Saturday, March 24, 2007

High school seeks to ban play about Iraq

Play About Iraq War Divides a Connecticut School
But even as 15 student actors were polishing the script and perfecting their accents for a planned April performance, the school principal last week canceled the play, titled “Voices in Conflict,” citing questions of political balance and context.

This on the heels of the "Bong Hits 4 Jesus" controversy.

I got my t-shirt from Cafe Press

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Stage Diving

My 10-minute play STAGE DIVING will be part of two different short-play festivals.
Learn more here.
In the meantime, check out these wacky stage diving videos:
A bride stage dives & crowd surfs during her wedding reception
Kurt Cobain stage dives - then gets into a fight with a bouncer.
A really high stage dive everybody cheers I think because the guy doesn't die.
Crowd's-eye view of a very successful musician stage dive/crowd surf combo

Friday, March 16, 2007

Is that really how they select op-ed pieces?

Currently the 11th-most emailed story, Stop the Presses, Boys! Women Claim Space on Op-Ed Pages begins this way:
Whatever other reasons may explain the lack of women’s voices on the nation’s op-ed pages, the lack of women asking to be there is clearly part of the problem. Many opinion page editors at major newspapers across the country say that 65 or 75 percent of unsolicited manuscripts, or more, come from men.
The author, Patrician Cohen, doesn't speculate about to what degree not trying impacts female under-represenation in the op-eds, although she believes it "clearly" is. The reason being:
Many opinion page editors at major newspapers across the country say that 65 or 75 percent of unsolicited manuscripts, or more, come from men.
Is that really how op-ed articles are chosen? Unsolicited manuscripts? The rest of the publishing world does not run on unsolicited manuscripts, so I'd be very surprised if that was the case for newspaper op-eds. But even if that is the case, 65 - 75 % unsolicited from males means that 25 - 35% of unsolicited manuscripts are coming from females. Does the op-ed world have 25-35% female representation? I rather doubt it.

Certainly the NYTimes roster of regular op-ed writers doesn't reflect those numbers, with one Maureen Dowd in a field of seven. That's 14%.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

New Yorker annoys others

Looks like feminist bloggers aren't the only ones annoyed with the New Yorker, due to the lopsided gender ratio of its conference on the future.

- there's an essay in the NYTimes complaining about the New Yorker's attitude towards poetry.

The NYTimes has no room to complain about skewed gender ratios of course - the NYTimes op-ed columnist roster has the gender ratio of a Smurf hive colony, with Maureen Dowd playing the role of Smurfette to perfection. (Paul Krugman is Brainy Smurf of course.)

Over at Sivacracy, Liz Losh discovers a gaming conference, Living Game Worlds III that doesn't deny that females are half the human race.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

The connection between female infanticide and autism

Surely I'm not the first person to speculate about this connection, but so far failed to discover anything via Google.

The nature-nurture debate rages on, especially now that Simon Baron-Cohen is claiming that Autism is associated with masculinity because autistics are systematizers and males are systematizers, while females are empathizers.

This is mostly based on speculation and big stretches, that are effectively countered by the work of Elizabeth Spelke.

But it is indisputable that more boys than girls are autistic, with estimates ranging from 4:1 to 10:1.

It is also indisputable that infanticide was practiced far and wide througout human history, but especially female infanticide:
Infanticide has been practiced on every continent and by people on every level of cultural complexity, from hunters and gatherers to high civilization, including our own ancestors. Rather than being an exception, then, it has been the rule.

There is ample historical evidence to document the incredible propensity of parents to murder their children under an assortment of stressful situations. In nineteenth century England, for example, infanticide was so rampant throughout the country that a debate over how to correct the problem was carried out in both the lay and medical press. An editorial in the respected medical journal Lancet noted that "to the shame of civilization it must be avowed that not a State has yet advanced to the degree of progress under which child-murder may be said to be a very uncommon crime.

Infanticide has pervaded almost every society of mankind from the Golden Age of Greece to the splendor of the Persian Empire. While there are many diverse reasons for this wanton destruction, two of the most statistically important are poverty and population control. Since prehistoric times, the supply of food has been a constant check on human population growth. One way to control the lethal effects of starvation was to restrict the number of children allowed to survive to adulthood. Darwin believed that infanticide, "especially of female infants," was the most important restraint on the proliferation of early man.

While female infanticide has at times been necessary for survival of the community-at-large, there have also been instances where it has been related to the general societal prejudice against females which characterizes most male-dominated cultures.

