Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Ben Brantley is asking for it.


In his review of Of Mice And Men in Wednesday, April 16th's edition of The New York Times, Ben Brantley says Curley's wife, portrayed by Leighton Meister, "provides no evidence" of being either "slatternly" or "provocative" which, "[G]iven the grim events that eventually befall her character... may have been a conscious choice. We don’t want to be left thinking, 'Well, she was asking for it.'"

Mr. Brantley, I am a woman of average looks.  I'm no model.  I'll never be cast in a Carl's Jr. Ad.  I am quite short, and, I think it's safe to say, I'm something of a tomboy.  Some might even characterize my appearance, on occasion, as slatternly.  However, since the age of 13 I have been faced with the unendingly exhausting task of thwarting unwanted attention and advances from strangers and friends, alike.  I am in no way alone in this experience.  Nearly every woman I know has a story of being harassed, followed, threatened, frightened or raped.  In 100% of these cases these women, however they may have been dressed, whatever state of sobriety or inebriation they were in, whether they were "slatternly" or well-groomed, were not "asking for it".

When I was 14 a strange man touched my thigh on a crowded subway and then spit at me when I slapped his hand away.  That same year a man poured his beer on my head on a subway when I wouldn't let him touch my face (an incident, I might point out, in which no one on the train came to my aid).  That same year on a subway a man exposed himself and masturbated while staring at me.  That same year I was forced to perform a sexual act on a stranger out of fear that if I didn't, something much worse would happen to me.  Then there was the time a man followed me down a subway platform, holding the hand of his very young son and then called me an "ugly bitch" when I asked him to stop following me.  And the time I woke up in a strange man's bed after having been drugged (he acted as though nothing were out of the ordinary).  These are just a handful of examples. 

In each of these circumstances I was wearing long pants and t-shirts, but this is an insignificant fact.  Mr. Brantley, if I had been wearing a short skirt, or had my cleavage exposed, if I looked "slatternly", would I have been asking for these experiences? 

Perhaps you don't know what it's like to have to think about your safety every time you get dressed in the morning.  "Is this suit going to attract unwanted attention?", "Will this tie make someone follow me?", "Do these shoes give off the wrong message?"  These kinds of considerations are what I (and most women I know) have to factor in every day.  Do you have to worry about your sexual safety every time you leave your house?  I do.

When we talk about a "culture of rape" in this country, we are referring to a culture in which, "She was asking for it" is a common, acceptable defense for criminal behavior.  The only time a woman is "asking for it" is when she is literally asking for it.  As in, "Let's have sex", or, "Will you have sex with me", or, "I'd like to have sex with you", or some variation thereof, either explicitly or implicitly with another consenting adult with whom sexual contact has been mutually agreed to by both parties.  "Rape culture" is a culture in which an educated, prolific theater critic would assume that anyone would ever think "she was asking for it".

Furthermore, Mr. Brantley, I'm confused.  What, exactly is Curley's wife asking for?  (Spoiler alert)  Is she asking to have her neck broken?  If Ms. Meester's portrayal were more slatternly and provocative, would we really be left thinking she was asking to be murdered?  What she does ask for is for Lennie to stroke her hair.  That's it.  This is not an invitation for intercourse.  And frankly, even if she says, "Let's have intercourse," once she becomes frightened of Lennie's strength, she has the right to ask him to stop without anyone telling her she was "asking for it".  Perhaps Ms. Shapiro made the choice she made with Curley's wife specifically to avoid this kind of ignorant and dangerous line of thinking.  If so, it's a sad day for art.

As a member of the media and someone who has a public forum, I hope, in the future, you will consider what such a statement says about what is and isn't acceptable in our culture.  I won't go so far as to suggest the paper let you go.  Though, frankly, you are kind of asking for it.

39 comments :

  1. I think I speak for every woman in the world when I thank you for this.

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  2. Excellent! Very well said!!!

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  3. Excellently said, and I loved your show!

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  4. Cogent and ckear. Warrants apoligy.

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  5. Yes. THAT is well put.

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  6. I think I speak for every father of daughters in the world when I say thank you for this.

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  7. Absolutely spot-on, Daisy. But how appalling that you were exposed to such appalling male behaviour at such a young age, and maybe even more appalling that this kind of thing is not that uncommon these days.

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  8. beautiful, daisy. i once directed OM&M and was careful to allow CW [i refused to call her 'curly's wife' in rehearsal] to be simply a young woman married to a bully and wife beater. all she exhibited was a need for positive human interaction. that she chose lenny was a honest mistake. she wore a plain house dress, no makeup, and had nothing about her that could be seen as "asking for it." i'm appalled at BB. he's a throwback.

