Dangerous Direction

by Kellyn Johnson

In her postmodernist, critical essay For the Etruscans, poet and theorist Rachel Blau DuPlessis seeks to define the ‘feminine aesthetic’:

“Female Aesthetic”: the production of formal, epistemological, and thematic strategies by members of the group Woman, strategies born in struggle with much of already existing culture, and over-determined by two elements of sexual difference—by women’s psychological experiences of gendered asymmetry and by women’s historical status in an (ambiguously) nonhegemonic group.[1]

I posit that her definition, meant to work within literary theory, also provides a critical framework for the work of women in other creative processes. As Maggie Humm emphasizes, “feminist aesthetics focuses on women’s social subjectivity, not simply on visual imagery, and feminist art aims to transform the asocial, sexist values of traditional aesthetic.”[2] In particular, I believe that the work of women directors in theatre and film both physicalize Duplessis’s definition and fulfill Humm’s directive, reflecting women’s psychological, political, and physical experience as Other in a largely patriarchal system.

While much critical work has been done regarding the work of actresses and women playwrights, there exists an overwhelming lack of critical theory regarding the work of women theatrical directors. Women filmmakers receive slightly more attention in the work of E. Ann Kaplan, Mary Hurd and Barbara Quart, but aside from largely biographical projects such as Anne Fliotsos and Wendy Vierow’s impressive American Women Stage Directors of the Twentieth Century, women directors as a group remain largely unexamined. Continue reading “Dangerous Direction”