I live in Utopia. Really. Ithaca is it's own little warp in the time-space continuum.
I step out my door and turn right; I walk 10 minutes to a variety of sustainable eco themed stores by locally made sewers using clothing cut from recycled material, get a gourmet cappuccino, go to see local artists displaying their work in the plethora of gallery space, buy a nice used book for myself or even a fresh, new book, from an independent bookstore. I watch artsy films at an independent movie theater.
I step out my door and turn left; I walk 10 minutes to a natural gorge, hike the trails that allow me to explore the solitary and magical world of nature from above and below the waterfall. I go swimming in the large Cayuga Lake. I buy fresh vegetables from one of the nations most beloved Farmers Markets.
And I make my humble living as a professional theater artist.
But I'm not from here. I cannot close my eyes and my ears and pretend the rest of the world doesn't exist. I do not have television, only watch shows on Netflix rarely, and only ones that do not press by "angry woman" buttons. But I know what's out there. And I know what it's doing to women and men.
I already know that to list every single issue I take with the way the media is manipulating the minds of women and men in this country, and list statistic after statistic about how this manipulation is resulting in thousands of pointless deaths, would result in a carbon copy of anything written by Jean Kilbourne. But what I choose to focus on now, is the depraved way our society is treating children.
Through reading Kilbourne, and watching Miss Representation, my fears have been confirmed twice-fold: that the media and advertising of today is a backlash on the women's movements of yesterday. Just like Big Tobacco realized how planting the seeds of their ideas in the minds of the young would reap them billions of dollars in financial benefits, until the children grew up, smoked, and died, the media and advertising agencies are doing this today. They are force-feeding the ideas that make them rich: that to be a man you need to be an ultra man, and to be a girl you need to be as sexually pleasing as possible, for that is your only role of value in life.
The problem of knowing this while living in Utopia is convincing people that this is a big deal. That we cannot stay blind and silent. And not everyone in my town lives under the magical spell of naiveté. In working with children, I see far too many young girls under the influence of this advertising, and too many young boys learning that a woman is not one to respect, but to power over. Every. Single. Day, I see this.
I am hoping with the creation and introduction of my Solo Show, "The Waking Danu Project" our community can start to have a discussion about what is really happening. I grew up under a bubble of protection, the "What she doesn't know won't hurt her" approach to parenting. But, inevitably, what I didn't know became apparent to me, and the not knowing hurt me in far greater ways than a simple discussion would ever have had.
The only antidote to this collective, diseased mindset of sexism in our culture is action. I hope "Waking Danu" will only be the beginning of a lifetime of commitment to use my strengths, talents, and connections in theater to serve as a means of education, discussion, and responsible action.
In writing Danu, and reading about the latest trend of the fat cat advertising industry to prey upon the young girls of our nation, I thought to email my friend Celia. Her post for the popular "Lil Mama's" blog entitled "Girls" has the exact rage and passion about this topic as many of the published PhD's on gender studies. Celia is part of the solution. She is the exact example of solution that there can be: someone keeping their ears open, their eyes wide, and their mouth ready to voice anything wrong or amiss that they find. It is that, exact, local, grassroots activism that needs to happen for this plague of rape culture, eating disorder death, and domestic violence to become dormant.
I told Celia of my project, and asked for her permission for the use of her blog, and she graciously accepted. She has even agreed to be part of the discussion process written into my script at select performances. Of course, a woman dreams of having her work backed by the likes of Gloria Steinem and bell hooks, but to have this perfect example of exactly the type of reaction people need to be having not only offer me her words, but also her presence for my project, is more than I could have hoped for.
Click Here to read Celia's blog "Girls," or copy and paste "http://thelilmamas.com/celia-girls/" in your browser.
The Ithaca City School District, responsible for the 8 total elementary schools I have had the honor of working in via The Hangar Theatre's Project 4 Artists in the Schools program, is facing a budget crisis. No surprise there.
On their list of things to cut is Arts and Music programs. Again, no surprise there. (To be fair, there is a long list of programs that are at risk of being cut/restructured/deleted.)
In my passions against this, I decided to write my very first letter to the editor. The format of stating my opinions in 200 words or less proved difficult, as my own passions in combination with the overwhelming data of the NEED for children to grow up in a high arts environment cannot be appropriately conveyed in this small word allotment.
The request from others to read both versions made me think that I should make them available.
The symmetry of Ithaca's problem also parallels that of the nation, that I decided to make the letters open and available to anyone who feels the need to opine on the topic.
All I ask is that if you use these letters, you
a) do it with kindness
b) Locate your own town's statistics on poverty, available through the US Census Bureau
c) Never give up the fight to keep arts available for all.