A group of women takes extreme measures to fight rape: A review of the play GYNX by Alicen Grey

Review by Fran Luck

The rape of women is omnipresent and quite normal in our society. One in five women will be raped in her lifetime and out of 1,000 rapists 994 will go free. Most rapes are not even reported because of the unlikelihood of a conviction and the psychological torture victims are put through in the process of testifying. The women walking-wounded are everywhere.

During an early scene in Alicen Grey’s GYNX–a play performed August 21 through 27 at Hudson Guild Theater NYC as part of Thespis Summerfest 2017–the main character says “It is very common for victims to fantasize castrating their rapists, but women seldom act on it.” However, in this play they do. How this comes about and what happens to the individuals involved as well as the society around them, is the substance of the play. While the premise is simple, the plot unfolds with enough unexpected twists and turns to keep the audience mesmerized.

Pulling no punches, the play begins with a castration scene. A rapist is strapped down, his back to the audience. Five women in medical masks holding trays of surgical instruments and blood-mopping-up equipment surround him. He is told that this will be done to him because he has raped a 10-year-old girl; that he has used his penis as a weapon and that it will now be taken away from him. He begs and pleads to no avail. The lights go out as we hear his blood-curdling scream.

The play then loops back to how it all began. An 18-year-old lesbian homeless woman named Petie is before a prosecutor, explaining how she became a member of a team of female castrators, as the prosecutor taunts her for allowing herself to be “brainwashed into a cult.”

 

What follows is the story in a series of flashbacks. We meet GYNX, a mysterious and well-heeled woman who is assembling around her a group of victims of male assault–women who have been raped, trafficked, or forced into child pornography plus one older “underground abortionist.” GYNX has rescued them, given them a place to stay and provided a sympathetic ear. We see each of them gradually open up to her and to each other–telling the stories of what had been done to them and expressing their rage. The performances are convincing and well acted, taking the audience through what each woman has kept hidden and sweeping us up in their emotion.

As each woman relives her trauma, GYNX artully encourages her to fantasize about what she would like to do to avenge herself. Each has had the fantasy of “cutting off my rapist’s dick.” Bingo!

GYNX has obviously thought through a plan for how a group of women might operate to castrate rapists; she encourages them to read books on feminist theory and teaches them basic surgical skills. One of the women works in a hospital, where she is “invisible” as a cleaning woman and has access to the “cadaver room.” The women go there nightly to practice, sewing the organs carefully back on at the end of each session so no one will know they’ve been there. They discuss the pros and cons of different types of castration: orcheotomy (removal of tesicles only) vs. penotomy (testicles remain, but penis goes–with urethra rerouted through the anus so that the men have to “pee sitting down”). They develop “steady hands” and confident skills. GYNX inculcates them with the high ideal of working “for the good of all women” rather than for individual revenge.

The group starts to perform actual castrations on living men whom GYNX has identified as being rapists. When they have reached a few hundred (they are in a medium-sized town), some of the men, having finally overcome their shame at being penis-less have gone to the police. The population of the medium-sized town now realizes that a group of unknown women is systematically castrating men. The media goes wild and becomes obsessed with them, dubbing them them “The Feminazi Five.”

In what, to this viewer, was one of the most gratifying parts of the play–reflected in the obvious delight of much of the audience–we find out that the men of the town are now aftraid to go out at night by themselves! They are being advised to go out only in groups and “watch their drinks” lest these be spiked with drugs–much the way women now live. And rapes are now down by 50%!!! And even TV pundits are using words like “unprecedented” and “historiec.”

Meanwhile, with law enforcement looking for them, GYNX will not allow any of the women to leave the apartment so as not to get caught, and cabin fever and tension mount as Petie starts to question GYNX’s orders and her autocratic style of leadership.

How GYNX has come by the money to maintain this organization and support the operation and everyone in it, remains a mystery until the end of the play–but Petie follows her one night and finds out the truth–as the play winds down to one of its many possible logical conclusions.

