Happy Hour on the Fringe: BOY PROJECT with Nell Bang-Jensen & Samiha Hadeed-Moore
Health and safety are our number one priorities here at FringeArts, and in compliance with CDC recommendations for staying safe during the Covid-19 pandemic, we will be postponing our 2020 High Pressure Fire Service presentations. More information will be available soon about when HPFS will take place. Happy Hour on the Fringe will continue to come out with podcast episodes about our artists and community partners, so don’t fear — FringeArts is still kicking! Community is crucial in this time of crisis, so please do not hesitate to reach out.
In this episode of Happy Hour on the Fringe, you’ll listen to a conversation about the themes and questions in the 2020 High Pressure Fire Service presentation BOY PROJECT by Nell Bang-Jensen. Listen to the episode and read the transcript below!
Tenara: Hello and welcome to Happy Hour on the Fringe. FringeArts is Philadelphia’s premier presenter of contemporary performing arts. My name is Tenara, and I am the Community Engagement Manager at FringeArts. I invite you to pour one up and enjoy our conversations with some of the most imaginative people on this plane of existence. In this episode, you’re going to hear a conversation about the themes and questions in our upcoming High pressure Fire Service presentation BOY PROJECT helmed by visionary local director Nell Bang-Jensen. For our HPFS episodes, we like to connect our artists to community members and advocates who are thinking about the same questions the artists explore in their HPFS pieces. Today’s episode features a conversation with Nell, Artistic Director at Theatre Horizon, and Samiha Hadeed-Moore, a student and volunteer with Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance’s Philly STAMP Pass. Samiha is also a performer and actress as well as an avid arts and culture fan and patron. Check out this exciting conversation between two women of two generations reflecting on the way they have encountered masculinity and the gender binary in their own lives.
Nell: It’s Samiha and Nell here.
Nell: And we’re here to talk about BOY PROJECT. And we’re two women talking about this piece about masculinity. And I guess I want to start by just talking a little bit, Samiha, because for me, what inspired the piece was thinking about gender and how questions about gender manifest in my life today but also how they did when I was a teenager, when you’re kind of formulating your identity and pushing back and leaning in to these sort of societal norms that come up. But I’m curious how that lands on your generation which has really put a lot of the impetus for the piece, working with young people who range in age from about 13 to 16. I’m 31 now. How old are you if you don’t mind sharing?
Samiha: I’m 17.
Nell: So I’m curious to know from you, Samiha, are there times you see sexism in your daily life? How does gender manifest in your life right now?
Samiha: I definitely see sexism often. I wouldn’t say on a daily basis but certain situations that I’ve been put in or I see other people being put in. I definitely can see sexism. For example, last year we did a show called Chicago, and I noticed how like, we had a scene where it was called the Cellblock Tango and they weren’t really willing to let anybody but the women into that piece and it was strange because like, I know that they are a lot of male dancers at my school. And they were like, ‘hey, we want to be in this piece that’s a dance number.’ And they just wouldn’t let them in. That’s like, a very clear one for me.
Samiha: I went on a date this Saturday.
Nell: Uh huhhh.
Samiha: And, um, my parents were very, like, they asked me so many questions, and it just made me so uncomfortable because my brother has been on plenty of dates and he’s younger than me. And they don’t ask him half as many questions. And I always bring it up to them, and they’re like, ‘you guys are different people, like don’t make it about that, like come on.’ And by that, they mean like don’t make it about gender. Yeah don’t make it about gender, but it is about gender. Clearly, because if you’re asking me and I’m going on a date with a boy and my brother’s going on a date with a girl, he’s being seen as like, I guess the dominant one, so they don’t need to ask him questions. But since I’m like, a girl and I’m fragile, they want to make sure I’m safe. And it’s coming from a loving place but it’s like really?
Nell: Yeah I’ve been thinking about that a lot too. I think especially in this political moment and thinking about how internalized a lot of this is, how a lot of our biases about race, I think, in this country are similar because people are carrying them around unconsciously and don’t even realize. Like, your parents are probably like, ‘we treat our kids the same, regardless of gender,’ but then, they do have different expectations of you that they almost can’t help but voice because it’s so deep in them that it may not even be conscious that they’re treating you differently until you actually pointed it out. What about at school? Do you feel like, besides this Chicago example, do you feel like kids are treated the same at your school?
Samiha: For the most part, yes. I definitely think that being a girl works to my advantage sometimes. Like, I’m like, oh can I go to the bathroom, and I stay out for like 15 minutes. Nobody’s gonna ask a question, but if a guy does that, they’re gonna get questions like ‘where were you,’ ‘what were you doing?’ So sometimes it’s like, it is a bad thing, but it works in the girl’s favor…sometimes.