Infanticide is not necessarily actively practiced - that is, the parents don't outright murder the baby, but rather cause it to die through selective neglect. This from "Health care allocation and selective neglect in rural Peru."
This study of health care allocation to children in northern Puno, Peru, utilizes quantitative and qualitative data to explore differential resource allocation to children in rural Andean households. As part of a broader ethnographic study of health in two communities, quantitative data on reported health status, symptoms, and treatments (both lay and specialist) were collected for 23 children under the age of 7 over a one year period. Additional data were collected from local health post records. Data were analyzed by gender, and by three age groups (birth to 1 year, 1-3 years, 4-6 years) to determine if differences existed in the allocation of health care. The data suggest a pattern of discrimination against females and younger children, especially infants under age one, despite the fact that these groups were reported to be sicker. Differences were especially significant in the allocation of biomedical treatments, the most costly in terms of parental time, effort, and money. Ethnographic data on child illness, gender, and developmental concepts help to explain why children of different genders and ages may be treated differently in the rural andes. They provide a context in which to interpret health care allocation data, and, in the absence of a population-based study, reinforce findings based on the limited study sample. Female children are valued less because of their future social and economic potential. Females are also regarded to be less vulnerable to illness than male children, meaning that less elaborate measures are necessary to protect their health. Young children are thought to have a loose body-soul connection, making them more vulnerable to illness, and are though to be less human than older individuals. The folk illnesses urana (fright) and larpa explain child deaths in culturally acceptable ways, and the types of funerals given to children of different ages indicate that the death of young children is not considered unusual. Health care allocation and ethnographic data suggest that selective neglect (passive infanticide) may be occurring in rural Peru, possibly as a means of regulating family size and sex ratio. It is important to go beyond placing blame on individual parents or on culture, however, to address the underlying causes of differential health care allocation, such as poor socioeconomic conditions, lack of access to contraceptives, and female subordination.

In spite of the fact that infanticide was widely practiced, it was still a difficult thing to do. Anthropologist Marvin Harris suggested that infanticide was so repugnant that until the invention of more humane forms of birth control, societies responded to times of abundant resources by allowing more children to live - eventually resulting in scarcer resources due to overpopulation.

While it must be difficult to kill any baby, it certainly must have been easier for parents to kill babies that refused to interact with them. Two of the three classic symptoms of autism are stunted social interactions.

According to the National Autism Association:

(Indicators of autism include):
1. Qualitative impairment in social interaction, as manifested by at least two of the following:
  • marked impairment in the use of multiple nonverbal behaviors such as eye-to-eye gaze, facial expression, body postures, and gestures to regulate social interaction.
  • failure to develop peer relationships appropriate to developmental level
  • a lack of spontaneous seeking to share enjoyment, interests, or achievements with other people (e.g., by a lack of showing, bringing, or pointing out objects of interest)
  • lack of social or emotional reciprocity

    2. Qualitative impairments in communication as manifested by at least one of the following:
  • delay in, or total lack of, the development of spoken language (not accompanied by an attempt to compensate through alternative modes of communication such as gesture or mime)
  • in individuals with adequate speech, marked impairment in the ability to initiate or sustain a conversation with others
  • stereotyped and repetitive use of language or idiosyncratic language
  • lack of varied, spontaneous make-believe play or social imitative play appropriate to developmental level

    3. Restricted repetitive and stereotyped patterns of behavior, interests, and activities, as manifested by at least one of the following:
  • encompassing preoccupation with one or more stereotyped and restricted patterns of interest that is abnormal either in intensity or focus
  • apparently inflexible adherence to specific, nonfunctional routines or rituals
    stereotyped and repetitive motor mannerisms (e.g., hand or finger flapping or twisting, or complex whole body movements)
  • persistent preoccupation with parts of objects

    Is it really a stretch to suggest that the reason that the ratio of male:female autism is so extreme is because female infants that displayed symptoms of autism were much more likely to be victims of infanticide?

    It isn't just rates of autism though - baby girls are hardier in general than baby boys, and it seems likely to me that a plausible explanation is that baby girls have been selected for hardiness - the weaker ones died from selective parental neglect that was not practiced as much on baby boys.

    And there ends the debate on nature vs. nuture - because if my theory is correct, it is cultural selection that resulted in a higher incidence of autism in boys, rather than some testosterone-autism connection that Baron-Cohen suggests.

    Obviously this hyposthesis needs to be tested. But it's no more implausible-sounding to me than plate tectonics.
  • Tuesday, March 06, 2007

    I write letters

    So looking at your lineup for this conference about the near future, I'd love to see this question asked during the course of the conference: do the gentlemen (and few ladies) believe that the future, intellectual discourse, and the New Yorker will continue to be totally dominated by males?

    But since David Remnick is either in deep denial, or proudly androcentric - perhaps with a dash of bravado in the face of the howling bitches of PC at his dining club door - I can't imagine such a subject being broached. My fellow feminist bloggers may want to address the issue though.

    Nancy McClernan

    FOLLOW UP: thanks for the shout out Ann Bartow

    Monday, March 05, 2007

    the curse of the middle-aged woman

    Well who doesn't despise those middle-aged women? They aren't hawt babes any more, so they can't hang out with hipster young dudes. They just putter around, doing chores, hanging out in sububurbia, enjoying unhip girly shit that really sucks, like soap operas and romance novels. I avoid those stupid cows like the fucking plague.

    But wait - I'm 46. I guess that makes me a middle-aged woman.

    Some middle-aged women like music, theatre, other arts. But the arts don't like middle aged women, not judging by two recent comments in "liberal" media outlets The New Yorker and The New York Times.