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    1. And it seems you could be accused of being a revisionist. It clearly states in the book that she wore red mules with ostrich feathers, a house dress with tiny red flowers on it, rouged cheeks, red nails and had curled her hair into 'sausage' like ringlets. Steinbeck, with less than his usual talent for character portrayal, dollops on the symbolism through the colour red to alert us to the fact that CW represents danger, lust, passion, death. She wears her house dress outside of the confines of her house, to go and stand in the door way of the barn and talk to the men. The adverbs in the book used to describe her range from 'provocatively' 'archly' to more timid and frightened descriptions. She's not a particularly nice or kind person, she threatens to have the only black man on the ranch lynched, but then again her dreams of being a film star have been crushed and she's living a broken life, isolated on a farm full of men who despise her.

      Which is the main point. The men on the ranch and the reader are scared of the power she wields, the power to use her self promoted sexuality. She has no social or financial power, no status on the ranch but she can get men in trouble either by association or actual sexual contact. To paint her as a down trodden victim is doing her a disservice, she is far more complex than that.

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  9. Thank you so much for writing this, Daisy. It seems to be just another symptom of rape culture and the idea that women and women's bodies are up for grabs to whoever objectifies them, whether it's a man on the street yelling at a woman to "smile" or a theatre critic blaming the victim for the violence against her. I sincerely hope that Mr. Brantley reads your post, as it's clear that he has much to learn. Hopefully he'll think about his words next time he spouts off idiotic comments such as that.

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  10. I agree and disagree, Miss Eagan. I agree because your message is very clear, important and should be something that is brought to some people's attention, however, that being said, we are talking about a character that was written be John Steinbeck. Mr. Brantley isn't making this character up when he describes her and isn't projecting his own thoughts about the character on Miss Meester, it is just how the character is and how Steinbeck wanted her. And yes, it is a really terrible view of women, but it is what the author wrote. Steinbeck was notorious for writing "filthy" women and it was said he could not trust them. I know what you're thinking - it's a terrible way to think, but I did not, nor did Mr. Brantley write the play - Steinbeck did and that's how he wanted that character.

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    1. I'm with this anonymous poster. While it's lovely that everyone has the opinion that no woman who has suffered rape/attack/etc 'wanted it' Brantley's words are simply supporting Steinbeck's words. Brantley is one of the kindest 'critics' if you can call him that (as critics often receive the connotation of having nothing but slander of their own variety to write and existing solely for the purpose of tearing shows to shreds) and to call him out in this fashion just showcases your self-righteous ignorance of both Steinbeck's work and Brantley's.

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    2. How lovely to be able to post anonymously.
      I don't need to possess an intimate knowledge of ANY writer in order to call out their sexism and misogyny. Whether or not Steinbeck wanted us to sympathize with Lenny or cheer when he murders Curley's wife does not speak to what I pointed out in my response. What I am talking about is a culture in which it is acceptable for someone to say that a woman was asking for it in the way she dresses, speaks or otherwise presents herself. I highly doubt, if one were to ask him, that Steinbeck would argue that Curley's wife was "asking for it". And as for his supposed distrust of women, his male characters in this piece don't suggest a very high regard for men, either. And he wrote many a strong woman character.
      If Steinbeck did believe Curley's wife was asking for it, that doesn't diminish my point. It is NEVER the case that a woman is asking to be assaulted. I don't care if you think Brantley was supporting Steinbeck. Either way, suggesting a woman is asking to be assaulted showcases your self-righteous ignorance of the human experience.

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  11. No, but it's the fact that he actually uses the phrase "she's asking for it."

    That in itself is demonstrative of rape culture, of a way of thought that is prevalent and mainstream and uncalled for. Brantley did not write the play, true, but the fact that he has to describe a female character as "not asking for it," is objectification. As if there are other characters who are "asking for it," which should never be a thought, unless you're actually ACTING in the play.

    No observer, no audience should ever think a rape/sexual assault/murder victim is asking for it. Cause they're not. Ever.

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  12. Ben Brantley took the liberty of speaking for *us* and not John Steinbeck when he said "We don’t want to be left thinking, 'Well, she was asking for it.'" So his statement has nothing to do with Steinbeck's original intentions.

    And Alun Hood - what do you mean when you say "not uncommon these days" - do you think strangers harassing women is something new? Try asking any woman over 50 you know if she was ever harassed, assaulted etc. The only thing different "these days" is women have access to social media and are making an issue out of it.

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    1. Good thing Ben Brantley gets paid to have an opinion. There's a reason he's a highly respected, published journalist and who gets paid to write up an opinion on these matters. Nancy, how much do you get paid and what are your credentials for criticizing this man's work?

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    2. So, if you have no theatre experience (and who knows whether Nancy does or not, it's frankly irrelevant) and don't get paid your opinion either doesn't count or you have no right to express said opinion. Interesting train of thought here.

      Also, while he may write for the NY Times Theatre page, I, and many others don't consider Mr. Brantley a "highly respected journalist" Getting published doesn't mean you're highly respected or intelligent or good.

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  13. well written. I am sorry it had to be written.

