Monday, April 07, 2014

Can women support each other? Is it too much to ask?

Cast members: Shane Regan, , Sara Javkhlan, Ruth Yeo-Peterman, Lisa Marie Nakamura, Kathy Hsieh and Erwin Galan.

Women make up 51% of our country, yet make 77% of the income most men get in almost every profession. There was a feminist movement that gained great ground in the 1960s and ‘70s and now, everywhere you turn, we have given that ground away again in so many ways. “Girl” was a word that we were taught should go back to being applied ONLY to females under age 18, and now “girl” is used by 50 and 60 year olds: I’m a girly-girl. I’m a theater girl. She’s one of the girls that teaches in that school.

No, we are women. The word “girl” diminishes us and dismisses us. Yet, we are working so hard to stay submerged and diminished.

Makeup is a multi-billion dollar industry made to make women feel like they must fix “flaws” in order to present themselves well. And now, instead of rejecting the constant messages we can’t be just fine with flaws or that flaws individuate us in important and interesting ways, instead men are now being “allowed” to wear makeup, cover up facial flaws with base, add a little eyeliner to give them more interesting eyes.

SiS Productions is opening their next play this week. Impenetrable, by Mia McCullough, is a play that was inspired by an actual event in a Chicago suburb in 2007. A huge billboard of an amazing looking, bikini-clad woman appeared. A plastic surgeon put up the billboard and added  arrows pointing to areas of her body where this woman could have plastic surgery to fix her “flaws.” The people in that suburb protested until the billboard was taken down.

Mia McCullough was inspired to write a fictional story dealing with how women are perceived and the expectation that even that physical perfection is not enough. I talked to Artistic Director Kathy Hsieh about the upcoming production.

Kathy says, “What’s interesting about the play is that it explores four different women, one who is 10, one in her 20s, one in her 30s and one in her 40s and uses the billboard as a starting point. It’s a revealing look at how those kinds of images affect women’s perceptions of themselves. The men I’ve talked to who have heard rehearsals have commented that they find the script fascinating because it gives them insight to women they might not have thought about before.

“It’s not just for women. We already know what we think, but men will perhaps get more out of it and get more insight about women and raise their awareness about things they might not have ever thought about.

“It’s a dialogue play between the actors and audience. It’s why we’re having post-play discussions. We’re hoping that doing the play is to have the dialogue after each performance.”

In conjunction with Impenetrable, Kathy and her SiS colleagues had a realization about women supporting women. Kathy said that she saw efforts to support women this and that area, but somehow the efforts weren’t gaining momentum and seemed isolated. She felt that there wasn’t a kind of clearinghouse function where women could go and find lots of information in one place.

They decided to try to become a focal point, a clearinghouse, for theater efforts to at least start somewhere. They created a website for free at found a graphic designer to create a logo for the effort.

Kathy was hoping that a simple logo and a universal theme of support might help it go viral, like the equal sign symbology of marriage equality did.

Kathy says, “When we were thinking about a Celebrate Women campaign in social media, a simple example came to mind where everyone just started using their own graphics, made their own equal signs and rainbows and were adapting it using the basic templates…and it spread like wildfire.

“So if you believe that women should be celebrated, then you could show that however you want (using our symbol). We had a hashtag and launched it on March 3 because Japan celebrates “Girls Day,” and then we pushed it out more on March 8, International Women’s Day, and March is international Herstory Month. So we used March as the kick-off to get people thinking about it. We started posting images of strong role models, different quotes, to get people thinking about how we value women in our culture.

“The campaign was the basic platform about how do we value women and how do we celebrate the place women have in our society. We wanted a positive framework. It’s fascinating to see if it will catch on or not and realizing, as a volunteer effort, it didn’t catch on in the way we were hoping.”

Kathy says, “So, do women want to support each other? On the other hand, women are juggling all these different things and they don’t have the energy to take the time to celebrate themselves. We’ve been talking about how nowadays it’s not enough to be a mom or a career woman, you have to do both in order to be a complete successful woman. Men aren’t only expected to be the main bread winner but also be more available to their kids than a generation ago, so we’re all expected to do more in order to feel like you’re at the top. There’s always this drive to be above average and it does get overwhelming.”

Kathy is still focused on continuing the campaign. She says, “We’re just going to do our thing, posting regularly, about inspiring women, YouTube videos, through our Facebook page, around issues related to women and how we value them. That’s what we can manage. On our website, we’re happy to post events about women. We’ve been getting women signing up to get more information. We are going to use the show as the basis for establishing this, the main effort we can do right now as an all-volunteer organization.”

There is one more decision that SiS Productions has made that may indeed cost some real bottom-line dollars. Kathy says, “Most of the other productions of this play used a bikini-clad woman on the poster. We had a big discussion about whether we wanted our poster to be a bikini-clad woman. Other productions have done very well attracting audiences and it might be because of (that kind of) poster. We have not been getting as many pre-ticket sales for this show as we have for other shows, and it will be interesting to see what the consequences might be for not having a bikini-clad woman on the poster.”

Show your support for women, and help SiS Productions prove that they can get plenty of audience without using sex to sell! For more information on Impenetrable, go to or Brown Paper Tickets or call 206-323-9443. The production will perform from April 11 to May 3 at West of Lenin.

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