Did you miss Cal Shakes’ Civic Dialogue on The Impact of Toxic Masculinity in Society, tied to our production of Othello? Read this reflection from our panelist Anthony J. Williams on coming to un-learn gender myths, bringing questions of power and privilege to a 400-year old text, and making these conversations accessible to broad audiences:
When a nonbinary trans woman named Lauren told her fellow audience members that she felt “like masculinity wasted so much of [her] life,” there was a definitive weight to her words. The conversation began as part of a post-show panel following director Eric Ting’s well-executed #LoveHateOthello at California Shakespeare Theatre. I was one of the panelists for “The Construction of Gender: The Impact of Toxic Masculinity in Society,” a free civic dialogue with folks in the community and theatre-goers. Sikander Iqbal (cis heterosexual man of color), Ariel Luckey (cis heterosexual white man), Michal “MJ” Jones (non-binary Black trans person) and I brought our very different, but complementary voices to discuss masculinities with a small audience after the Saturday matinée of this theatrical production of Othello. Eric Ting, Cal Shakes’ artistic director, moderated the conversation.
The conversation didn’t start with such powerful words, however. Lauren’s contribution was juxtaposed by a comment from an older white man who said the equivalent of “not all men” and a white woman who grew up in Puerto Rico wishing that she was Black. In meeting the audience where they were in regards to vocabulary for this conversation, I asked the audience what words they associated with masculinity. Many folks used words like “destruction,” “power,” “war,” and “strength.” I also explained the difference between cis and trans.However, the audience was already primed by the subject of discussion: toxic masculinity. A few folks in the audience took issue with the negative framing of masculinities that we took from the start.
However, when discussing a play written by a prolific white man in the 1600s about a Black man who kills his white wife, discussing toxic masculinities is important. We must question what it means that “Othello the Moor” is portrayed as a violent Black warlord, and his white wife as a battered woman. Add to that an election season where a cis heterosexual white supremacist has awakened deplorable Americans to incite violence against migrants, Muslims, and many more groups of human beings. #LoveHateOthello’s Brechtian directing style of speaking directly to the audience and agitating them connected the snippets of Trump speeches interspersed throughout the production to the Islamophobia that is old as the tale of Othello “the Moor.” The 400 year old story about race, Islamophobia, and empire addresses what we are still facing today. These circumstances require a focus on how we address the negative aspects of masculinity that are literally killing us.
Read the rest on Williams’ blog, Masculinities 101.
Anthony J. Williams (he/him/his pronouns) is from Vacaville, CA and currently lives in Oakland, CA. He graduated from UC Berkeley in Spring 2016 as a Mellon Mays Fellow (Sociology major, Theatre & Performance Studies minor). His senior honors thesis examined the relationship between #BlackLivesMatter organizers, self care, collective care, and liberation. He is a writer, researcher, and organizer and intends to obtain a PhD in Sociology & Africana Studies. Anthony’s work has been published in The Independent, East Bay Express, Black Girl Dangerous, Masculinities 101, and more. He is also an actor/director and has worked with Aurora Theatre Company, Berkeley Rep’s Ground Floor, Kaiser Permanente Educational Theatre, New Conservatory Theatre, Playground-SF, and BrickaBrack. Anthony is a proud Black queer man whose lifetime goal is to dismantle interlocking systems of oppression such as heteropatriarchy and white supremacy. You can follow him on twitter (@anthoknees), where he popularized the hashtags #MasculinitySoFragile and #BlackWomenDidThat.
Cal Shakes’ Civic Dialogue Series seeks to explore the intersections between theater and civic practice. Through facilitated dialogues with community organizations and presentations of work by community-based and Cal Shakes Artists, we hope to explore how theater can be a tool for highlighting voices of marginalized communities and for igniting change.
Check out recaps of our other 2016 Civic Dialogues:
- Breaking the Binary: Building a Trans*/Gender Non-Conforming/Non-Binary Inclusive Theatre, presented with Berkeley Rep
- The Construction of Gender: Actualizing Women’s Empowerment, presented with Impact Hub