My few criticisms of the play center around the choices the author makes in the various political debates and historical references that are sprinkled throughout. While it makes sense to include feminist political references–the play takes place in a world (clearly our world) in which women have, for a very long time, been victims of a patriarchal society, and the actions of the women only make sense in this context—the examples the playright has chosen to illustrate current issues in feminism seemed somewhat arbitrary, and in a few cases inaccurate, to this feminist-historian reviewer.

For instance, in a scene in which the future gang hang out in the apartment, GYNX leads a discussion on “equality vs. liberation” as feminist goals. She critiques the goal of “equality,” pointing out that to be “equal” to men, women would “have to have an equal propensity for violence as well as exploitation.” She connects this argument with why she does not define herself as a “feminist.” When Petie points out that some women want “liberation from men” GYNX immediately characterizes “women’s lib” as “hardline separatism”–and dismisses it.

But these positions are not quite accurate in stating feminism’s main positions. By “equality” feminists have meant “equality of opportunity”–not being the same as men–and many feminists have critiqued the nature of male-dominated society while at the same time arguing that women still needed the vote, equal pay and all the other opportunities men have had access to, in order to be in a position to change that society (not to mention, just to survive in the present one).

GYNX misrepresents “women’s lib” (“women’s liberation”), defining it as hard-line separatism. But the women who brought the term to modern feminism (“the Women’s Liberation Movement” of the 1960s) were not at all separatists–most were heterosexual and argued for “struggling with men” rather than separating permanently from them* (although they did think that women-only spaces were temporarily a place for women to explore their situation amongst themselves and strategize on what to do).** Separatism came later, with the rise of “Lesbian-Feminism” and “cultural feminism”*** and was considered by the original Women’s Liberation Movement founders to be a form of political backsliding.****

Most importantly, I found GYNX’s repudiation of the label “feminist” to be undercutting of the “fight on!” message of the play. “Feminism” is the banner under which women have, for centuries, fought and gained just about all of the modern victories for women’s rights and today it is a word used around the world by those engaged in that struggle. To divorce ourselves form the word, is the equivalent of laying down your banner in the middle of a battle–something that would be deeply confusing and demoralizing to the troops! Better to uphold that banner and continue to rally around it, redefining and refining the parts of it that need improvement, as we go along (something feminists have long done), without abandoning the word itself. I would also point out that the same early Second Wave women who rescued “feminism” from its 19th century association (Shulamith Firestone led on this) used the term alongside “women’s liberation.”

Lastly, I found an inconsistency in how historic references are cited in the play. I imagine an artistic question for the author was “should the play mention earlier women and groups who fought back by name, or keep the play more fictional and not mention actual names?” When Natasha, the underground abortionist, speaks of patterning her actions after a “second wave group of feminists who took matters into their own hands and did illegal abortions,” she is referencing the historic group known as “Jane,” but never mentions the group by name–yet, when the prosecutor mentions Valerie Solanis and “The Scum Manifesto” (whose writing he sees as a precursor to the actions of the “Feminiazi Five”), Solanis, a real person, IS named. Why one and not the other? While I realize that this is a work of art and not a history lesson, it seems if you are going to refer to history, you might as well name who it is you are talking about, if only to give the audience important information that might be useful in finding their own role models for action (this principle undergirds my criticisms above).

Yet, all in all, GYNX succeeds brilliantly in cutting through the fog of denial in which both men and women attempt to live in order to avoid facing the real situation of women and rape in a society that only gives only lip service to stopping men from raping.

Before Petie is sentenced at the end of the play, she demands an answer to one final question: “If, what we did to try and stop rape was the wrong way to go about it, then what IS the ‘right way’?” As the audience leaves the theater, the question hangs heavily in the air–a genie that, now out of its box, refuses to be quietly tucked back in–a question that has now been made much harder to duck after seeing this play.

