Credit: Sarah Giovanniello.
NEW YORK (WOMENSENEWS)– For hundreds of years–and presumably forever –women have been subjected to a litany of terrible and laughable advice.
In the 15th Century, for instance, expectant mothers were told to steer clear of cold water and “keep drinking wine” if they wanted to give birth to boys.
Modern-day misguidance is also abundant and Sarah Gentile and Sarah Giovanniello are no strangers to the genre old and new.
The two New Yorkers co-produce “Bad Feminist Readings” as nights designed for long, loud bouts of satirical laughter brought on by readers who share arbitrary and offensive advice from the past and present in front of a live audience.
The shooting gallery is wide open and targets have included Barbara Wedgewood‘s 1965 “How to be a More Interesting Woman” that boasts “the most interesting women attract the most interesting men, which should be an incentive for all of us to at least try to be more vital and alive.” As well as, Betty Lehan Harragan‘s “Corporate Gamesmenship for Women” published in 1978.
The most recent reading– held at the Women’s eNews‘ office in downtown Manhattan on March 8, International Women’s day–featured, among many other offerings, a section from TV host and stand-up comic Steve Harvey‘s 2009 self-help book “Act Like a Lady: Think Like A Man.”
At one event last year, Lisa Goldstein, 31, managing librarian at the Williamsburg branch of Brooklyn Public Library, and Charlotte Cooper, 28 marketing director of Women’s eNews, performed a musical skit that translated the lyrics of Serge Gainbourg‘s 1969 French pop song “Je t’aime.” One of the lines translated into “I go and I come, between your kidneys.”
The next event isn’t scheduled yet, but the feminist duo is looking toward the fall and mulling possible venues.
“We hope to continue with the readings in New York City and are very open to doing readings in new locations,” said 35-year-old Gentile. “We have a standing offer to do one in Philly and we have a website in the works which will have all the information up on it soon.”
Diversity Is Prized
The organizers are also envisioning future participants; Brandeis law professor Anita Hill, Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor or singer Debbie Harry? “We’d love Obama!” said Gentile. “It’s important to us that it’s inclusive — all ages, sexes, genders, races: everybody!”
The diversity in readers cultivates the diversity of the chosen texts, Gentile said.
She added that she is particularly happy when shy people come forward. “Since I hope the readings help people to feel more comfortable speaking up when they feel that something is not right.”
Giovanniello and Gentile urge readers to simply “get up and react to some terribly gendered advice” said Gentile.
The organizers give readers no guidelines about their selections, so the audience has no idea what they might wind up hearing. “We tell them to read something they want to skewer; something with terribly gendered advice,” said Gentile. “And no one has ever failed.”
She adds that when readers are given complete freedom to choose a reading it yields a more personal performance because “it’s special to them; they’ve called it out.”
Giovanniello said readers often suppose they will have to turn to old publications for material. “Unfortunately, it’s everywhere now, online and off.”
Writer, comedian, blogger and filmmaker Katie Halper, 35, dramatized the ongoing vitality of bad advice at the pair’s March 8 gathering.
In a new twist on sourcing bad-advice material, Halper turned to comments that readers posted at the end of a Jezebel post: “How to get out of a hook up when the guy is already in your apartment.” (She offered a cup of tea to her late-night guest.)
“If the concern is over a scene/rape you may want to be more selective with who you invite back to your place,” one reader advised.
The first Bad Feminist Readings was held at Veronica’s People Club in Brooklyn in
, a venue that no longer exists but which Gentile said “was a great place to launch.”
Meeting Over Name Mixup
The pair met while working in the Brooklyn Museum. Even though they worked in different departments they were brought together by having people mix up their names and misdirect their mail.
Giovanniello said: “We both had an interest in feminism, art and archives.”
Gentile is an archivist. Giovanniello, 31, who previously worked at the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art in the Brooklyn Museum, is a student of performance studies at New York University, Tisch School of the Arts. They both were “open to experiment in producing some quirky events together,” said Giovanniello.
Giovanniello also had experience in organizing reading events and thought that a straightforward and intimate setting would encourage the most genuine performances from the readers.
Gentile approached Giovanniello with the concept for Bad Feminist Readings after she came across a self-help book “On Becoming a Woman: A Book for Teenage Girls” written in 1968 by Harold Shrylock. The author raves about the dangers of female masturbation and advocates female genital mutilation.
Gentile said that after reading the book in jest with a friend she realized that the material there and in so many other publications “was upsetting unless you read them aloud to mock them.”
A friend told her that this would be perfect to perform in a Brooklyn cafe and she couldn’t shake the idea.
When Giovannellio heard about it she was immediately on board and thought it would be much fun to find out what other people had come across in terms of advice.
Said Gentile: “It’s amazing how quickly it came together and it was a testament to the fact that it’s not just in our heads.”
Victoria Fitzgerald is a freelance writer in New York City.
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