The road to hell is paved with well-intentioned white women. Or at least, it’s paved with those white women activists who don’t consider the impact of their intentions. Lee Minora is the creator of “White Feminist,” a show that unapologetically slices through the failings of non-intersectional feminism and its inherent hypocrisy. Throughout the course of the show, audiences, and ideally the white female liberal activists who will attend, are forced to ask themselves the unspoken question, “How do white women navigate their dual roles as oppressed and oppressor?”
Though the answer to that question may vary depending on the audience members who see it presented and choose to take it on, one thing is certain: Becky Harlow’s approach to feminism is far from ideal. Minora’s one-woman show centers around the fictional Harlow, who is the host of “Becky’s Time,” a talk show that attendees “participate” in as a pseudo studio audience. At least on its surface, the show unintentionally showcases both the hilarity and painful truth of well-meaning activism causing harm without accountability. Audiences are invited to “sit back, relax and watch” Harlow “make progress.”
Before her scheduled week-long residency with “White Feminist” at the University Musical Society’s No Safety Net 2.0 series, Minora filled Between The Lines in on what it took to develop Becky Harlow’s character, the “hygiene” required to practice true intersectionality and her technique for calling out hypocrisy in activism.
For those who don’t know, who is Becky Harlow?
(Laughs) When I started making this show it was after Trump had won and Hillary Clinton had lost the election, as the #MeToo movement was sort of at its peak. And I was really fascinated by Megyn Kelly who had kind of made her way to the front of the #MeToo movement just by being a very flawed person. So, I started working on the piece with her in mind for Becky Harlow, someone who I didn’t agree with politically who still, of course, needed feminism and had benefitted from it and had also hurt it in a number of ways. My interest is to make theater that’s challenging for people who actually attend the theater, and that doesn’t tend to be people who sympathize with Megyn Kelly. And so, when Becky was a little too right-leaning — which I workshopped her a little more conservative initially — she wasn’t as challenging for audiences. So, I started to move her on the political spectrum to be more of a left-leaning character. So she is a well-meaning talk show host who has very little awareness of her actual impact, despite wanting to help and make the world a better place.
Did you see the movie “Bombshell?”
It showed Megyn Kelly’s story during the downfall of former Fox News executive Roger Ailes for sexual misconduct. Three years after you started developing the show, did that change your opinion of her at all?
I don’t think it’s changed much of my opinion on her. There’s parts of me that has sympathy for her and there’s parts of me that are pretty repelled by her, and that stayed true seeing the film. I was thinking, “Yeah, she’s enduring a good amount of misogyny, but she’s also sort of hoist by her own petard.” By nature of working at Fox News, a place that is white supremacist, heteronormative, fearmongering, you’re going to be participating in old models of our society that hurt women. She holds those models up, so it’s very confusing. I did think the film was interesting and I was glad I saw it.
Because Becky’s character has a lot of blind spots when it comes to her activism she reminds me of the quote, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.” Did you start to think about your own blind spots as the creator?
First, I literally used to have my press release subject line with, ‘The road to hell is paved with well-meaning white women’ (laughs). But in regard to blind spot, I was thinking a lot when I was making this piece about intention versus impact. So, you may mean to do something that you think will have a really positive outcome, but that may not be the impact of what you’ve done. And I think being someone who is socially conscious or interested in intersectional feminism and making sure your feminism is always intersectional is a form of hygiene. And you have to participate in hygiene all the time in order to be hygienic. You don’t get to brush your teeth once a year and be like, ‘That’s it, I brushed my teeth this year.’ It’s a constant process of turning over, so that’s one prong. I’d say another prong is when, in reference to intention versus impact, you have to honor and listen to the impact that you may have had if someone tells you. So, rather than, ‘Oh, you stepped on my foot.’ ‘Well, I didn’t mean to step on your foot.’ Well that doesn’t really matter, does it? Because that’s what you did ultimately.
Have you found that sometimes people attending the show sometimes don’t realize they share many of Becky’s blind spots?
Yes! Yes, definitely. That’s sort of a satire paradox, I think. That people can have blind spots so glaring that they can’t quite see themselves in there. I think that there are some elements of the show where I think it’s unavoidable that you get sort of caught realizing that you might have some contradictory beliefs because of the way it’s crafted. So, a question is asked, you answer it affirmatively and then another question is asked and if you have to answer that one affirmatively you realize you may have some beliefs that are in conflict or done some things that are in conflict.
The show regularly takes on new meaning as current events develop. Do you find yourself adding and changing content regularly?
(Laughs). Yes, exactly. Luckily, Becky doesn’t know that much a lot of the time. So, there’s always that available to you, but I do have to stay informed. I just did a show in New York and was making changes to the show day-of. I’m always updating based on what’s happening, and I’ll probably get some feelers about what’s happening in Ann Arbor.
Did creating this show change your view of “woke culture” as used by activists — well-intentioned or otherwise?
I think I have an interest in my work — as opposed to me personally, I’ll say from the perspective of what I’m creating — I have a big interest in hypocrisy. I spent some time studying this very specific type of clown, not clown like you think of at the circus, but it’s more of a theater-making technique called Bouffon. And the Bouffon doesn’t quite have any allegiance to anyone, but they have a large interest in hypocrisy. And that’s where I live in that work. My questions around wokeness is that you absolutely have to know what’s happening to participate and then I think I have a curiosity about the next step, which is, “How do we make sure that that participation is actually creating change?” I do think that sometimes that means that there needs to be infighting or correcting people or taking time to do labor where someone can educate someone. Hopefully, people can find ways to do that without putting burdens on people who are constantly having to do it, but it does require knowledge.
Do you think the outspoken Becky Harlows of the world might be part of the reason why some women refuse to call themselves feminists?
(Laughs) Becky Harlow calls herself a feminist. She does in the show entirely, but is she like the cousin of someone who might not call themselves a feminist? Sure. I think so. But she’s pretty outspoken about the fact that she’s a feminist, she just has very little intersectionality in her feminism despite not realizing that she has very little intersectionality in it. I think she’s maybe just a generation too young to be part of the women who don’t call themselves feminists. I don’t think I have an answer to this, but I certainly have a curiosity about how we take care of other generations of differing opinions and just people who are just struggling to keep up inside of that conversation. Can you still be doing it right? Can you still be a good ally if you’re not necessarily abreast of everything? Like, where does that come back to that hygiene thing I said earlier?
There does seem to be a priority shift for some people who over time, willfully or otherwise, fall out of touch with social justice movements of the day.
Exactly, which is why it’s so important to go to the second thing, which is listening to the people around you and how your behavior is impacting them. So, maybe you don’t have the time to do the keeping up, but you need to find the time to do the listening.
Catch Lee Minora’s “White Feminist” at UMS from Monday, Feb. 3, through Sunday, Feb. 9. Find out more information online at ums.org.