Introduction to Critical Feminist Studies Final Project:
The Final Dinner Party
• NORA – A woman of the late 19th Century. She craves independence, which cannot be attained because she is a woman. During her life, she has always been treated like a doll.
• CLAIR – A dissatisfied woman who also happens to be married to a gay, socially elite, man. She married him because it was what was expected, but now she longs to escape and travel Europe.
• YOUNG WOMAN – Forced to fit into the societal roles of women, ultimately causing the murder of her husband and ultimately her own execution.
• MARTHA – A gay woman whose life is ruined due to false accusations of lesbianism. Ultimately her life is destroyed by her sexual preference, which she was never even given the chance to act out.
• KATE – Relentlessly ambitious. Believes she can fulfill the role of a man plus accomplish the tasks of a woman. She is ultimately doomed to be unhappy due to the fact that she longs to be a man so that she can have their power and will not be satisfied otherwise.
• MARLENE – A successful businesswoman in a world where even the women don’t believe she should have the power she has earned. Her family life has crippled her.
• FEFU – Incredibly unique views on the world. Very strong and motivated. Longs to be a man because of the power men are granted.
• HEIDI – A woman attempting to make her way through the world that constantly is challenging her. Insecure about being a single, working woman, but motivated nevertheless.
• WOMAN IN RAINBOW – An African American woman dealing with the struggles of poverty as well as being a woman. Ultimately, however, she feels strong and beautiful.
• LIL BIT – A woman molested by her uncle but who still manages to dream of a better future. However, her family is unsupportive and continually keeps her down.
• HESTER – A black woman, stuck below the poverty level. She has five kids by five different fathers and is illiterate. She has goals and aspirations that her place in society will never allow her to achieve. She was forced to have a hysterectomy.
Act 1 - Scene 1
All eleven women sit around a dinner table loudly conversing among themselves. LIL BIT stands up and clinks her glass.
Excuse me ladies…
(Everyone’s head turns and the room goes silent.)
Yes, thanks. Um, well I guess I just wanted to welcome you all to the dinner party. I’ve invited you all here because each of you represents a different aspect of womanhood that needs to have a spokesperson for what we’re here to discuss. So I guess I’d like to thank you in advance for your willingness to share and for your candor during our discussion tonight.
I’ve been in college for about three years now and I’ve taken classes in feminism. I’ve learned about as much as I can handle but recently I’ve felt as if one major part of a woman’s life, and therefore her viewpoint as a feminist, has been overlooked: her socio-economic status.
(LIL BIT sits back down.)
I feel like a huge part of oppression comes from a woman’s inability to “get a leg up” and better herself through bettering her quality of life. There is a world of difference between the feminist ideology of a woman who is struggling to make ends meet and that of a woman who has always had the money, and thus the power, to develop her own ideals. It’s an unfortunate truth, but money is the difference between a woman struggling to gain power and demand her rights and a woman who is already out doing just that. And for the future, I think all that needs to change.
Fefu, you’re very comfortable financially, correct?
Well I was fortunate enough to be born into an affluent family and the power I was able to gain through monetary means has allowed me to live according to my feminist ideals. I also married the right man, who would allow me to continue living my life as I saw fit. Still that cannot be said for every woman with money.
It’s impossible for me to imagine what that’s like. I never even had a chance to get a leg up. Anytime anyone has offered me a way to make money it always falls through. I’ve been scammed over and over again. It got so bad I don’t even have my babies anymore.
Do you think that all stems from money?
I know that if I had stayed in school I would have been able to get better jobs. I wouldn’t need help from people who just mean to hurt me.
It would have been harder for people to target you. Perhaps they wouldn’t have at all.
But does money equal education?
I should say so.
Even a basic education is difficult to acquire without a way to finance basic necessities.
I guess that’s true.
I never even learned how to write…
WOMAN IN RAINBOW
How many of my sisters have I seen led astray because of a lack of education, money, motivation.
So what you’re all saying is that it’s impossible to be a self-sufficient feminist without the financial backing?
Really? Nora, what do you think of all of this? You’re situation is different from the rest.
I guess that’s true. I’ve always been able to live comfortably but I had to lie and forge my dead father’s signature on a deed to keep my husband afloat. I thought I was showing him love, but he didn’t feel the same way…
I know that if I want to be free and stable in the world I need my own money. I need to be able to support myself.
All women should obtain jobs. Especially if that’s their only means of gaining independence.
Yes, I agree completely.
I’ve had a job at a publishing firm for quite some time and I’ve been able to gain promotions. Recently I was promoted above a man and the most astonishing, horrific, just repulsive thing happened:
His wife came in, practically in tears, begging me to demote myself so that her husband’s ego wouldn’t be damaged. She said he had been moping about the house and couldn’t get out of bed in the morning because I was promoted above him. It made me want to puke I was so disgusted. Especially when another woman was trying to undermine me.
That’s awful. I guess it shows how much work still needs to be done in the way of women’s rights in the 70s.
Especially in the work place.
