Stages of gender

Holon’s Mediatheque Theater’s upcoming season for children will address whether girls and boys are destined to act a certain way and how roles can change.

Roni Pinkovitz (photo credit: EYAL LANDSMAN)
Roni Pinkovitz
(photo credit: EYAL LANDSMAN)
All the world may be a stage, to paraphrase the Bard, but one might wonder whether that is a concept younger theatergoers can fully appreciate.
Roni Pinkovitz certainly seems to think so, and in his capacity as artistic director of the Mediatheque Theater for children in Holon, he has earmarked the theater’s upcoming season to highlight the issue of gender.
In fact, a look at the production roster for the new season, which kicks off on February 28, gives the impression that the program has a decidedly female bias.
Pinkovitz feels that such a bias is necessary if one wants to redress society’s clear male orientation – though he adds that he does not expect a season of theater productions for junior audiences to turn things around completely.
“I don’t believe one can change a lot with this, but it is an attempt to appeal to a different state of awareness,” he says.
Still, the director is certain about at least one thing: “If the shows aren’t good, the children will get bored and they probably won’t take much in. And then, in educational terms, we won’t have achieved anything.”
There doesn’t seem to be much chance that the children and youth who attend the shows during the year will suffer from that fate. And whatever messages the directors of the plays do manage to get across, they stand a good chance of accessing a sizable slice of the public. As the Mediatheque’s general manager points out, over 300,000 parents and children watch the theater’s shows each year.
The opening play, Hanneke Ufit (Hanneke and Fit), is an emotive offering based on a children’s book by Jerusalemite writer Ran Cohen Harounoff.
It tells the true story of how Cohen Harounoff’s mother survived the Holocaust in Amsterdam when a non-Jewish couple took her in at the age of three.
For all intents and purposes, she became a younger sister to the Christian couple’s daughter, Fit, who was six years old at the time. Incidentally Hanneke, who made aliya after the end of World War II, and Fit have stayed in contact over the years, and the Dutch woman will be in Holon for the performance on February 28.
While Pinkovitz, who has three daughters, is keen for the children to take in the implied messages, he is just as interested in getting the adults to change their mind-sets as well.
“I feel that the coming season divides into two,” he says. “There are the children and youth, but there are also the parents and educators. We want to draw their attention to two things. First of all – and this is based on facts – they are the ones who sustain the problem [of a male-oriented society]. They do that without taking stock. They do it as part of the routine.
This leads to deprivation and discrimination, which remain as dominant as they were in the past, even though today they appear in more subtle guises.”
Presumably those same parents and adult teachers were also subjected to some level of conditioning by their own elders, and grew up in a society that favored boys and men. As such, some might say no one can blame them for not being aware of the lopsided gender tendencies around today.
Pinkovitz begs to differ.
“We adults have to take note of what is happening around us and ask ourselves why things are still this way,” he says.
There are, it seems, some damning statistics: “Mothers still do not take out books for their sons, from libraries, with stories [about] heroines. Over 90 percent of parents who take out books for their children are mothers, and they will not take out a book for their son that has a female main character.”
Such attitudes, says Pinkovitz, have a detrimental effect on all areas of life.
“There are practical absurdities. For example, why are basketball courts generally the domain of boys, and why are they used by female players for only a small minority of the time?” he asks. “That is also the case for age groups – say 12-13, when the girls are stronger and bigger than the boys. By all rights, youth teams at that age should have a female center [who is generally the tallest player on the team]. That is absurd.”
Popular British author Jacqueline Wilson has a prominent role in the new season of shows, as two of the productions are based on her books. Double Act, for example, is an adaptation of Wilson’s work of that name, which tells the tale of identical female twins whose close relationship is threatened by the presence of their new stepmother. The implied message pertains to individualism rather than gender per se, but it is not by chance that the characters in question are girls.
The other Wilson-inspired play touches on a highly sensitive topic, that of image and the possible disastrous effects that peer and media-driven pressure can cause.
The show is called Mushlemet – the feminine form of the word for “perfect” in Hebrew – and is based on Wilson’s book Girls under Pressure. The main character is a young girl named Ellie, who is on the plump side. When her friend is accepted to a beauty contest and Ellie is rejected, she decides to do something about her figure. However, the slimming gets out of hand and leads to a life-threatening situation.
While the theatrical fare in the coming Mediatheque season is designed to be entertaining, Pinkovitz would like teachers to help the children and youth who go to the shows – and hopefully take some food for thought home with them – to process the messages afterward.
“It is very important for educators to keep the momentum going, and to take the concepts from the shows a step or two further with the children,” he says. “It shouldn’t be just about coming to see a nice show and that’s the end of it.”
Considering that groups of children go to the Mediatheque Theater on organized school trips with teachers, there is presumably more to the outing than just popping out for an hour or two of entertainment.
“Some teachers do hold discussions later in the classroom, and some don’t,” Pinkovitz observes. “The question is how much school activity comes out of seeing a play, and how deeply they go into the subject matter. Seeing a show is a sort of meaningful experience, and it can’t possibly entirely satisfy a child’s curiosity.
There has to be more.”
There is certainly more in the offing during the new season, with a musical adaptation of Goldilocks and the Three Bears that, for now, goes by the name of Can’t See the Wood for the Trees, as well as Mediatheque chestnuts from seasons gone by, such as The Sixteenth Lamb, Library Lion and an adaptation of Heidi.
And about four months down the line, for the second year running, this year’s Israel Festival will feature a conference under the auspices of the Mediatheque Theater on the subject of art for children, and specifically on gender and the children’s world.
Pinkovitz firmly believes that the thespian art form has much to offer here.
“Gender education should start from an early age,” he states. “Through the shows, we will try to examine discriminatory, rigid and suffocating reality which impacts on all areas of the life of the child and childhood. Why, for example, are there boys’ domains and girls’ domains, and how is it that this does not change through the generations? Theater is certainly capable of arousing awareness and changing reality.”