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  14. "the more closely one follows the increasingly hysterical volleys of rhetorical fire back and forth on this issue, the more apparent it becomes that those who speak of a rape culture don’t understand what the word “culture” actually means. To result in a “culture,” a phenomenon must be widely accepted as the norm. It is culturally normal in some countries for women to be virtual chattels, governed by patriarchal standards of honour; to be married against their will; to meet blame from their kinsmen and indifference or even hostility at law enforcement and court levels when reporting sexual assault; to be shunned as unmarriageable — or worse — for the “shame” of having been raped, and so forth. There we can legitimately speak of a “rape culture.”

    http://fullcomment.nationalpost.com/2014/03/08/barbara-kay-rape-culture-fanatics-dont-know-what-a-culture-is/

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    1. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/apr/24/rape-game-of-thrones

      Read this article- Plenty of verified examples of how we have a "rape culture" in the US. And as for a definition of culture, there's a million of them but here's one....Culture is the characteristics of a particular group of people, defined by everything from language, religion, cuisine, social habits, music and arts. Today, in the United States as in other countries populated largely by immigrants, the culture is influenced by the many groups of people that now make up the country.

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    2. Right. Because women in this country don't meet blame, indifference or hostility at law enforcement and court levels when reporting sexual assault. I guess we all must be imagining it.

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  15. Every word of this should be forwarded to the NY Times letters bureau. If they had any balls they'd print it.

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  16. A wonderful rebuttal. You inspire me, Daisy Eagan. I will have my daughter read your post.

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  17. Thank you very much for this on behalf of all women! Maybe someday men like him will understand.

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  18. Thank you so much for stating this. I'm sorry to have to read what you've faced in the past, let alone that you should have faced it. The statistics in the "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo" (appropriately titled originally "Men Who Hate Women") on how many women in Sweden have been molested and subsequent articles from all forms of media lead me to think that the numbers for American women are not so different.

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  20. Well said. It's embarrassing to think of Brantley as following in the footsteps of Brooks Atkinson and Walter Kerr. He's extremely replaceable.

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  21. Way to go Daisy!! Looking forward to sharing this with everyone at Little Red/Elisabeth Irwin. Come and visit!!1

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  22. Well said! I like to use the analogy of robbery. Suppose when someone was robbed, they were asked, "Well, why did you park your Lexus there?' or "You are wearing an Armani Suit, Philip Patek watch, etc - you were just begging to be robbed? or "Your house is very ostentatious- no wonder it was broken into".

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  23. Yes! Thank you for your bravery. I truly don't know if most men *really* understand what it is like to be female in a place like NYC (well, anywhere, for that matter, but the world is just more saturated here than in many other places in NYC). The experiences I have had on the subway, in public libraries, in swimming pools, etc., starting at the age of 5 (!) are reflected in the eyes of so many other women I know. Thank you for speaking up.

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  24. Dear Daisy,
    I could not agree with your post more! It has been a pet peeve of mine for as long as I matured into a woman. (pet peeve is a nice way of putting it mind you). Bravo to your statement.

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  25. Mr. Brantley is obviously a partisan of Tea Party attitudes toward women. Shame on him.

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  26. I think Mr. Brantley's words are being misinterpreted. What I took him to mean was, if the actress played-up the seductive behavior of the character, we might jump to the incorrect conclusion that Steinbeck meant she "was asking for it." By not exhibiting much in the way of self-conscious sexuality, the actress made it very clear that the character was NOT "asking for it." I think he meant that that choice made her rape less understandable perhaps, but did avoid giving support to any sexist interpretation.

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  27. Because rape is ever understandable.

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  28. And, actually Paul, there was no misinterpretation. That is precisely what I think Mr. Brantley meant which means you've misinterpreted my argument. Or, really, you just kind of skipped over it. If "we" jump to the incorrect conclusion that she was asking for it it is because we live in a culture in which "she was asking for it" is a common and acceptable defense for violent, criminal behavior. That thought should never cross our minds in the first place. Rape culture means a culture in which the term "she was asking for it" is ever invoked in the case of any kind of violence against a woman. And what you have said, in essence, is that had her character been more alluring, her rape would have been understandable (or more understandable). Understand??? Do you hear how psychotic that argument is?
    Also, it seems you misunderstand the scene. Have you read it or seen it? Because, even if the character's sexuality is under played, she is, in fact, being flirtatious. Just because she doesn't exhibit "self-conscious sexuality" (whatever the hell THAT is), doesn't mean she isn't a sexual creature and a woman who might very understandably look outside her abusive marriage for affection. She is being flirtatious and she asks Lenny to pet her hair. She's not asking to play cards, if you catch my meaning. However, that STILL does not warrant an attack on her. Even if the director had her prancing around in her underwear SHE WOULD NOT HAVE BEEN ASKING FOR IT.
    Furthermore, there was no rape. There was a murder.

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