Tuesday, August 7, 2007

female community (or lack thereof) in quebec

Les Belles-Soeurs
by Michel Tremblay

Sometimes, those of us with interests in gender studies want to see every place that is coded for a specific gender as positive -- for women, we reclaim the kitchens and parlors, and for men we celebrate the male-bonding of the hunting camp or the reclusive peace of the shed or workshop. But sometimes, a space is coded for a specific gender to the detriment of that group. This is the case in Les Belles-Soeurs, where the kitchen of Germaine Lauzon's Montreal tenement is certainly a female space, but could not really be considered a space for positive consideration of gender issues. The women in Les Belles-Soeurs are not supportive members of female community; for the most part, they hate each other, and are far more interested in cutting one another down than in providing support, friendship, and compassion.

Germaine Lauzon has won a million stamps for her collection of stamp books and is busy fantasizing about what to do with them. She invits all her female friends, neighbours, and family members over to her house to help her fill her stamp books -- but she has no intention of sharing. The women, for the most part, start out generous and willing to help. But before long they are stealing from one another and fighting to possess all the stamps themselves. The women are so mired in poverty and hopelessness that they can't imagine being happy for a woman who has gained so much by no effort at all. They would rather see all of them fail together than one succeed or emerge out of the ghetto. Gabrielle dislikes her son's education because she thinks he is coming to believe himself better than his roots. The contest seems to be: who is hurting most, and who has suffered more?

The question of options for women is key to the play -- and the answer to what choices ought women have is simply this: none. Everyone hates Pierrette because she dances at a club for money. No one feels sorry for her or wonders what drove her to this point; instead they condemn her. Likewise, Lise is pregnant and abortion is offered to her. Those who know she's considering it condemn her, and even those who don't know she's pregnant, like Rose, find themselves spewing about "unwed mothers" who are "a bunch of depraved sluts," condemned because the men of the group call them "cockteasers." (Aren't they the opposite?) Only the supposedly detestable Lisette and the whore Pierrette remain open-minded at all or considerate to these women. And in the end, this is the central sadness of the text: these women are without options, but they would still rather condemn one another than support each other for a better future.

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