The women turn towards each other and lunge, chests puffed up, shoulders back, spines arched. Maybe it’s the looks of proud hostility twisted over their pretty faces, all dewy with sweat. Maybe it’s the way the words “CAT FIIIGHT!,” in singsong, seem to hover over any woman-to-woman confrontation. Or maybe it’s knowing that any “angry girl” can get cheapened with one quick, “You know, you’re so cute when you’re mad,” or—perhaps most likely, if we’re being honest—the oversexed reactions, the ones that accompany everything a decent-looking woman does: “Whatever she’s doing, it’s hot,” from some; “Whatever she’s doing, she knows half the guys in here are just thinking how hot she is. What a slutty outfit,” from others.
Around me, members of the audience add spurts of laughter to the scene, loud and confident, certain it’s meant to be funny. “The way women exhibit their woman-ness,” the director announced at the start of the show, “was a key part of our choreography.” Slinky black sequined dresses dance across a stage so dark that each shimmy or jump, each simulated tussle, catches just enough spotlight to toss a burst of light into the crowd. The program says this piece references an old television show I’ve never heard of, something about the hustle of city life. But even with the glitter, the laughs, the nudging pop culture references, I feel a wistful sense of shame.
As an audience, we watch the sequined performers on the stage take turns dancing solo, each playing at aiming to please her viewers just a little more than her neighbor had. I uncross and re-cross my legs, shifting in my seat so I can try to catch a glimpse of the faces in the audience around me. I grow uncomfortable at the realization that I might be alone in projecting all this drama and hurt onto the movements of the women entertaining us.
Then some of the women collapse, others rush to their aid; in pairs they stay on the ground, tightly-wound balls of sisterhood, until each one gets up, shoulders tensed, faces covered in what-makes-you-think-I-needed-your-help. Those who’d knelt, offering maternal comfort just moments before, spring up too, back away with I-wasn’t-trying-to-help-you-anyway-bitch shakes of their heads. Perhaps the performance truly is about nothing more than an old television show, or the glamorous hustle of city life, but the goose bumps trickle up my arms anyway, because I can see it right there, on stage—how it can be to be a woman, among women.
About Brenda: Brenda is a recent graduate of the MFA program at CSU Fresno, where she was also editorial assistant and webmaster for The Normal School. Her work has appeared in Knee-Jerk Magazine, fwriction : review, and Puerto Del Sol.