 

FOOTNOTES

* Feminist Revolution, 1976, Random House (can be obtained at Redstockings.org)

** Separate to Integrate, Barbara Leon, Feminist Revolution

*** Daring to be Bad, Alice Echols

**** The Retreat to Cultural Feminism, Brooke, Feminist Revolution

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Sun, Jan 15, 6-7 PM: What women lose if ACA is repealed; “Pizzagate,” Clinton, misogyny & fake news

Joy of Resistance is heard on Sundays, 6-7 PM on WBAI Radio, 99.5 FM (EST), streaming at wbai.org Follow us on twitter at @joyofresistance Email us at jor@wbai.org. Donate to WBAI at give2wbai.org

The dismantling of the ACA (“Obamacare”) begun Friday by the Reprublican Congress, will, if carried to its conclusion, result in 20 million people losing health insurance. It will also undo critical gains for women that were built in to ACA, including:

Guaranteed prenatal and maternity care; laws against women being charged more than men for insurance; contraception availability without a co-pay (ie, free of charge); screening for domestic violence; HIV/STD screening; “well woman” preventative health screenings; the rule prohibiting people being turned down for insurance because of “pre-existing conditions”, which, if overturned, will impact pregnant women, women who have had caesarians, have been victims of domestic violence or had cancer (as well as any other pre-existing conditions).

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Our guest will be Christine Grimaldi, author of the January 11 Rewire story: “Senate Republicans Vote to Kill Popular Obamacare Benefits in “Vote-a-Rama”She is a reporter and writer based in Washington, DC. Prior to joining Rewire, she covered Congress for Bloomberg BNA. Her journalism and essays have appeared in Slate, Washingtonian.com, The Morning News, and elsewhere.

 

Part two of our program will examine the fake scandal known as “pizzagate” from a number of feminist angles, including: the misogyny of right wing conspiracy theory and its expression in the “alt. rt.” campaign against Hillary Clinton; “dark internet” (alt rt) accusations of “Satanism” and “witchcraft” routinely directed against powerful women and people of color (Hillary Clinton, Beyonce, Oprah, Michael Jackson); an examination of the actual elements of the “pizzagate” accusations, including the use of the work of artist Marina Abramovic to brand her a “Satanist” and “witch” as part its “proof”; how this and other fake news stories spread on the internet (a chronology of pizzagate), and more.

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Our guest will be Fruszina Erdough, author of the article: “With Pizzagate, is Cybersteria the New Normal?” which appeared in Forbes Magazine. She is a reporter covering digital news, technology and culture, has written for outlets such as Vice, the Christian Science Monitor, the Guardian, Variety, Slate, Forbes Magazine and the Daily Dot, among others.

We’ll also have an update actions planned around the inauguration on January 21.

Sunday, Sept 25, 6-7 pm–On the 2nd show in our new time slot, we’ll introduce a new segment: “What’s on your feminist mind?”

 Joy of Resistance is now heard on Sundays at 6-7 PM on WBAI Radio, 99.5 FM (EST), and streams at wbai.org . Follow us on twitter at @joyofresistance Email us at jor@wbai.org Donate to WBAI at give2wbai.org

“What’s on your feminist mind?”–is a new segment that Joy of Resistance will air this Sunday, September 25, between 6 and 7 pm (our new timeslot!). In this segment, groups of women will discuss, in personal terms, the burning feminist issues they confront in their daily lives–followed by a group discussion of what we’ve all said and “drawing conclusions.” We’ll then open up the discussion to listener call-ins. We hope to run this segment monthly.

The women who will be speaking this week are all in their 20’s and 30’s–but what they have to say will resonate with women of all ages, and may be a barometer of what today’s young women still face in a world supposedly more advanced on the issue of sexism.

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Redstockings CR group, 1968

From Consciousness Raising (CR) to the Internet, the core of the feminist movement has always been women simply talking to each other and sharing experiences–then taking action based on what they learned in these conversations. Much is now known about what issues need to be addressed for women to be equal in society, but going back to CR grounds us and keeps us checking on ourselves and deepening our insight.

Tune in for this important interactive conversation and theory-making experiment.

We’ll also air our regular Feminist News segment–and great music.

