For the final project in my Gender, Sex, and Power class, I decided to choreograph a solo to the reading of a feminist poem. My original post including the text itself as well as my initial inspiring factors can be found here. Below you’ll find the solo in it’s final form, as well as the artist statement I wrote to accompany and further articulate from an academic stand point, the argument I have chosen to make through my choreography.
The Book of Judith is a deuterocanonical story included in some versions of the Old Testament but not much else. It’s been accepted as a story that isn’t entirely factual, but exists more to prove a moral point. Judith is a Jewish widow who in order to protect her city, dresses up in very alluring “female armor” and beheads a very important Assyrian General, Holofernes. Upon handing the head to her maidservant to be carried out on a platter, they return to their hometown and use it to spawn courage and spirit. Judith has been represented in many different ways over the years as beauty and gender norms have shifted, but I find Weaver’s choice to bring up this passing “womanly” responsibility that comes over Judith particularly interesting. On the one hand, Judith uses her femininity by way of gender expression to help set her plan in action (she dresses up in all of of her most expensive wear and seduces the general), but then immediately dismisses the “instinctual” feelings she realizes she’s supposed to have about the man laying there beneath her. I would argue that here, Vicki Feaver is attempting to illustrate a form of gender consciousness. In other words, as defined by Gabriele Aimee Goodman, Vicki Feaver’s Judith is employing the “strategic use of femininity/sexuality [which] involves the employment of one’s own sexuality and/or femininity with the conscious intent of advancing one’s workplace agenda and career goals” (Goodman 247).
Looking back to the original text in the Book of Judith helps us better understand what took place before the beginning of the poem. Judith sheds her widowly garments, bathes, braids her hair, anoints herself with perfume, puts on her best dress as well as jewelry, all to “allure the eyes of all men that should see her” (Catholic Online, Judith 10.3-4). It’s made clear that Judith understands the challenges involved in the task ahead and if she is going to be successful, she needs to express femininity through an androcentric lens, which is unfortunately often times the only way that it exists.
Another important thing to look at in the original text of the Book of Judith is the way that her gender expression was successful. In other words, how was she perceived by the men in the story? When Judith arrived at the gates of the city (and also later when she’s attempting to get into the tent), after “wondering at her beauty,” she was let in without a problem (Catholic Online, Judith 10.9, 10.14, 10.19). Later, when insisting on her company, Holofernes basically says to his men that if they have a woman in their presence and they don’t seduce her, they’ll be made fun and should be ashamed of themselves (Catholic Online, Judith 12.12).
In the chapter of Women’s Voices, Feminist Visions titled “Inscribing Gender on the Body,” in the section called “Negotiating ‘Beauty’ Ideals,” gender expression as it applies to beauty norms and maintenance is explored. The authors pose the question “Can you wear makeup and enjoy the adornments associated with femininity and still call yourself a feminist?” They answer “yes,” and then say “what is important from a feminist perspective is that these practices are conscious…when women take part in various reproductions of femininity, it is important to understand the bigger picture” (Shaw, Lee 203). This applies to Judith. She is a strong, independent woman that has functioned just fine on her own since her husband passed away, but now because she understands intimately gender roles and the ideals associated with femininity (in her time), she uses this knowledge to her advantage and ultimately ends up performing a misandrist act, even though she dressed up for men specifically.
Ironically in the context of this paper, a woman named Judith Lorber talks about gender as an unnatural way to organize people in her article called “The Social Construction of Gender.” She explains that “in social interaction…individuals learn what is expected, see what is expected, act and react in expected ways, and thus simultaneously construct and maintain the gender order…” (Lorber 142). I would argue that this was Vicki’s Feaver intentions in including the verse that starts with “and I feel a rush of tenderness.” Judith acknowledges how she might be expected to feel about the man lying beneath her. She’s a woman, and a widow at that. She talks about wanting to lay down with him, and the loneliness she’s experienced since her husband dying. However after she takes a moment to acknowledge these learned feelings that didn’t come from a genuine place, she returns to the task at hand without much warning. She dismisses these learned and expected womanly or feminine feelings and proceeds to behead the enemy.
It’s important to point out that although Judith took a risk in her daring pursuit of justice, the odds of success were in her favor. The particular shade of femininity she was able to wear through those borders and into that tent is not one that is accessible to everyone. What I’m referring to are all the ways in which she was a privileged individual. She was white, young, upper class, able-bodied, cisgender, and heterosexual; an almost picture perfect depiction of the “mythical norm” (aside from being a woman.) Some examples of this type of privilege are explored in Peggy McIntosh’s “White Privilege and Male Privilege.” The author (who is white) makes some observations about her privilege in practice that are clearly parallel to those of Judith despite the great span of time between their existences. A few examples include a person of authority being almost assuredly of the same race as you, the ability to be confident your race played no part in your being suspected of a crime, and lastly that entrance into public spaces will most likely not be denied because of the color of your skin (McIntosh 89). These are all tools that existed in Judith’s “invisible package of unearned assets” (McIntosh 86) that aided her achieving her ultimate goal.
In the solo itself, I employ different dynamics throughout allude to a broader sense of gender consciousness. It begins with strong, accented movement that shows clear intention, as I’d imagine Judith was as she was entering the tent. When she allows a moment to acknowledge her “rush of tenderness,” the movement gets slightly more sensual and fluid—movement dynamics that are generally perceived as more “feminine.” When she mentions the “glare of the barley field,” the movement gets more desperate and emotional as she remembers the death of her husband and her subsequent loneliness. With no pre-indicating movements, the tone of the solo turns very cold and removed for the final verse of the poem where she carries out the beheading.
- “Judith – Chapter 8-12 – Bible – Catholic Online.” Judith – Chapter 1 – Bible – Catholic Online. Web. 2 Nov. 2015.
- Goodman, Gabriele Aimee. “Working the Fe-Male: Femininity, Sexuality and the Performance of Gender at Work.” Order No. 3405296 Alliant International University, San Francisco Bay, 2009. Ann Arbor: ProQuest. Web. 16 Nov. 2015.
- Lorber, Judith. “The Social Construction of Gender.” Women’s Voices, Feminist Visions. 6th ed. New York: McGraw-Hill Education, 0. 141-143. Print
- McIntosh, Peggy. White Privilege and Male Privilege: A Personal Account of Coming to See Correspondences through Work in Women’s Studies. Wellesley, MA: Wellesley College, Center for Research on Women, 1988. Print.
- Shaw, Susan M., and Janet Lee. “Inscribing Gender on the Body, Negotiating “Beauty” Ideals.” Women’s Voices, Feminist Visions. 6th ed. New York: McGraw-Hill Education, 2015. 202-203. Print.