During my time period, the 1930s, women can be teachers, nurses, or secretaries. That’s literally it. A friend and I opened up a school for young girls, but it was sabotaged. Even women won’t help women.
I understand that. I’ve been taken advantage of by men and women alike.
I couldn’t imagine that.
Everyone in my life has been so… respectful, I guess. It’s just the etiquette that everyone is raised with. That’s not to say that people don’t do whatever they want, it’s just always behind closed doors.
I feel like that comes with economic status too. In a sense, people buy their privacy and the right to live up to their own ideals. I mean, not across the board, but in general people will not take advantage of you if you have the means to hurt them in return either by damaging their reputation or taking them to court.
WOMAN IN RAINBOW
It’s true. If you don’t have money, no one will listen to you. No one even cares.
Where I’m from, women are raped by people they trust and they blame the women for seducing the men. No one cares. No one listens.
When I tried to help my children, by trying to get money from my baby’s father, he refused me. I went insane. I killed my oldest and they did surgery on me. They gave me a hysterectomy. They took all my babies away. I have nothing now, but I think I know why. It’s because I have no money. If I had money I could buy my babies back, I could buy my womb back. I could put my life back together.
And I, too, saved and saved. With my friend. And when I was ruined all the money went to getting a lawyer – to save our name. And even when we won, it didn’t really mean anything. The seeds were planted, no one would send their girls to our school. A school they thought was run by… lesbians. But it’s not true! And we’re ruined. I cannot put my life back together without money, but now I have no way to make money. I invested my life in teaching. I don’t know anything else. Honestly, if I had the money I could start my life over.
Couldn’t we all say that though?
Don’t get me wrong – what has happened to both of you is absolutely tragic, but what’s really necessary is the ambition to focus on getting an education and finding the best jobs. If you refuse to be held under, no one can tell you no.
You know – I felt that way when I was in college, too. But every endeavor I’ve made, there’s always just that bit of negativity that goes along with it and it wears you down. Every rejection, no matter how small, hurts. You can’t help but take it personally after a while.
That’s just it though – you need to learn to not take it personally. To let nothing hold you down.
How can you say that? How can you say let nothing hold you down? I didn’t know people were tricking me, making me give do things for them I didn’t want to, but I thought it would all be for the best. That I would get a leg up in the end. I tried and tried and tried.
What happens then? What happens to the women who can’t lift themselves up?
I just… I just think that if you work hard you will make your own way through the world. Then you’ll be prosperous and have what it takes to buy the ability to follow your ideals.
WOMAN IN RAINBOW
I was born into poverty. I have no way to better myself. I have tried, but without money I cannot.
I realize that you have tried, but I can’t help but feel that with perseverance you can make anything happen. I know it’s not easy, but even without money you can find a way to get a better job, and get promotions, and make the life you’ve always wanted.
But what happens when you’ve done all that and then it’s taken away from you?
What happens when you have nothing left after you’ve strived and made the greatest efforts of your life, then, when you’re on the brink of succeeding, the rug is pulled out from under you. What then?
You must continue to try. That’s all anyone can do. How else can you survive?
I gave up everything – my husband, my children- all because I felt suffocated. I was treated like a doll, and I had to put an end to it. There was no other way. So I left.
I understand exactly what you mean. Everyone plays a role. It doesn’t matter who you are, you play the role that you are born into. I know some people are able to change themselves, but some can’t. I couldn’t… I tried, and I thought I had succeeded, but I didn’t. Honestly, I’m convinced no one can escape the role they’re born into.
You know, I want to believe that that’s not true, but I know I’ve lived the life I was born into. Nothing has changed – I’m in the same state financially as the day I was born.
As am I, but those states are too different.
What could fix such a divide?
Hard work and perseverance. And I’m sorry, but I do not believe that if you continue to work that you can’t better yourself. You just need to try harder.
WOMAN IN RAINBOW
Try harder, try harder.
Why should it be our responsibility? We didn’t choose to be born black, poor, gay, women… and now we have to fix that because society says we’re wrong?
Society should make amends to us, we shouldn’t have to go to society in order to happily live out the lives we were born with.
But who controls that? Who specifically is to make amends to the under-privileged?
WOMAN IN RAINBOW
The people with money.
You know there are people whose job it is to aid people in need. There are charity organizations, soup kitchens, homeless shelters, and others that can help.
Yes, but at the same time, the people who were sent to me to help, they took advantage just like all the others. It doesn’t seem to me like anyone will truly help.
What can fix that? What could help?
I know what would help – but in practice it would never work out.
What is it?
We – that is to say, women – need to ban together and stick up for each other’s rights. No matter what our differences are. Because no one else is going to do it for us. We have to help each other – whatever that means. There are so many different ways to help people, from the tiniest acts of charity, to huge donations. People just rarely go out of there way to help someone who is not them.
WOMAN IN RAINBOW
So is that the consensus? To help each other no matter what our differences are?
(General sounds of approval.)
Then our night here has been successful. We’ve agreed to that charge and I think we all truly believe in it. Implement it into your lives, no matter what. A great change needs to start on a personal level. Make it start tonight.