Thurs, Sept 8, 9-10pm–Changing “sex” to “gender”: Maya Dillard Smith on her resignation as Georgia’s ACLU Director; Kara Dansky on Title IX legal suit against the DOE

Joy of Resistance is heard on Thursdays* 9-10 PM on WBAI Radio, 99.5 FM (EST), streams at wbai.org Follow uson twitter at @joyofresistance Email at jor@wbai.org Donate to WBAI at give2wbai.org

Maya Dillard Smith is an African American woman who was the head of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Georgia until she resigned under pressure –she says she was ‘pushed out’–in June, because of her questioning of her organization’s stance on the Obama Administration directive that public bathrooms henceforth be open to all genders based on the self-declaration of gender identity.

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Dillard Smith says that the ACLU has not allowed a “robust discussion” on all of the implications of the issue, particularly for women and girls–and therefore has not done its job, which is to balance the rights of ALL parties affected by public policy.

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Her resignation was covered in national news, from “The View” to Fox news and may have changed allowable public discourse on this issue. After resigning, Smith set up a website entitled “Finding Middle Ground–a safe space to communicate about finding civil rights for all.”

Our second guest will be Attorney Kara Dansky, who is on the Board of  the organization Women’s Liberation Front (WOLF) which on August 11th filed a suit against the US Department of Justice and the US Department of Education, challenging their recent actions, which the suit claims have caused the dissolution of Title IX, violating the rights of women and girls, including the fifth and fourteenth amendments of the Constitution.

Here is the official legal complaint:

WoLF v. United States Department of Justice complaint as filed

The swift and enthusiastic push for transgender rights in America is having dire consequences that severely threaten the privacy, dignity, safety, and equality of women and girls.

The United States Department of Justice (DOJ) and Department of Education (DOE) have abruptly enacted a new policy, defining the category of “sex” in Title IX to include “gender identity.” This effectively renders Title IX meaningless, as females can no longer be recognized as distinct from males…

The reinterpretation of “sex” to include “gender identity” also means that girls’ bathrooms and locker rooms must be opened up to any male who “identifies” as female. Girls’ rights to personal privacy and freedom from male sexual harassment, forced exposure to male nudity, and voyeurism have been eliminated with the stroke of a pen. Schools that do not comply with the demands of any male student to access to protected female spaces will now lose federal funding.

The President of the United States, the most powerful man in the world, has told teenage girls that they are now required to get over their “discomfort” at boys in their locker room.

Women’s Liberation Front (WoLF) has decided this cannot stand.

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Symbol of the Women’s Liberation Front

This Thursday’s show will also feature the Worldwide Feminist News segment, including our obituary on Phyllis Schlafly, the conservative anti-feminist who died this past Monday, September 5 at the age of 92.

This will be the last Joy of Resistance show in this timeslot. Starting on September 18, Joy of Resistance will be airing on Sundays at 6:00 PM.

Thurs, May 12, 8-10pm–“Chisholm ’72: Unbought and Unbossed”; “Who is Hillary Clinton?”; sexism and the Clinton campaign

Joy of Resistance is heard on Thursdays* 9-10 PM on WBAI Radio, 99.5 FM (EST), streaming at wbai.org Follow us on twitter at @joyofresistance Email us at jor@wbai.org Donate to WBAI at give2wbai.org

Before there was Hillary Clinton… before there was Barack Obama… there was Shirley Chisholm…

On Thursday, May 12, 8-10 PM, Joy of Resistance will feature, as part of the WBAI Spring Fund Drive, the award winning DVD: Chisholm ’72: Unbought and Unbossed, by Sola Lynch. Well discuss the film with Denise Oliver-Velez, a former member of both the Young Lords and Black Panther Parties , who, now, as a professor at SUNY, has taught and written about Chisholm’s life and times. Also commenting will be Barbara Winslow, founder and director of The Shirley Chisolm Project of Brooklyn Women’s Activism from 1945 to the Present.

Recalling a watershed event in US politics–Chisholm’s historic 1972 run for the U.S. presidency, as the first Black and the first woman to run a serious campaign for the nation’s highest office–this compelling documentary takes an in-depth look at the campaign and reactions to it at the time and now–and documents Chisholm’s life story.