    First the New Yorker - I got into it a year ago with their music critic Sasha Frere-Jones over this:
    During a performance at Madison Square Garden last August, the sixty-four-year-old singer and songwriter Neil Diamond asked everyone in the audience to turn to a neighbor and say, “I love you very much.” Several thousand people, many of them women over the age of forty, did as he requested, but some giggled after saying the words. “Why are you laughing?” Diamond asked. “Love is not funny.”

    It was pretty clear to me that he mentioned women over forty to make a point about Neil Diamond - that in spite of his audience he was actually pretty hip. When I wrote to him, he actually admitted that Diamond's publicist or whatever asked him not to mention the over-40 women.

    Women over 40 are the antithesis of hip - or good art for that matter.

    Then there's the fact that the theatre world is petrified that it's becoming too feminized, hence the eternal search for an angry young (straight) man to be the new Mamet on the part of the middle-aged male theatre critics - and the vast majority fall into that demographic, leaving out John Simon who would skew the average to about 90.

    And as I blogged earlier, many people in the theatre world think a woman is old and desperate once she hits 30.

    So it was no surprise to read this a recent NYTimes:
    But Jon Steingart and Jenny Wiener, who founded Ars Nova in 2002 and now run it with Jason Eagan, say the financial model — which at first seems insane — makes sense if you understand their focus on new works, new artists and new audiences. Many companies aim for one or two; Ars Nova aims for all three at once.

    “A lot of not-for-profit theaters are driven by middle-aged women buying $100 tickets,” Mr. Steingart said. “But you can’t build a younger audience that way. And you can’t support younger artists if you charge $50 a ticket, because no one knows who they are. Our goal is to be as competitive as we can to a night at the movies. Even before we converted to not-for-profit status last year, it was never a commercial venture.”

    Now if it was just about the $100 tickets, the issue would be not-for-profit theatre being driven by the upper-middle-class. But it isn't merely about the money. It's because middle-aged women are soooo unkewl.

    Well what do I expect? We live in a patriarchy and even people who believe themselves to be hipster artistes can't possibly be expected to examine their bullshit assumptions.

    So I sent Steingart and Weinter an email. I doubt they'll write back, but it will be fascinating if they do. It's not like I burned any bridges by questioning them on their attitudes - I had no chance to have my plays produced by them anyway - I'm a middle aged woman and therefore a useless old unhip cow. What could I have to say that could possibly be of interest to anybody but maybe other useless old cows?

    UPDATE: March 7, 2007

    Well I got a response from Steingart, and it was a pretty good response and very polite, but only led me to more questions:

    Thanks for your response. And while I can accept that you did mean economics, I still have to wonder... do not-for-profits really create programming for middle-aged women?

    If theatre organizations are so concerned about women, why is it that the vast majority of playwrights produced are male? Are you telling me that middle-aged women just prefer to have men write their plays for them? The male dominance of theatre is all the fault of middle-aged women? What, exactly, do you consider fare that satisfies this homogenous group, the millions of humans who qualify as middle-aged women?

    Sunday, March 04, 2007

    I Like Ives

    One of the few good things that came out of the strange case of Edward Einhorn v. Mergatroyd Productions was that I got to know David Ives a little. He was editing the Dramatists Guild's newsletter The Dramatist when I contributed my article about the case.

    I wasn't actually surprised to find him witty and charming - I had seen him on a panel about playwriting along with the late Wendy Wasserstein and David Lindsay-Abaire a few years ago, and while Ives had the least to say of the three, he was the pithiest. Which makes sense from the master of the short form play.

    I was pretty thrilled when Ives agreed to sit in on a recent meeting of my group NYCPlaywrights and participate in the feedback sessions. Having David Ives give you feedback on your play is like having Leonardo DaVinci critique your sfumato technique. He gives great feedback.

    I've already enjoyed some of his comments on playwriting, and put two of them in the NYCPlaywrights quotation section:
    For me, there's only one rule of playwriting: don't bore the audience.

    and my favorite justification for running NYCPlaywrights:
    (on learning playwriting at Yale) Mostly you sat around the table and read your stuff, which is as it should be. There was certainly no theory of playwriting.

    Especially encouraging for someone who discovered playwriting long after my brief stint in Academia - if you can call art school Academia.

    Plays from Ives's collection All in the Timing are performed quite a bit, so check them out next time you get a chance - they're also fun to read.

    And you can read this excellent Ives article online Why Write for Theatre?

    A bunch of us gave Ives a lift home and chatted a bit enroute. He's going to work on a version of My Fair Lady with Kelsey Grammer - oddly he's never seen Frasier - which is rather a shame I think, because at its best, Frasier is as good as anything you'll see on Broadway. And I love me some David Hyde Pierce!

    We also offered him a bullwhip* but he claimed he has his own.

    *about the bullwhip - my production of HUCK FINN required a bullwhip prop for the slave trader, so I ordered one on ebay, only to discover I'd accidentally ordered a box of 12. So to the cast's delight they each got a free souvenir bullwhip. With a cast of seven, we had extras, so we could afford to be generous to David Ives.