Sunday, 11 October 2009

Fillies, feminists and fierce women!

Apparently the racing type people who run important "nation stopping" events like that big horse race in Melbourne...are setting up some rules of ettiquette - so that women can behave "like ladies" and in a "feminine manner". It seems that stumbling drunkenly around Flemington, wearing one's shoes as bracelets and vomitting into gutters is not exactly the height of good manners - who knew?

Now, while I too would rather not see over-dressed young fillies showing too much thigh and too much stomach contents, I'm a little concerned about this lady-like thing.

In fact big alarm bells are going off in my head right now. Because as soon as people start talking about femininity and being a lady; the lectures about morality and a woman's place are not far behind.

Maybe this is just particularly in my head right now having spent Friday evening watching a modern operatic treatment of Medea. Medea - the original scorned woman - is a fierce, frightening portrayal of the female. And she's no lady!

Dusapin's opera, with its libretto in German, reconstructs Medea as a very modern woman, trying to re-find her own idenitity after her failed marriage. Her repetition that she was Jason's bitch and whore must echoe with many women's experience of marriage.

What might be a little new is her response to Jason's betrayal. When he trades up for the King's younger and presumably more nubile daughter, Medea refuses to take this lying down. Instead she decides that its payback time. Quite literally in fact.

Having killed her own brother to help Jason escape from Colchis in the first place, she decides he owes her at least one life - she decides to take two - those of her own children.

At a time when the chap who tossed one of his kids off the West Gate Bridge is going to court, the idea of child murder as revenge, must have special resonance. But in our modern age, its seldom the mums doing the killing. In fact in any age Medea stands out as a woman of such ferocious self-possession that she is able to make the calculations and restore a certain balance in the Universe - with some good old-fashioned stabby stabby.

By the end of Dusapin's opera, Medea cries out - I am Medea! She has re-gained her identity through the horrific and on-stage graphic murder of her children. Jason, who she no longer chooses to recognise, has had to pay the price for her brother's life, for her life and for his betrayal.

The Medea of Euripides is an extraordinary character - a child murderer made sympathetic by her dual plight as abandoned wife and despised refugee. Dusapin's Medea is a self-liberating feminist in a post- or perhaps pre-feminist world.

Far be it for me to advocate the murder of children as a means to self-liberation for women - after all there is a strong allegorical element here - but planning the demise of the new wife (in both versions Jason's new wife burns alive and collapses in a pool of her own blood and dissolving flesh); the punishment of the wayward man and most importantly the re-gaining of self achieved through these acts, seem an awful lot closer to the experience I want than ensuring I have low enough heels for the races that I don't need to remove them if I get "a little tipsy".

1 comment:

  1. Spoiler alert for anyone who has not read Christa Wolff's Medea. Stop reading now!
    Wolff, (sp?), the GDR feminist and dissident, always argued that the killing of her children episode was part of a misogynous rewrite of the legend, and she changes this element in her Medea.