To the editors:
I am so angry about Mary Shen Barnidge’s review of Make Yer Bed and Lie [March 15] that it has taken me almost four weeks to write a reasonable response to it. I am a survivor of child sexual abuse and incest. And I am going to send a copy of Ms. Barnidge’s review to each of the eight people who sexually abused me. They will be delighted to know that my “largely unprovable memories” have been “embroidered, if not actually fabricated” for all the “guarantees” of “nurturing attention and adulation” I have allegedly received.
I would like this antihuman woman to know that she has played right into the hands of abusers everywhere by making this claim. I will also send copies to the men and women who abused my sister, my preteen cousin, and a male cousin of mine who committed suicide (because he could not handle the abuse perpetrated against him). They will be so happy that this irresponsible reviewer has confirmed what they knew all along, that those people didn’t really rape us, molest us, or torture us. WE MADE IT UP.
Ms. Barnidge, WHO ARE YOU MOLESTING? By denying Anita Stenger’s expression of her real (or even her character’s) abuse, you have labeled as LIARS all survivors who want this kind of abuse exposed and the hideous destruction of children’s lives to stop. You have protected my abusers. You have protected child molesters! The criminal courts do it. Families do it. Churches do it. Some theater companies do it. You’re in good company.
HOW DARE YOU SUGGEST THAT IT HAS BECOME FASHIONABLE TO HAVE BEEN SEXUALLY ABUSED? GOD, IF I’D ONLY BECOME AN ACCOUNTANT, MAYBE I WOULD NOT HAVE BEEN SEXUALLY ABUSED FROM THE AGE OF TWO! I picked the wrong profession. All the misery of the psychiatric ward I was placed in, the pain of years of substance and compulsive abuse that I put myself through–all because I’m an artist. OR did I make it all up BECAUSE I’m in artistic circles? It’s so very fashionable, you know.
And oh, how overdone. How passe. I have seen SO many shows that deal with the aftermath of sexual abuse. I have seen so many of those awful incest plays. Icky. You say that “incest. . . . is overworked as a subject for art.” I can think of two plays, My Soul to Keep and Make Yer Bed and Lie, that tried to tackle these issues. Two plays too many according to you. Sex Boy, Coed Prison Sluts, and The Babysitter have also contained scenes dealing with these issues, but they either sensationalized, trivialized, or laughed at the abuse. “OVERDONE as a subject for art”? I guess, as a reviewer, you don’t see enough shows about love. Or relationships. Or politics. Or war. Those are not overdone issues. Why doesn’t Ms. Stenger change her subject matter to something RARE like that?
Your flippant dismissal to the letter to the editor on March 29 was senseless. You seem to be suggesting that the only reason an artist deals with this kind of material is for pity. And that you are justified in your criticism of the show’s issues because you use glib phrases like “deplorable misuse of power” and “travesty of filial loyalty.” How sensitive you are.
This is the same annoying Reader critic who often spends a good deal of her reviews writing college essays on Strindberg’s misogyny (talk about a woman who knows misogyny from the woman-hater’s point of view), who referred to Caryl Churchill as “Charles,” “Carl,” and “He” during the intermission of Cloud Nine, and who stays after opening night performances to attend the parties of casts who feel they must be polite to her or risk endangering their review. When is the Reader going to let this pompous turtle go?
I am so thankful that artists, like Ms. Stenger, are giving this issue some light. I hope a thousand plays are written about this subject. Because then maybe it won’t be such a secret anymore. Maybe people like Mary Shen Barnidge, the Matron Saint of Sex Offenders, will stop suggesting that we are fabricating our stories. Maybe I will stop having to sign my name,
Mary Shen Barnidge replies:
I never said that all accounts of child abuse were to be dismissed as false, only that artists cannot assume the same automatic sympathy and acceptance on the part of an audience of paying strangers as with a select group of supportive peers. The details of traumatic abuse are no less horrifying for being depressingly similar from individual to individual–but art, if it is to be more than simply gut-spilling therapy, must make the old story new. My Soul to Keep did that, but Make Yer Bed and Lie did not.
My apologies for the misidentification of Caryl Churchill.
Your letter piques my curiosity on one point: which theater companies protect child molesters? And how do they do this?