has stalled. Although no longer P.O.P.’s student, Y.A.P. continues to send him her manuscripts. He responds with articulate, intelligent, and dismissive criticism. “A tempest in a teapot” is one phrase she remembers decades later. She deliberately draws no conclusions from his slackening interest in her work, and she continues to seek his approval. But after he writes her the world’s most tepid letter of recommendation for an important fellowship, she finally stops trying to figure out how to please him.

Eventually, she will find other champions for her work and, more important, she will learn how to advocate for herself. But she wishes to this day that she had learned these lessons much earlier.

Shortly after writing this piece, I learned that Dr. Marcy had resigned from his faculty position. This result was thanks to four former students of his who filed complaints and to the investigative journalism of BuzzFeed news reporter Azeen Ghorayshi. Without the courage and persistence of these women, Marcy’s harassment would have remained the “open secret” it long had been in the Astronomy community. Ghorayshi’s original article posted on October 9, 2015 can be found here:  http://www.buzzfeed.com/azeenghorayshi/famous-astronomer-allegedly-sexually-harassed-students

Meetup #33: Carol Lashof’s Disclosure

Wondering why I haven’t been blogging on WordPress lately? Producing theater has been keeping me busy. My fledgling company Those Women Productions, cofounded with Libby Vega was recently named “Best Year-Old Theater Company” by the East Bay Express. We have one show running now – DISCLOSURE at PianoFight in San Francisco – and another, IN PLAIN SIGHT, opening in Berkeley September 4. Tickets for IN PLAIN SIGHT here: http://thosewomen.brownpapertickets.com/
Tickets for DISCLOSURE here:
http://www.eventbrite.com/e/disclosure-tickets-17559102749

Works by Women San Francisco

disclosure1 Disclosure by Carol Lashof (Photo by Those Women Production Staff)

For our 33rd Meetup, WWSF attended the latest play Disclosure, by Berkeley playwright Carol Lashof. It is the second production from Those Women Productions, a female led, and female focused company ‘giving stage to hidden truths of gender and power’

Disclosure questions where the lines between memory and truth, pleasure and transgression, love and the abuse of power are drawn. Who decides? 

Women artists on this production include: Anne Hallinan (actor), Emily Holtzclaw (costume design), Gabi Immelman (set design), JinAh Lee (stage management), Kelly Rinehart (actor), Molly Stewart-Cohn (lighting design), Libby Vega (Producer) and Valerie Weak (actor, member Actor’s Equity).

The show runs until Saturday August 29th. Get tickets here.

If you saw the show with the WWSF Meetup Group or on your own, leave a comment and share your thoughts!

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Dennis Chowenhill Interviews Carol Lashof

Works by Women San Francisco

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Dennis Chowenhill, Resident Dramaturg at the Virago Theatre Company, shares the transcript of this illuminating interview of librettist, playwright, and educator Carol Lashof.

DC:  How did you get into playwriting?

Lashof:  I probably should credit my 4th Grade teacher.  I was at the Laboratory Schools in Chicago, a pre-K through high school, run by the University of Chicago in association with their Ed. School. There were a lot of “faculty brats” there. It’s the school the Obama kids went to when they were living in Chicago.  My 4th Grade teacher, Louise Pliss, had us write and produce a play, as a class. Actually, there were two teachers, Faye Abrams and Louise Pliss, who shared their classrooms.  Miss Pliss, who was also a children’s book writer, taught English, and that is where I was also introduced to Greek mythology. I can still remember the opening lines of…

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