In class the man said “I am so tired of these tropes where the woman in anger washes the dishes,” and I agreed. “Can’t we see her do something else? Masturbate or throw things or shout!”
And we moved on to the next student, to read the next scene. This was undergrad, Sarah Lawrence College, a graduate playwrighting class I had talked my way into.
I remember so clearly looking at the student whose pages had been derided for their unoriginality in expressing female anger. I knew her pretty well, we worked together in a campus office. She was older, in her early 20’s, and was auditing the course out of her love for this man’s work, this Professor Gray Beard with his international lilt, his slender, aging form. She wanted to be near his genius, and so she took the class. I didn’t know his work, but I wanted to be a better writer than I was, so I took every class I could, especially if they were off limits to undergrads.
We didn’t talk about it when we were both at the office later that day, although I saw her scribbling her notes, turning her leading lady into a compulsive, oversexed masturbator. I didn’t offer any words of encouragement, in fact, I didn’t like her all that much. In retrospect, I didn’t like her because I didn’t like myself, and I agreed with Mr. Grey Beard Prof because, like him, I thought I loved women when in fact, I hated them.
I am now grown, in my 4th decade of life. Throughout my marriage, and it has been a long one in many respects, including a measure of years, I have invoked my husband’s ire when, in frustration, I wash the dishes. This is not the only time I have washed dishes, lo these many years, for dishes have a need to be washed, but there have def been times when, in order to block out frustration, in order to command order, I have taken sponge to ceramic plate and scrubbed.
Mr. Grey Beard Prof must also have experienced this anger wash over the course of his life, longer than mine. He must have stood in the kitchen, a woman’s back to him, the water running, tiny, soapy bubbles floating up out of the steam. He must have hated it, trying to invoke chaos of language and conflict and perhaps love while the woman wanted nothing more than order, cleanliness, to have the day’s chores be complete.
How many times over the years have I thought of this woman, and the frustration she was expressing, about her boyfriend at the time, which she confided in me which confidence I will not divulge to you.
I hope she’s well, I hope she has a better boyfriend, I hope she finished that play, it had alot to offer, and her sun shone bright.