100th Discussion: Eight Plays by Ovidia Yu

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Attendees: Asy, Joyce, Rachel, Yi Sheng, Pamela, Timmy
Moderator: Vicky

All of us completed the required reading and were raring to go! 

The Woman in a Tree on the Hill

“The all women, the unlimited women, the everyday women.”

A question on sensuality, specifically on bound feet, kicked off the discussion. Joyce looked at it as a form of emasculation and the stripping of power, to which Yi Sheng added this may be perceived as “women oppressing women”. Out of all the women in this play, Nu Wa was the only one who was not oppressed, seeing as she was part-reptilian goddess and therefore cannot represent the human woman. Joyce and Asy saw her as being “above the narrative”.

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The topic of marriage as a business venture was raised. Both Rachel and Yi Sheng thought this was more evident in the past; nowadays, people “marry for love”. Timmy pointed out the differences women and men perceive marriage, as seen in pages 10 and 11. Pamela wondered if Nora married for status. We then proceeded to talk about Nora and Paul’s divorce as well as Maureen, the supposed “other woman”. All of us agreed that she was written to subvert the trope of women fighting with one another over and because of a man.

This play portrayed, to great extent, the irredeemability of men:

  • While there were major events taking place in the background – the flood, divorce, the cutting down of trees – the men would rather complain about their wives!
  • Men were compared to oxen – strong and stubborn – implying that women are weak and malleable.
  • As wisely noted by Yi Sheng, men “wants to destroy without being destroyed” and “only save themselves”. This can be seen when Paul wanted Nora to take full responsibility for the divorce, Noah intending to chop down the tree while his wife was still on it, and the man wanting to climb up the tree to Maureen at the end.

Timmy observed that while the male characters were typically one note, the women were varied. On the other hand, Rachel felt that Yu employed stereotypes to portray both genders while Asy thought all the characters blended into one another. Joyce and Asy speculated that the characters’ ages were purposely left out, perhaps to showcase the women-versus-men dichotomy, which has been taking place for as long as humankind has existed.

All of us liked the final line of the play (“Plant your own future. Trees grow. If you let them.”, page 27), which Yi Sheng likened to redeeming masculinity.

Joyce and Pamela joked that if this play were to be made into a movie, it will be marketed as an “Oscar bait” type of film, similar to Babel.

Three Fat Virgins

“The judged women, the stereotyped women, the society-impressed-upon women.”

1004099Vicky questioned whether the three virgins were essentially the same person, and if virgins were portrayed positively or otherwise. Yi Sheng suggested that virgins, like everyone else, are just striving to fit into society, even with “uncomfortable shoes and earrings”.

Pamela observed that male virginity was never mentioned; the thing closest to male sexuality was penis envy which, according to Yi Sheng, Asian (gay) men are afflicted with. Timmy brought up the scene where T.M. Ong disclosed his and Jack’s penis sizes to Virgin A.

“Why is sashimi easier to make?” Joyce asked. Asy and Yi Sheng joked that sushi and tempura are just too much work.

We touched on about Virgin C’s husband’s affair (“you’re such a good husband, Ah Ba!”). Vicky snarkily remarked how the male ego is never satisfied, thus they have affairs, though we also note of instances wherein it’s the women who are having affairs outside of their relationships. The graduate mothers scheme of the 1980s, Singaporean women and reproductive capacity, and fixation of virginity were briefly discussed.

9789812044075-bYi Sheng informed everyone of the alternate ending/s for this play (which can be found in the collection Fat Virgins, Fast Cars and Asian Values), which we read out. Vicky facetiously commented that having too many endings was too disorganised. Timmy quipped that this added some excitement, like a Kinder Surprise, to the play – “you may never know which ending you will get!”

Hitting (on) Women

The discussion turned sombre as we moved on to the third play.

Timmy elucidated the meaning of the play’s title; Yi Sheng supplemented that it could also refer to the woman who hits (aka the abuser), and the woman who has been hit (aka the abused). This discovery also lent to Asy’s observation: that the abused slowly becomes the abuser. They also equated Dead Karen as a figment of Woman’s imagination, an uncomfortable part of her thought process.

“She is not a girl, not yet a woman.” – Timmy, when describing Woman.

OMNI-OY-CVF-100_1024xWe highlighted the use of humour as a coping mechanism to mask the play’s topic, which Rachel found to be very convincing. The sex scene after aerobics class was also touched upon, which Yi Sheng initially found to be sexy, though he eventually questioned whether consent was given for that to happen. Everyone agreed that the scene was a powerful depiction of both lust and abuse.

Timmy expounded on the crows dialogue between Woman and Dead Karen, an obvious allegory of homosexuality in Singapore and STIs/AIDs.

Asy, Rachel, and Joyce liked this play the most: Asy and Rachel appreciated the slow burn, which “catches you off guard” (Asy) and showed the “severity of abuse” (Rachel); Joyce shared that it was a very “emo” play, and that the ending served as a healing process after all the abuse. [redacted] thought otherwise, opining that the play’s final bit felt more like a turning point… a rupture. They do note that it was an important play that explored abuse, and highlighted the first instance of abuse, which took place in page 334.

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In discussing the three plays, it is worthy to note that everyone had differing opinions about them. Vicky appreciated the range within the three plays, the varying portrayals of femininity versus the one kind of masculinity, and the exploration of characters’ depths, though she admitted not being able to relate to any of them. Timmy applauded Yu’s writing. Pamela found the works interesting, though she was irked by the racial misrepresentation, particularly in Hitting (on) Women. Joyce was at a loss for words, but stood firm in declaring that she still likes the book.

Above it all, we were just glad that more women turned up for this discussion, on plays about women written by a woman.

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Filed under Family, Lesbian, Love, Ovidia Yu, Play, Politics, Race, Religion, Singapore

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