I think it’s pretty clear that this is a feminist story. It engages a great deal with the systemic inequalities in culture against women, and focuses the telling in a way emphasize the female perspective that is all too often lacking in mainstream media. I personally identify very strongly as feminist, and telling the story of dynamic, proactive, and ultimately human female characters was a huge motivating factor in my writing the play.
As such, the central relationship of the piece, and indeed of all the pieces to come in the series, is the friendship between two women who make each other better. Its power is meant to be always at the forefront. They support one another, but they also challenge each other, and the combination of those two things is key. Obviously in this relationship the older, more experienced, more free-thinking Mrs. Hawking is the mentor, while the younger, less radical Mary takes on the role of the protege. Mary of course has much to learn from her– but Mary, with the unique position she acquires of the closest person in Mrs. Hawking’s heretofore solitary life, has a great deal to challenge within Mrs. Hawking as well. She provides a different perspective, a reality check, a sanity check, and a tempering force on her mistress’s fire. Particularly when it comes to their personal expressions of feminism.
The nature of this particular aspect of their relationship was first codified in so many words by Brad Smith, the fabulous actor who read for Cedric Brockton in the Bare Bones staged reading. Both characters are intended to be represented as feminists in a spiritual if not technical academic sense, since that term comes along many years after their time period. But as Brad observed, they do embody it in contrasting forms. Mrs. Hawking represents radical while Mary stands for intersectional feminism.
Mrs. Hawking’s form is modeled as a true second-waver– on the vanguard of the challenge to the flawed system, motivated chiefly by anger. Men are the enemy in her mind, to be overcome and escaped rather than educated. And though she helps women who struggle under the patriarchy, she still carries a lot of contempt for anyone she does not see as taking up arms in the gender war, or who is not smart enough to understand just how oppressed they are.
Mary, by contrast, is supposed to represent more of a third-wave perspective, one based on making allies rather than enemies, with a more nuanced approach to gender equality, and a mind to the ways that oppression compounds on those with fewer privileges. She brings compassion and inclusion to the struggle, and she is meant to bring a voice of critique to her mistress’s judgmental elitism.
This clash resides mostly in the realm of metaphor at the moment, for a number of reasons. Firstly because it’s too early in history for either of these ideologies to literally exist in their minds, it’s mostly meant to speak to the audience’s modern perspective. Secondly, I am aware that while Mary does bring some small amount of intersectionality by virtue of her being working class, there is a definite lack of other axes of oppression currently in the story, such as people of other races. I would like to endeavor to fix this in the future, to make this presence of “intersectional feminism” even more meaningful as I tell more stories in this world. But right now I acknowledge it’s a problem.
But the feminist theme is a major one we’ll be exploring. And I like that even as we tell the story of two very strong female characters, they don’t always get feminism right– and that gives a great opportunity to try and figure it out for ourselves.