I walked into the restaurant and over to the bar and greeted the bartender. My eye was caught by a slightly familiar, partially balding man who seemed to recognize me. The memory slowly returned as I moved to the corner of the bar where he was purched. We had talked about the music the last time we met. I had played a few songs. He smelled our era through the lyrics and chord choices. He said he was about to go to some music festival, a throwback to the post Woodstock days when 3-day festivals filled with unshowered hippies abounded. They have apparently returned, only now the young tiedyed dervishes were munching on ecstasy, not mushrooms and acid as was the trend in our day some 35 years ago. He loved the music, he said, “And besides that,” he smiled, “I still love the young girls.” His words hung silently in the air between us.
Tears pushed out of my throat and down my cheeks as I reached the first-third mark of the 90 minute soul masterpiece, Blackbird, at the Everyman Theatre in Baltimore just days before. I am not really a theater aficionado, though I have taken in enough professional and amateur performances to judge what moves my soul. I finally began to understand the deep and painful mystery that had illuded comprehension these 35 years of emerging manhood. It is the deepest reason that I haven’t been able to trace the source of so many women’s rage. It has been violently suppressed ~ to protect men from taking responsibility for our acts, and to provide cover for our ability to continue to perpetrate sexual violence against girls and women.
Blackbird takes on this reality in an unbridled form, laying bare a brutally honest view of the complexity of this all-to-pervasive reality for women. The brilliant writing peels back each emotional layer, exposing a story that gradually coils the stomach as it weaves the context of this hidden, ugly truth. Blackbird leaves no room for the simple duality of understanding we men long for in stories that have a villain and damsel in distress. It forces our face into the mirror of our own complicity, revealing the collusion we have with the continuation of this unbearable, silent pain that has been carried by our daughters, our girlfriends, our wives, our mothers, since the beginning of time.
I left feeling embarrassed, that as a “conscious” man, how unconscious I have been for so long about this reality, and how ever subtly, I have ~ and virtually every man I know has ~ helped to build this invisible prison in which girls are forced to live. There is no passageway out of this sentence. If you tell the truth, you are pulled into the light of ignominy. If you remain silent, you remain in a purgatory of perpetually reliving the violence in the isolation of suppressed or conscious memory. Even if they have never been touched inappropriately, we see the eyes of men of all ages lingering too long in the calculation of their thoughts that form the cave of isolation in which these acts are conceived and committed, and are silenced by the shame and fear that keeps them locked within our sisters, to carry alone in their souls for a lifetime.
It is without question that I recommend that each and every man see this play, and in particular, this performance if possible. Megan Anderson and David Parkes offer a window into the silent scream of integrating the incomprehensible that, if you are courageous enough to face, will leave you changed ~ hopefully.
As a young woman stood waiting in the line to be seated at the restaurant, the dark, drooping stare of this all-too-typical man hung locked below her head, scanning up and down her exposed legs and sundress. I felt the sick feeling well across my soul as the silent, “harmless” violation took place right in front of me. Thankful now, to have some medicine to offer in response to the illness I witnessed. As he was leaving the restaurant I called him back for a moment, “Hey man, have you seen Blackbird at the Everyman Theatre?” “Its the most powerful 90 minutes I have experienced in, maybe, ever. Take some of your boys and definitely check it out.”
“Oh, no, I definitely will, thanks man!” Thank you Everyman, for the courage to stage this amazing work. And thank you Megan Anderson, for the courage and power to bring this truth into the light!
This is truly powerful post, Paulo, and I think I am most struck by your use of the word “prison.”
I would offer that the lessons of the enlightenment you experienced at this incredible-sounding production need to be learned by women as well. I would hold myself out as a member of the class of bad-ass, tae kwon do-wielding (thanks dad!), sharp and strong women. But part of my deeply held feminism – and yes, I use that word forcefully – includes the my belief that girls and women are victmized every day. Many of my sisters would take great issue with my use of the word victim, but personally, I believe it’s completely dishonest and self-defeating to not acknowledge this reality, for us to just ignore it because it doesn’t sound as “liberated” as we would like to imagine ourselves. One of the problems with the idea of eliminating the word “victim” from a feminists vocabulary, is that it places even more pressures on women, impossible pressures. You can make all of the intelligent and “right” choices in the world -learn self-defense, dress as conservatively as can be and avoid all of the dark alleys that exist – but I can guarantee that that by the very nature of being a woman, particularly a young woman, you carry the weight of fear with you. Prison, indeed.
I learned this lesson when I was 16 on a subway in NYC. A mentally unstable homeless guy started following me on my subway car when I tried to move away from him. As luck would have it I saw a cop standing on the platform of a not-so-safe station in Washington Heights and jumped off the train, shaking, as soon as it pulled into the station. When I told the officer about the incident, he looked me over, thought it was cute to ask me my age, and then lasciviously ask if I had a boyfriend. So much for my saviour. I hopped back on the next subway that pulled in the station, happy to be unharmed, but completely nauseated at the display of macho power I was the unhappy beneficiary of – by an authority figure who was licensed to carry a gun no less(!) Yeah, I would say that “rage” is now an accurate description of what I carry, and I was for all intents and purposes unscathed by my incident.