Wright: Challenge the status quo

I saw Daniel Beaty’s “Resurrection,” currently playing at Hartford Stage, with a class and, though I initially liked it, several of my classmates argued the play constitutes an offensive failure to depict the African-American experience.

It centers around an ensemble cast of six African-American men, aged 10 to 60, each trying to sort through a personal crisis. Though they regularly praise the strength and poise of the black woman, no women — of any color — appear in the play.

The men are all stock characters full of stereotypes. Dre is an ex-convict who contracted HIV in prison. Bishop is the charismatic and morbidly obese preacher. Isaac is the successful businessman who cannot come to terms with his homosexuality. ’Twon is the college-bound student from the projects, whose avowed preference for Popeyes Chicken and Kool-Aid one fellow student described to me as “cringe-inducing.”

Students in the class criticized the play’s lack of women, the stereotypical characters, and Beaty’s depictions of African-Americans as failing to represent his own life experience. Shouldn’t the Yale-educated Beaty have shown more well-adjusted and upwardly mobile African-Americans? Was he pandering to white audiences with his stereotypical and comfortable depictions of African-Americans?

No.

Beaty’s stock depictions of African-Americans are tiresome, unpleasant and familiar. But these character types and issues are present in many African-American communities. Poverty, incarceration, HIV/AIDS, obesity and discrimination toward homosexuals affect African-American communities and the population at large. Audiences should be aware that these problems exist. And to develop awareness, the lives of individuals like ’Twon, Bishop, Isaac and Dre must be displayed for many to see, even if we’ve seen them before.

Beaty went to Yale — he graduated from Ezra Stiles College in 1998 — but he was also the son of a single mother. His father was addicted to heroin and spent time in prison. His brother was a drug addict. Beaty’s Yale education was the product of supportive teachers who recognized his potential. It was not the only defining event of his life, nor should it limit the subjects about which he may write.

And the absence of women in “Resurrection” is not connected to Beaty’s prejudice. The play is centered specifically on the struggles of black men, and though women could have been featured, they were not central to the play’s story or themes.

“Resurrection” may not be a well-made drama, but Beaty offers a solution to the problems that, in his words, “plague black people’s souls.” Beaty’s men are angry, but they are allowed to work through their anger in search of a solution.

Christina Hoff Summers’ angry feminists want their own resurrection. Hoff Summers, a recent YPU guest, is the author of the 1994 book, “Who Stole Feminism? How Women Have Betrayed Women,” and an ardent critic of what she calls “gender feminism.” The book states that contemporary feminism is polluted by angry women who feel unnecessarily attacked by the existing patriarchy. Hoff Summers creates a distinction between “equity” and “gender” feminism, claiming that only equity feminism sought to place women on the same legal and economic footing as men.

Surely, the heroines of the 19th century women’s rights movement (individuals whom Hoff Summers identifies as “equity” feminists) must have felt some anger, or at least dissatisfaction, to disrupt the status quo. Figures like Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony fought to give women the vote. Stanton, who championed interracial marriage and birth control, was the “difficult woman” of her day.

Disrupting the status quo is always dangerous, and Anthony and Stanton put their safety and reputations on the line for the issues in which they believed. When the late Columbia literature professor Carolyn Heilbrun stated that “women who speak up usually end up punished or dead,” she was not simply expressing anger against an invisible patriarchy. Speaking up is dangerous, regardless of gender. When one feels as though his or her voice is being silenced, he or she has a right to feel angry. The individuals whom Hoff Summers calls “gender feminists” do not seek to abolish gender roles. They just want women to thrive in a social and political environment that often breeds hostility.

Heilbrun and her feminist colleagues were and are not angry at men. Claiming as much is a gross oversimplification of feminism. A woman who advances women’s causes does not necessary hate men.

When she retired after years of studying gender, Heilbrun was unhappy with the state of the women’s movement. The goals of the women’s movement were (and still are) not as clear as they had been historically. Women have achieved a modicum of legal and economic success, but it was difficult to know how to proceed.

Hoff Summers is threatened by the expression of female anger. She is allowed to be threatened, but her “gender feminists” are allowed to express a full range of emotions. It is not healthy to stew in anger, but sometimes, it needs to be expressed. Anger may be a slippery slope to the “dark side,” but it can also be a cathartic force. After anger, there is clarity. And clarity brings resurrection.

Kristen Wright is a freshman in Davenport College.

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