Zoe @ 'Usual Girls' - the root of this toxic sexual culture

WHAT’S IT ABOUT?

A woman’s coming of age is explored through a series of encounters with sexuality, from prepubescence to adulthood.

                                                                
MY EXPERIENCE

When I tell you I LOVE me some well-chosen pre-music, I really mean it.

Music is important to my own writing process, and I find a lot of meaning in connecting songs to characters and theatrical moments. I also think you can learn so much about how the creative team envisions the world and the aesthetic feeling of a production from the music they play before, during and after the show. Anyway, the preshow music at Usual Girls literally could have been RIPPED from one of my Spotify playlists. I’m talking Missy Elliott. I’m talking Salt-N-Pepa. I’m talking Lauryn Hill, Robyn and the Backstreet Boys. I was LIVING and the mostly old, stuffy theatregoing crowd around me was definitely giving me some side-eye.

Between the music and bright neon, basement-looking set, I felt like I was squarely set in the world I was about to enter. Or at least I felt like I had a strong sense of what I was in for. Something brash and fresh and strong. Of course, the show ended up being all of that and a WHOLE lot more to grapple with. So, here we go.

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The last line of Usual Girls has been ringing in my ears since I saw it: “It never fucking stops.” No, it doesn’t. One in six American women has been a victim of rape or attempted rape. The number is much higher for queer women, trans women and non-binary folks. A Supreme Court Justice accused of assault has just been sworn in. Our President has 22 public accusations of rape against him, and has gone on record with proclamations of his own sexual misconduct.

For most women, the discovery of sexuality doesn’t get to be something natural, something primal and beautiful. Because as soon as we understand what sex is, we understand that it is something that is meant to be done to us. Something that is meant to be either withheld or given away on someone else’s terms. This play, to me, was digging for the root of this toxic sexual culture. Sexual violence doesn’t come from nothing. It comes from what we collectively, culturally allow women to understand from a young age, and how we teach both women and men about what sex is.

At what age do we begin to reckon with sexuality? At what age do women start to understand that our sexualities are not ours? I think the argument of this play is that, for many girls, the answer is a lot younger than adults might like to think. It begins when a boy threatens to tell the teacher on you if you don’t kiss him in the schoolyard. It begins when you overhear adults talking about something you don’t quite understand yet, and you’re trying to process it — but no one will talk to you about it in frank terms. It continues with the slut/virgin binary that creates impossible standards for girls to live up to, and often turns women against each other. And, in the midst of all of this messiness that makes sex feel guilty and confusing for women, there is often rape. Is it any wonder that in a culture that would very much like women to fear their own sexualities, sexual assault is a burden that many bear in silence? We have been indirectly and directly conditioned to believe that things like this only happen to “bad girls.” We have been doused in so much fucking sexual anxiety that we are so deeply out of touch with anything close to our own true selves, our own needs.

I think it was really important that this play asked us to confront the messages we’re sending to the youngest girls and women in our lives. I definitely walked out thinking about my own childhood, and wondering what 9- and 10-year-old girls are learning about their own sexual self-worth from the world right now. I’m not gonna lie — it seems pretty grim.  


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