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We see Chisholm announcing her run; giving interviews, the political maneuvering within the Democratic Party and we hear/see commentary of many involved at that time, including Amiri Baraka, Betty Friedan, Bella Abzug, Octavia Butler, Rep. Barbara Lee, Ron Dellums and others.

Though many backed her run with great enthusiasm, she was shunned by the Democratic political establishment, including the all-male Congressional Black Caucus (with the exception of Ron Dellums) as well as the media; she asked for support from people of color, women, gays, and young people newly empowered to vote at age 18. Chisholm’s bid for an equal place on the presidential dais generated strong, racist and sexist opposition. Yet her challenge to the status quo and her message about exercising the right to vote struck many as progressive and positive.

She was born in NYC but spent much of her childhood in Barbados. Her father was a Garveyite and her family was political. She became a professional educator in NYC and in 1968, she became the first African American woman elected to the United States Congress, and represented New York’s 12th Congressional District–the very poor district of Bedford Stuyvesant in Brooklyn– for seven terms from 1969 to 1983. As the first Black woman in the U.S. Congress, she was sometimes treated with disrespect by other Congress members–particularly southern white men.

The men in the Black Congressional Caucus did not support her bid for President and she famously said that she had run into more political obstacles because she was a woman than because she was Black. Some feminists did support her, but did not follow through. Ron Dellums supported her but ultimately gave his support to George McGovern, the eventual Democratic party nominee. Jesse Jackson ignored her. She didn’t play by either Democratic succession or ethnic turf rules.

“Nobody was “ready” for me”, she said. “But somebody has to be the first. After me, they’ll be more “ready”. In an interview at the end of the film that took place late in her life, Chisholm says “I want to be remembered as someone who was a catalyst for change.” And so she was.

In the second part of the show, we’ll offer the book: “Who is Hillary Clinton?” featuring two decades of writing from the Left on the woman who may very well be our next president. Authors include Erica Jong, Barbara Ehrenreich and Doug Henwood, with an introduction by Katha Pollitt of The Nation. 350 pages. For a pledge to WBAI of $75.

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This segment will also feature a discussion with Amanda Marcotte, Peg Rapp and Fran Luck on the sexism directed at Clinton so far in the campaign–sexism that would be directed at any woman getting really close to power. We’ll be asking the questions: where you draw the line between legitimate political criticism and sexism?–and what are the different manifestations of sexism by men on the right and men on the left?

Chisholm ’72 – Unbought and Unbossed

A film by Shola Lynch

Available for a pledge to WBAI for $75.

Chisolm ’72 and “Who is Hillary Clinton?” available, both together, for a pledge of $125.

US, 2004, 77 minutes, Color, DVD,

AWARDS, FESTIVALS, & SCREENINGS

Peabody Award

Sundance Film Festival

International Documentary Film Festival (IDFA)

Los Angeles Film Festival

San Francisco International Film Festival

London Film Festival

South By Southwest Film Festival

Full Frame Documentary Film Festival

Saratoga Springs Film Festival

Dallas Video Festival

Northern Lights Film Festival

Tallgrass Film Festival

Black Harvest Film Festival

American Black Film Festival

Lake Placid Film Festival

Nantucket Film Festival

Women With Vision Film Festival

 

 

March 24, 9-10pm: Wanting a woman president/wishing we had more choices–Lauren Besser: “If Bernie had been Bernadette”; Heidi Hartmann: “campaigning while female”; & female-friendly Parliaments around the world

Joy of Resistance is heard on Thursdays* 9-10 PM on WBAI Radio, 99.5 FM (EST), streaming at wbai.org Follow us on twitter at @joyofresistance Email us at jor@wbai.org Donate to WBAI at give2wbai.org

Guests: Lauren Besser, author of the much read blogpost “If Bernie Had Been Bernadette; Heidi Hartmann, President and Founder of IWPR (Institute for Women’s Policy Research) on “campaigning while female” in the U.S.

