2020 has been dark; over 600,000 Americans have died from COVID-19. But the darkness is not just about the virus. It’s also about the fissures in American society that have turned into gaping chasms as the pandemic forced longstanding economic disparities, racism, and violence against women (and some men) into crises. I’ve fought the isolation of pandemic times by working to shine a light on these issues through opera. That’s the only way I can remain grounded.
In October 2020, we brought you Alice in the Pandemic which addressed economic disparity faced by our essential workers, followed by Death By Life in May 2021 which responded to the murder of George Floyd. The third opera in this Pandemic Trilogy is A Survivor’s Odyssey. It calls out the surge in intimate partner violence (IPV), which the World Health Organization has called the “shadow pandemic.”
Before the pandemic, one in three women experienced intimate partner violence in her lifetime; and half of all homicides against women were due to IPV. These numbers have multiplied by orders of magnitude during the pandemic. That’s terrifying. The WHO and CDC state that IPV is endemic in every country and culture and that it’s a public health crisis. But why haven’t there been more voices speaking up about this?
I’ve tried to figure out why IPV is endemic in every country, regardless of culture. I come back to the male gaze, the power of the patriarchy to shape every country’s and every culture’s perception of who and what women are.
Women, myself included, have been imprisoned by the male gaze. Our aspirations, hopes, and dreams have been limited by this gaze; our fears, insecurities, and nightmares magnified by this gaze. The male gaze has defined our world’s ideas, imaginations, cultures, and subconscious perceptions of womanhood. It has created stories about women which have been inculcated into men and internalized by women — stories that women are weak, emotional, childlike, born-victims, submissive, hysterical, witches, manipulative, angelic or whorish. You know the myths, you live these myths — stories that become self-fulfilling prophecies.
This has to stop.
When women break down the male gaze and are free to tell their own stories, then and only then will we take back our lives.
A Survivor’s Odyssey turns the female gaze on one of the earliest stories in western literature, Homer’s Odyssey, which was written around the 8th century BCE. It’s a small step in illuminating the pernicious and subtle effects of the male gaze. The opera looks at two of Homer’s women: Penelope, the paragon of wifely virtue, and Circe, the witch, through their own eyes, and explodes the myths about who they are. One step will lead to the next one . . .
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