END OF PLAY
My first plan of action when I decided to read a chronological series of feminist plays, was to write an original play that followed the trajectory, as I perceived it, of feminist thought and where it was headed in the future. However, it felt as if an original play would not have been comprehensive enough for all the plays that I had read. So, borrowing from the first scene of Caryl Churchill’s Top Girls, I decided to write a scene where a character from each of the eleven plays were present and could compare opinions. Also, as I was reading all of the plays they kept reminding me of or serving as contrast for each other. What could be more appropriate then to actually have the characters have a conversation? Going off of our classes theme of a dinner party, I had Lil Bit from Paula Vogel’s How I Learned to Drive, whom, for all intents and purposes of my play, was back from college and had the ideas of social classes and feminism on her mind. Obviously it was me who had social classes and feminism on my mind. And since I feel like we did not have enough time to discuss the issue in class, I decided to work it out through the characters I read in the play.
The wide array of plays lent itself to a several, varying viewpoints. There was at least one character for every major demographic: rich, poor, black, white, gay, straight, married, single, with or without children, etc., and several combinations there within. I feel as if I would not have been able to accomplish as much, or have as much said, with original characters. Whereas characters that have already been created and developed and are sitting down to dinner leaves so many possibilities and places for the play to go.
A note on why I picked particular characters who were not necessarily protagonists in their original play: Clair, from Mae West’s The Drag, was essentially the only woman in the play apart from the maid. I could have chosen to have one of the effeminate men participate in the conversations, however I felt it was more relevant to choose a woman who was struggling to escape a general sense of restlessness due to her marriage. Even though she was not a main character, her role dealt with issues that were important to my play. She also had a unique social standing as the only character that comes from a world close to aristocracy. Kate, from Wendy Wasserstein’s Uncommon Women and Others, is very standoffish, opinionated and temperamental. No other characters that I was choosing to use could claim that as their main characteristic, therefore I used Kate as a way to rile things up among the guests. She has also led a life of privilege and is not accustomed to hearing about stories of women who have been kept down to their financial standing. Martha, from Lillian Hellman’s The Children’s Hour, is the only lesbian among the group. And although her sexual orientation does not necessarily affect her opinions during the conversation, it is the reason that she came to financial ruin. Because Ntozake Shange’s play has no character names, but is differentiated between “Woman in Blue” or “Woman in Red,” I chose to make “Woman in Rainbow” who would encompass all of the viewpoints in her play (which were essentially fragmented versions of Shange’s thoughts).
I realize that the conversation between the women may seem too perfect. For example, no one ever cuts anyone else off mid-sentence. I know that cutting other people off is typical for conversation in general, but I wanted to create an atmosphere of women who were actually there to help each other. I did not want the characters to seem hypocritical by talking about how they should always help each other if they could not even do it while they were sitting around a dinner table. It was also very difficult to channel the voices of the characters without seeming trite or overly simplistic. I tried to imagine as if each woman really had her thoughts and ideas very well gathered and was able to state them plainly.
Overall I really enjoyed completing this project. I particularly enjoyed reading all of the plays. It was great to have an excuse to read all of them, because I feel as if I would not have had the chance to even hear of all the plays I read, let alone read them, if I had not decided to take on the project. Like I said, writing the play was an interesting project and I am not sure if I would have perhaps preferred to write an original piece. Still, I feel as if my goal was better and more comprehensive to have used the characters from the plays I read rather than to have created my own characters in their own world. I feel as if each character spoke their minds and had dialogue that fit their personalities. All in all I believe I reached my goals for the project and portrayed all the elements of feminism that I wanted to show.
Churchill, Caryl. Top Girls. London: Methuen London Ltd, 1982.
Fornes, Maria Irene. Fefu and Her Friends. Baltimore, MD: PAJ Publications, 1990.
Hellman, Lillian. The Children’s Hour. Four Plays by Lillian Hellman. New York, NY: Modern Library, 1942. pp 1 – 86.
Ibsen, Henrik. A Doll’s House. Great Britain: Press Syndicate of the University of Cambridge, 1995.
Parks, Suzan-Lori. In the Blood. New York, NY: Dramatists Play Service Inc., 2000.
Shange, Ntozake. For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf. New York, NY: Bantam Books, 1977.
Treadwell, Sophie. Machinal. Twenty-Five Best Plays of the Modern American Theatre. Gassner, John. New York, NY: Crown Publishers, 1949. 495 – 529.
Vogel, Paula. How I Learned to Drive. The Mammary Plays. New York, NY: Theatre Communications Group, 1998. pp 1 – 92.
Wasserstein, Wendy. The Heidi Chronicles. The Heidi Chronicles and Others. New York, NY: Vintage Books, 1990. pp 160 – 249.
Wasserstein, Wendy. Uncommon Women and Others. The Heidi Chronicles and Others. New York, NY: Vintage Books, 1990. pp 4 - 72.
West, Mae. The Drag. Three Plays by Mae West. Ed. Schlissel, Lillian. New York, NY: Routledge, 1997. pp 95 – 140.