Nell: This is kind of a big question, and you can be like ‘I don’t know’ because we just put you on the spot, but we were actually talking in BOY PROJECT rehearsal yesterday about how, you know, I think a lot of gender stereotypes and expectations hurt both men and women and non-binary folks because there’s a double binary of men vs. women and some people who don’t feel they fall into either category, but I’m wondering overall, do you feel like one gender or another is being discriminated against more in our country, as a 17 year old?
Samiha: I’m not really sure. The only reason that I know that women are being discriminated against is because like, I’m experiencing it, like I’m a woman but I don’t feel like I have the authority or the experience to say that like, men are going through that. Like, they definitely are, but I don’t know personally, so yeah. I don’t think one struggle is bigger than another I guess. It’s all sexism at the end of the day.
Nell: That’s interesting. We were having that conversation at BOY PROJECT yesterday and it sort of started an interesting tension for me as the lead artist because I think the structures that exist around gender hurt both genders, or all genders, just by the fact of how clearly we’re defining them. And I do think there’s a distinction between…do you guys, at school, have you encountered the word ‘patriarchy’ before?
Samiha: We have. I’ve heard it. Actually I hear a lot in Hamilton because I listen to the soundtrack a lot, but um, isn’t it just like the structure of what it means to be a woman in a male…I’m not really sure.
Nell: Yeah, that’s a really great answer. It’s kind of like the structures that are in place that give privilege to men and, because they were the ones who designed those systems. So for example, some people might say, um, our government is very patriarchal in part because there are a lot of dudes in it, but also in part because even the way we conceive of those jobs is really built for male bodied people. When we think about work weeks, or things like that, we often don’t think about women having children, or we don’t think about building places for people to breastfeed, right? SO it’s like all of these things that have the patriarchal systems have controlled a lot about how our country works, um, and…but it’s a funny thing for people who are growing up to be men right now, and we have this interesting conversation in the rehearsal room yesterday where when we talk the patriarchy, these young men feel like they’re being blamed, or they’re saying, ‘we’re not a part of that.’
Nell: And so I think…
Samiha: Well– they kind of are…
Nell: Oh yeah, push back! Yeah, tell me more about that because that’s how I feel too. It’s like that funny tension.
Samiha: Um, I’m reading “Price of a Child” right now.
Samiha: The lady who is the main character, she is speaking at these abolitionist rallies, and she feels like the people are…they feel blamed so they’re not accepting what she’s saying. They feel like she’s directly pointing at them, and she is, but to help, kind of. Yeah, to understand it instead of like being defensive about that, but I think that happens a lot with sexism as well because that’s just how it is. People feel attacked when you say something that just seems like it’s going against them or their beliefs, and they feel like they have to defend themselves. I think sometimes it’s better to just take it in and understand.
Nell: Yeah it makes me think about, like, for me, even as someone who identifies as a woman, I have some internalized sexism because I grew up in a patriarchal society. So that’s where I feel like the patriarchy feels really important. So it’s like if you see that most of the heads of companies are men, then you start to think, ‘oh most of the heads of companies are men.’ And that’s how it is. So you might not even realize that when you’re thinking about selecting a candidate for the job, you’re biased in favor of men, right? And I think some of that is starting to change, but it requires examination of our own biases from growing up in this patriarchal structure.
Samiha: I think nowadays actually it’s weird because, okay if I’m like a woman in a power position and I’m hiring new workers or whatever, I’m gonna hire a woman because one, they understand my struggle and also because you want it to be more like…
Samiha: Yeah, and I think a lot of businesses use that to their advantage. Like, oh we have women in power positions, we’re like equal rights, blah blah blah. But really, like, did you hire them because they’re a woman, like why?
Nell: And then it’s like, even if it’s all women working at the company, they might still have internal expectations that are different than if the boss was a man. Like I feel that. I run a theatre company, and my staff, all but one person on staff, identify as a woman. And I do think, and they’re all like really savvy feminist wonderful people, but I think they have different expectations of me as a boss than they would if I were a man. I think they do. And some of that is actually around emotional labor, I think, and like, the work that I’ll provide for them, that I just think is a different expectation and I have different expectations of women and men, just because that’s the society we grew up in. Um, so I think, like what’s super interesting about BOY PROJECT is we have this group of people growing into the category of men, most of them, who are kind of pushing against it. But they might be pushing so hard, they’re not looking at themselves. I also feel like it’s something people do a lot, and a lot of white people do in conversations about race too. Where they’re like ‘oh I’m not racist’ when actually the truth is like, everyone’s racist because we grew up in a racist society. So we have all these internalized patterns at play we may not even be aware of.
