What Viola can tell us about being a girl...

The Viola Project presents at GVSU's Shakespeare Festival Conference

The Viola Project presents at GVSU's Shakespeare Festival Conference

This weekend, I headed up to Grand Rapids, Michigan to present at GVSU's Shakespeare Festival Conference.  I was there to introduce The Viola Project to other Shakespeare educators.

As a supplemental activity after the presentation, I had our adult participants (all women) do a quick activity that many of our teachers have done with our middle school aged students: write a letter from the point of view of a Shakespeare character to another character with a problem they need help solving.

Jenna Grossman and Carlyle DePriest had run this activity with our Where There's a Will students.  I remember how playful the letters were, how funny.  Even Lavinia, missing hands and all, managed to find humor as she wrote to other characters asking how they "survived their play".

So I was struck by this Viola/Sebastian letter written by Alisha Huber of Eastern Mennonite University. I think the text speaks for itself:

Dear Sebastian,

I never knew how good you had it. I thought I did, but I had no idea, until I experienced it for myself. People listen when I talk. Even though I’m a stranger and a very young guy, they ask for my opinions and my help solving their problems. I can tease them, and they reward me. When I challenge them, they think about what I’m saying.

Now I have a choice. I’m in love, but the only way to tell him is to go back to being a woman, to being controlled and silenced.

What would you do?

— Alisha Huber

The perspective in this letter was a reminder of how many grown women are taught to see themselves in the world.  It also reminded me that in all my years of watching 12th Night, I had never really imagined which aspects of Cesario were hard to let go of for Viola. 

Without a doubt, a simple writing exercise for a woman, no matter her age, cannot undo inequities in the workplace and the home, nor can they instantly increase women's representation in government and in the media we consume.  But perhaps, bit by bit, we might be able to identify injustices, great and small.

And all the better if we start giving our younger generation the space and the means to do so now.

The readiness is all.