After 227 years+ of male-exclusive presidency, many in the U.S. would like to see, at long last, a woman president. At the same time there are valid reasons to criticize the woman who, for the first time in history, has a good chance of attaining that presidency (as well as many reasons to praise her)–Hillary Rodham Clinton. This places feminists in a terrible bind–should we publicly criticize the first possibly successful woman presidential candidate–and thereby discourage people from voting for her–when we don’t know when/if another woman will  have a shot at this highest office within our lifetimes? In many other countries we would not have to be in this bind because we would have more choices of female candidates at all levels.

Woman heads-of-state: Ellen Johnson Sirleaf (Liberia), Angela Merkel (Germany)

In many other countries we would have more choices of women candidates for all offices. The U.S ranks 33rd when it comes to women in national legislatures and has never had a woman head-of-state. Countries with higher proportions of women’s representation–at all levels–tend to have certain characteristics in their electoral systems: by and large these are parliamentary systems, with proportional representation, where there is money set aside for the promotion of women –and many have quotas for women candidates (and other politically disadvantaged groups).

In the first part of our show, we’ll discuss the bind that many left-of-center women find themselves in,  with Lauren Besser, whose recent article “If Bernie Had Been Bernadette” has been causing quite a stir.

Our next guest will be Heidi HartmannPresident and Founder of IWPR (Institute for Women’s Policy Research) on “campaigning while female” in the U.S. We’ll discuss how our own 2-party, winner-take-all system places many obstacles in the paths of women candidates.

If time permits, we’ll play an excerpt from a debate that took place in Jamaica, when Senator Imani Duncan Price of the Jamaican Senate has proposed quotas for female candidates to promote parity with men.

We’ll also have our Feminist News Headlines Roundup, and, if time permits, listener phone calls at 718 780 8888, toward the end of the show.

 

 

Thursday, March 10, 9-10 PM: Behind the most important Supreme Court Case since Roe–with Jessica Pieklo of RH Reality Check; Judy Gorman to sing live in-studio

Joy of Resistance is heard on Thursdays* 9-10 PM on WBAI Radio, 99.5 FM (EST), streaming at wbai.org Follow us on twitter at @joyofresistance Email us at jor@wbai.org Donate to WBAI at give2wbai.org

On Thursday, March 15, Joy of Resistance will explore in-depth, the legal history behind the most important case on abortion since Roe v Wade: Whole Women’s Health vs Herenstedtwhich is currently before the Supreme Court.

Our guest will be Jessica Mason Pieklo, legal analyst for analyst for RH Reality Check  . We’ll trace back the history of TRAP (Targeted Regulations Against Abortion Providers) Laws, which require abortion clinics to meet often-impossible “medical” requirements. These laws, which emerged in the 90’s and picked up steam after 2010, have been passed in 24 states and have caused hundreds of clinics across the country to close. The ground for them was prepared by two earlier Supreme Court decisions–the Webster Decision in 1989 and the Casey Decision in 1992.

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Both decisions eroded the “undue burden” standard written into Roe v Wade  –which mandates that a woman seeking an abortion should not have to endure an “undue burden” in finding and procuring one. What constitutes an “undue burden” is what will be decided in Whole Women’s Health, and is at the heart of the case. The decision may render TRAP laws unconstitutional–and will affect subsequent attempts to restrict abortion access in the U.S.

In-studio, we’ll have folksinger/songwriter Judy Gorman, who will play throughout the show, bringing us music inspired by the great movements of our time. Pete Seeger  summed up Judy Gorman like this: “She came, she sang, she conquered. No two programs that she gives are the same. She is always thinking how to find the right phrase, the right song to hit the nail right on the head, to shoot the arrow straight to the heart of the matter. I hope she lives to be 100 and is able to bring her songs to every nook and cranny of this suffering world.”

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We’ll also have a special International Feminist News roundup that will feature worldwide trends in Parental Leave legislation, “menstruation activism” and the necessity of women’s full reproductive rights if the Zika virus is to be stopped –along with a surprise comedic parody piece.