Samiha: Definitely. Bias is unavoidable. Our experiences form bias and you can’t avoid an experience, so yeah, I think it’s important to just teach and like, make people understand, instead of blaming I guess, because everyone has a bit of bias.
Nell: Yeah, I think there is, I think you’re so right. It’s interesting when I asked you about an example of something sexist, the first example you gave was about male identified people being allowed to be in a dance number. And I think it is interesting how like, we do see sexism going both ways right now. But then I also, like, maybe at your school, you see examples of it going both ways but then I think of the big picture in our country. And you know, with Super Tuesday, I can’t help but think about politics. Like, I don’t think it’s an accident that the front runners right now are all white dudes, except for…and we’ve had all male identifying presidents at this point. Like, it’s not an accident that that’s happened. And so I think it’s really interesting because we do see examples of sexism swing all different ways but we do still live in a patriarchy and that’s a really challenging thing for this next generation to be contemplating, is how we get out of that.
I think with BOY PROJECT, I was also interested in how– I mean when we talk about sexism, we talk about how the gender pay gap, we think about the statistics, you know, if you look at the Fortune 500 companies. There’s a tiny, tiny percentage being run by women as opposed to men, for example. Thinking about all those examples, and at the same time, there’s less attention on how living in the patriarchy also hurts men and boys, and so that was what I wanted to get at in this project too, is that I think that our society in many ways has been better at expanding the definitions of what being a girl or being a woman can look like. I think compared especially to when I was growing up, today there’s a lot of acceptance and a lot of messaging like ‘take up more space! Have a louder voice!’ Like, adopt more traditional masculine qualities. And I think there’s a lot of acceptance of that. But I don’t see it going both ways. I don’t see people pushing their sons for example to adopt more feminine qualities. And so it’s like, we’re still valuing the masculine above all, and I was really curious about that with this project and how can we flip that and how is still valuing the masculine hurting men.
Samiha: Absolutely. How have you seen that in your research so far?
Nell: Yeah. I think friendship is a really big part of it. Like, I think, one thing that’s been interesting with these teenagers is they feel like they have close friendships, and then, and I hope their families aren’t made at me for saying this, but a lot of them look at their fathers, who are typically in their 40s or 50s, and they feel like they don’t have close friends. And a lot of the male collaborators working on the project feel that way. Like, they feel like they can talk about feelings with their female friends but they don’t really with their male friends. And I think there is sort of this idea of like, a man is strong and a provider, you know. And doesn’t need to talk about his feelings and it actually results in weaker relationships and less of a support network. Then on a massive scale, it means that there’s statistics that men are more likely to commit suicide, and I think a lot of that is because they don’t have those built in networks because they don’t have society’s permission to be vulnerable.
Samiha: Yeah keeping all that in is probably really hard. And I feel like it’s always like, if men do have emotions, it’s always a joke. Like, ‘oh, haha, I was sad today because me and my girl broke up but whatever, I’m gonna go do this.’ Like, you know?
Samiha: And it’s like, it’s okay to be sad. You’re fine. We’re not gonna judge you and that kind of thing.
Nell: It’s so true. And then I think for like, generations then that sadness may manifest in them going and beating up the next person their girlfriend’s dating, you know? It’s like, because they can’t be sad, it becomes this like, cycle of violence and anger. Do you have close male friends and female friends? Or do you have more female friends or non-binary friends? Like what’s the gender mix of your friend group?
Samiha: I’d say I have like a good amount of both. I have a lot of male friends and a lot of female friends, and I think that one difference I do spot between them is that the women are definitely like, more open with me. And like, even the men, like, they’re open because they’re only open because I’m a girl. They wouldn’t be open with their other male friends, like I’m their confidante. And that sucks, like I feel for that. You should be able to tell–are they really your friends if you’re not telling them how you feel, you know? That’s a key part of friendship.
Nell: Yeah. It’s really true. And it’s also then like, to get at that idea of emotional labor, because obviously like I think you and I are similar in that we really want to be there for our friends. And like, I like being someone who my friends, male, female, whatever, can come to for support. At the same time, like, that is emotional labor. That’s like where women are doing the work of comforting people, talking them through, oh you’re sick, let me make chicken soup, had a breakup, come cry on my shoulder, like all of that. And, uh, I think it would be very different if men were also doing that for each other. And I think a lot of heterosexual men lean into their female significant other for that role, if they’re married or whatever, but then that person is often doing that for many other people as well. So it’s this interesting thing of who’s carrying what work and what labor and how it ties to their relationships.
Samiha: That’s a lot of pressure for both the men and the women. I know like, personally having a lot of people come to me about their issues, I’m like, I want to help you all but I can’t so it definitely is draining. What are some differences you see between our two generations? Like, how is gender different for you?
