Reconstructing the Binary Through All Female Productions

The fall 2018 production of "Vinegar Tom" with Hannah Morin and Sara Glauser shown. Photo: Chris Bennion.

Reconstructing the Binary Through All Female Productions

First year Theater student Winter Mallon found this fall's Theater productions illuminated points taught in her Humanities & Sciences classes. "Vinegar Tom" and "Men on Boats" both used of all female casts made clear the futility of a power structure based around gender.

by Winter Mallon

This fall, Vinegar Tom and Men On Boats featured all female casts. This casting choice didn’t detract from the plays’ demonstration of gender bias, it instead added another level. Laura Johnson, teacher of Gender Identity and Human Rights at Cornish College of the Arts, expressed that an all female production showed the audience just “how quickly we are capable of relearning social constructions: from the moment that the stage lights came up, the characters were no longer part of the binary - not that gender was erased, but rather that gender was constructed through the stories being told.” Having women play traditionally male roles demonstrates the power structure that is pointlessly formed between different subgroups of humans. Creating two groups and instilling one with power over the other is something universal that can be quickly understood by an active audience. Using an all female cast makes a statement on the futility of power structure based on gender.

Using an all female cast in Vinegar Tom also highlighted the ridiculous evidence used to convict women of witchcraft. Director of Vinegar Tom, Kaitlyn McIntyre, stated, “these men use really simplistic grievances as the reason for destroying the lives of hundreds of thousands of women. They come from ridiculous places such as erectile dysfunction. When you remove that from a male figure, the absurdity of that becomes more obvious. It exposes it.” Having someone other than a man accuse a person of cursing them with erectile dysfunction is clearly ridiculous and absolutely meaningless. Using a female cast helped shed light on the absurdity of the claims made by these men as well as the grievances of the past and present solely due to gender bias.

Gender Persecution

Gender and its correlation to power was a significant theme in Vinegar Tom. The play bounced back and forth between the past (the 17th century witch trials) and present day to inform the audience that persecution based on gender is still happening. When asked on the ways gender persecution is still happening, Laura Johnson responded, “at the same time that the global community is taking significant steps to end persecution based on gender (for example, the Yogyakarta Principles +10 just last year), I think we’re also seeing significant and frightening steps being taken to codify persecution. Just days before I saw Vinegar Tom at Cornish, The New York Times obtained a leaked memo from the Trump administration, which argues that gender should be defined as a biological, immutable condition determined by genitalia at birth. The human rights implications of such a definition, particularly in an environment where gender and sexual minorities face discrimination in nearly every aspect of their lives, are enormous.”

Gender persecution expands beyond the binary, in some ways spreading just as rampant as it was in the 17th century. Vinegar Tom brings this idea to light by bouncing between past and present persecution.

Kaitlyn McIntyre, after being asked on what she experienced while directing a work with such a serious and current message, stated, “I think we were actually more, in terms of the headiness of the material, on edge but also excited because of current events. Because of what was happening during the Kavanaugh hearing, it felt like we were making work in conversation with what was happening now and that we could respond with the work.” By honestly presenting these issues in all of their faults to an audience, McIntyre and the cast and crew of Vinegar Tom responded to a current and ever prevalent issue: not all genders are treated equal. Gender and its correlation to power is a significant theme in this work. By not shying away from the work and instead using the piece to respond to the current unfair power structure created through the made-up rankings of gender, McIntyre and the cast and crew of Vinegar Tom were able to respond to current problems of persecution based on gender.