Fearless members of Andover’s Ladies Laugh-In.
On April 11, 2013, an article appeared in The New York Times exploring girls’ leadership and gender equality at Phillips Academy, one of the most prestigious boarding schools in the country. Though the school went co-ed 40 years ago, only four girls have been elected school president in that time. (That’s one girl for every decade, folks.)
Some of the usual suspects were bounced around as the reasons women generally fail to hold positions of power: Girls not being associated with leadership, girls being afraid to be seen as bossy, and so on. But a less-common argument caught our eye:
“[Student Daniel Feeny and] his group of friends agreed that the person elected president usually has stage presence and is entertaining, and they concluded that perhaps girls have to be more serious in order to be taken seriously, which makes them less electable.”
We then received a forwarded email from a teacher there, CC Robinson, who wrote of this same passage:
“This was not the first time I had heard this explanation for why only ten percent of PA’s student body presidents have been girls. According to the conventional wisdom, the student body president’s only real job is to be funny. And girls…aren’t funny? (Wait, I thought Tina Fey settled this one for us already.)
The current student body president is also the director of the improv comedy group on campus. I consider him a great guy. In fact, I advise the group. They make me laugh. But they also have just about the same 9 to 1 male to female ratio as the student body presidency has had…Don’t get me wrong, advising Under the Bed is one of my favorite things about being here. But I’d feel a little bit better about myself if I could help make PA a more fun and funny place to be a girl.
…Why is it so hard for girls at PA to be funny in those big public ways—presiding over the student body at all-school meeting or making a room of Under the Bed fans laugh? Is it because they are working so hard to be perfect that there is no room for that messy fallibility that is the heart of humor? Is it because they have too much to lose when they rev the driving engine of high school humor…sex?
…From my spot in the audience, being a girl at PA looks like walking a tightrope. You are gorgeous; you are talented (but you know how to downplay it so as not to threaten those handsome boys); you are a good listener, a good friend, a good dancer…the list goes on and on. Let’s elbow out some space for these ladies to enjoy things a little more for goodness sake!”
Join the Ladies Laugh-In. Boys, we need you too! Come help me run comedy workshops for these girls!“
Are you as inspired as we were, reading that?
And so, with the help of Awesome Without Borders and Phillips Academy’s Brace Center for Gender Studies, we went this past Friday. And we had an amazing time.
We worked with the girls– and one brave boy, the student body president and director of the aforementioned improv club, actually– on throwing away their inhibitions, building (or faking) confidence and, in Blogologues style, working within the confines given to them, whether those are stereotypes, circumstances, or text on a page. We played with choosing the creative, unexpected, or unusual answer. We talked to them about being women in comedy, paving our own way, and creating and playing a million different characters– not just the girlfriend, wife, or floozy that characterize most shows.
CC Robinson summed it up wonderfully in her blog post following the workshop. We encourage you to read it in full, but here are some excerpts:
“We made ugly faces, we got loud, we got old, we got big.
…We got to try our hands at the Blogologues formula. We took internet text and created monologues and then scenes. Alli and Jen’s side coaching was phenomenal: “Try it again as a bitter hipster.” “Can someone play the pirate’s wife?” “Slam the door before you enter the scene.”
What did our crew have to say about the workshop?
“I liked not worrying about looking pretty. I liked being the Golem character instead of the slut or the dunce.”
“Being the only guy here, there was a point when everyone was making a joke about me being a guy and I was like….. Wow. That’s what it’s like. Oh my god. For a second, I got it.”
“I like how you showed us you can be given a text that is so confining, but there are so many possibilities.”
Do you go to school somewhere where girls feel more looked at than listened to? …or where students like to laugh? …or use the internet? Ask Santa for a workshop from Lively Productions.”
Thank you again to CC, The Brace Center, Awesome Without Borders, and especially the inspiring students who joined us.
~Jen & Alli