Nell: Yeah I mean I’ve been learning a lot from the teenagers we’re working with. I think there are some differences. One is that I think there’s just more of an understanding and still not enough that gender exists on a spectrum today and is not a binary. That wasn’t really a conversation being had when I was in high school unfortunately. And I think we have far to go in that conversation in America, but I think we’re starting to get there. So I see that starting to change. In part, I think they way we talk about and view same-sex relationships in our country has changed a lot from when I was in high school to today. And I’ve been surprised by how open many of the male identified teenagers we’re working with in the room have been about where they are in figuring out their own sexuality. When I was in school, I feel like, if someone had gone there at all, people would have immediately been like, ‘oh you’re gay,’ and it wouldn’t have been…that would have had a negative connotation to it. Even when I was growing up, I’m only 14 years older than you, is that right? Something like that?
Samiha: Yeah I think so.
Nell: So, but I do think we’ve come a long way and I also see…I think because it’s more accepted also allows some behaviors that were stereotypically associated with same-sex attraction to be more widely accepted. Like, I actually think the teenagers we have in the room are pretty comfortable being physically affectionate with each other in a way that male identified teenagers at my high school would not have been because there was a fear there about what other people would think.
Samiha: Can you speak to any personal experiences with sexism for you, like in your high school experience? Anything?
Nell: Yeah, it’s so interesting because I think like, most things it’s a slow accumulation of information. I do think expectations were definitely different for different genders at my school. It really probably depended on the teacher, which is still true today. But I think, typically, the female identified folks in my classes worked harder at school and that often manifested in having to do more work rather than like, expectations being adjusted. Like, I think there was more attention focused on when guys in my class would do well on something, it was like a bigger deal. Whereas the women were just expected to, and i think that kinda carries into the workforce often, sadly, where it’s just kind of taken for granted that women will do their jobs. I mean, to make it personal, I am getting married in June–
Samiha: Oh congrats!
Nell: –to a man and it’s something that we are actively working on as a couple, is figuring out like, what’s the unspoken labor of our house? And how can we be better about naming it so that we’re not, we’re at least aware of what the other person is doing? And that doesn’t always mean it has to be like a 50-50 split of like, ‘I did the dishes yesterday, you do them today.’ But figuring out what our comfort level is around each thing and then like the expectations we have. And it’s funny, like, different–just growing up in America–different household tasks have been gendered in this funny way. Not about what bodies can do though. I mean, think about it. Like, taking out the trash is somehow thought of as a male thing. That’s a male job. Or like, mowing the lawn is a male job. But like, cooking and doing the dishes is like a female job. So it’s this funny thing where we actually have these unspoken associations. And my partner and I, like, it’s not like I’m like, ‘I’m always going to take out the trash, so that we can combat gender norms.’ But it is like having an awareness of who’s doing what and talking about it and making sure things feel fair. I don’t know. Do you feel like you see gendered tasks at your home too?
Samiha: Yeah, the trash thing, I always bring that up. I’m like, ‘how about I do the trash’ because I don’t like washing dishes, so I’m like ‘I’ll take out the trash, I’ll take it out.’ and they’re like ‘No, no. Let your brother do that. You do the dishes.’ I’m like ughhh, oh god are you ‘kidding.’ I’m usually the one to clean the bathroom, and my brother is like, okay like, dusts. Like, dust the living room. Like, seriously? This is hard labor, let’s be honest. I definitely do see that at my house, and it’s not like purposely, it’s just like, that’s what they grew up doing, so that’s what they’re doing with us, and it’s hard to explain to them, that’s not how things are because I’m still the child, you know?
Nell: Yeah, I think that goes back to that question of people doing so many things unconsciously and having that bias they don’t even know is there, we were talking about earlier. That’s kind of why I wanted to make BOY PROJECT, is to say exactly what you were saying. Like, I’m seeing that it doesn’t have to be this way but I’m younger than you. And I think that’s why it felt important to me to gather this team of 13 to 16 year olds who are the experts, more than I am, in this next generation, and how they’re imagining their future and how our society might conceive of gender years from now.
Tenara: Thank you for joining us for this episode of Happy Hour on the Fringe. On May 14-17, you can join us for BOY PROJECT directed by Nell Bang-Jensen. In BOY PROJECT, youth from a variety of backgrounds performa play and revelatory new work, the culmination of months of outreach, story circles and workshops. The youths strip away the structures of traditional theater to examine and redefine our expectations of masculinity. An exploration of a new generation, BOY PROJECT invites us to ponder how young men can express their gender in a way that privileges vulnerability and the full range of human emotions. For tickets, you can visit our website, www.FringeArts.com. Make sure to follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, and Instagram and download the FringeArts app.