Guerilla Girls amuse and inform in controversial performance

In honor of March as Women’s history month, the Women’s Center and several of the College’s academic departments and organizations co-sponsored the show Feminists are Funny by Guerrilla Girls On Tour! on Thursday.

Guerilla Girls
The trio performing as Guerilla Girls on Tour! took the stage with a funny, forceful act, clad in bright jumpsuits and gorilla masks.

This trio of unidentified women represented only a small sector of the larger group, which consists of over 30 performers. These Guerrilla Girls wear gorilla masks and take on the names of famous dead women when they perform to “focus on the issues of discrimination and racism rather than on their own personalities as well as to keep the ‘herstory’ of women artists from fading into the footnotes and back pages of the history books,” according to the program.

The show began with a loud and funny song-and-dance number that was performed to various “women-themed” pop songs. Unlike other more generalized feminist performances, Guerrilla Girls On Tour! focused on women in art and, more specifically, women in theater. The show was organized in categories ranging from moments in Guerilla Girls’ history to polls and interactive songs in the audience. The first interesting point the women made was the idea of Women’s and Black history months. “What happens the other 10 months of the year?” they asked the audience. The answer they were looking for? Discrimination.

Utilizing no set and minimal props, Feminists Are Funny was very lighthearted and yet seemed a little too lightly rehearsed for many of the audience members’ tastes. While it certainly provided a laugh, the performance came across as very impromptu. They might have been better off coming to the College, as their name suggests, in a smaller, less expected venue rather than in a large, staged setting where their mistakes stood out.

The group made several important points about the role of women today by comparing it to women’s roles in the past, showing that many of the issues they struggled with “then” – like not being a part of the Constitution – are still a concern for women now. Many of the topics they brought up in regard to women in art were also very effective and interesting. They quoted statistics from both Broadway and Berkshire County on what percentage of the plays performed are written by women. Most of the numbers were very low, with only three percent of Broadway shows written by women and a similar percentage on Berkshire stages.

The show attributed this shortcoming primarily to ill-intentioned, anti-feminist male art directors who only choose male-written plays to perform at their playhouses; the final section of the show was a skit of this exact situation. While their point may hold true in some situations, it seemed limiting to merely attribute those percentages to the bigots of the world. While the skit was funny, it stayed on the surface of feminist issues instead of delving into more challenging questions: Maybe fewer plays are actually being written by women, thus shrinking the pool from which we can choose from and, if so, why is that the case? Exploring issues of anti-feminism in higher education might have shed light on deeper, more socially accepted types of gender bias and would have been both more interesting and more thoughtful.

A good chunk of the show was also dedicated to politics and referenced the current presidential candidates. The Guerrilla Girls essentially vilified every Republican candidate, even going as far as to make an entire parody song about “oven-Mitt” Romney. While some of the politicians’ policies may go against the Guerrilla Girls’ feminist views, this negative portrayal of conservatives may have not been the best approach for audience members who may float somewhere in the middle.

Another aspect of the show that seemed to put audience members off, while also not being very cohesive thematically, was the group’s comments on obesity and body image. The conversation began by talking about Michelle Obama’s “Anti-Obesity” campaign. After commending her work, they went on to disagree with her choice of words and do a segment on discrimination against obese people. While there may be truth in their argument, it seemed a little out of place, and the general feel of the audience in the Q-and-A session post-show was that obesity is a big problem in America and that it should be dealt with on a national scale.

Feminists Are Funny succeeded in that it did what it said; it showcased funny feminists. While the good-natured approach to feminist issues was appreciated, overall, the show lacked the quality and depth that was expected.

  • Ms. Bantle incorrectly assumes that there are fewer female playwrights then there are male playwrights. There are about equal numbers of female and male members of the Dramatists Guild, the national organization of women playwrights. Emily Glassburg Sands also confirmed this stat in her recent study on sexism in theatre.

    There is not one feminist Republican nominee for president. Yes we did parody, make fun of and point to all of the Republican nominee’s anti-choice positions. We did not vilify anyone in our show.

    Our section on fat-hatred probably hit home the hardest for the Williams College crowd as evidenced by the many comments about it during the Q and A after. Many remarked that they were taken by the piece and no one said that they thought it was out of place.

    Lastly, we have performed all over the world for many audiences large and small. The Williams College audience was one of the most responsive we have ever had. The laughter, cheering and participation from the large crowd was tremendous. Not once did we feel that our improvisational style was not to the audience’s tastes.

    You can read Bea Arthur and Edith Evan’s take on the Williams College show on our blog http://www.guerrillagirlsontour.blogspot.com