Tag Archives: feminism

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The power of the anger of women

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As big a fan of the superhero genre as I am, there’s a common trope in it that’s always gotten on my nerves. How often do you see a female character get angry about something, only to have that anger swept aside because the usually male hero’s efforts to save the world make it impossible for her to stay mad?

It’s something that’s bothered me a long time, as it’s an indication of a larger cultural pressure for women never to get angry about anything— to only have pleasant feelings that are comfortable for those around them, to focus on making others feel better. But our plays are meant to stand in direction contradiction to that, because the character of Mrs. Hawking is ALL ABOUT anger.

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Our hero is a character driven by anger first and foremost, at the circumstances of the world, at the way society has tried to trap her in a box. It is never treated as unreasonable or indecent; in fact, it’s acknowledged that it’s a source of her strength. On top of that, when her anger causes Mrs. Hawking to inappropriately lash out against Mary, Mary’s anger gets respected as well. Mary is given the opportunity to express her upset at injustice or disrespect, and presents as reasonable demanding better treatment.

It’s a major way we’re aiming to make Mrs. Hawking different from other entries in the superhero genre. Not only do we tell stories about powerful and courageous female heroes, they are allowed the full range of human emotion to keep them interesting and real.

Vivat Regina and Base Instruments by Phoebe Roberts will be performed January 13th-15th at the Boston Westin Waterfront Hotel as part of Arisia 2017.

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Nathaniel’s atypical role in defining the three-man team

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A major goal of the plot in “Mrs. Hawking” is the establishment of the three-man superhero team of Mrs. Hawking, Mary, and Nathaniel. It takes a little working out to nail down everyone’s role, carrying over into the interpersonal conflict in the next story “Vivat Regina,” but by the end of this first play, we see a clear example of how they might fit together. But forming the team is not just for the sake of their superheroing work. It’s also for building a compelling social dynamic that we can explore over the course of their adventures.

I’m hoping to find ways to distinguish this team from other examples in the genre. Just fact that the women take the foremost roles, and actually outnumber the male members, is a good start— and way rarer than it should be. But more than that, I’m recasting the traditional roles characters like that fit into. Mrs. Hawking is the mastermind who runs point on all their operations. Mary is the man on the ground, ready to create a distraction or throw a punch. Still, occasionally you do see women in physical or leadership roles nowadays. So perhaps most unusual at all is Nathaniel, whose role on the team is probably what most people would consider to be the most traditionally feminine.

We learn quickly in “Mrs. Hawking” that Nathaniel is a talker and a people person, able to gain information and advantage through interaction with others and improvising conversation on the spot. He is good-looking, well-connected, and has obvious charisma, which makes him an easy candidate for their faceman. The team charmer, however, is a role usually played by a team’s female member. Additionally, from an interpersonal perspective, Nathaniel is their peacemaker. It is important to him that those close to him are getting along, and he is the one who takes steps to defuse tension and see that relationships are repaired. This is even more striking than the faceman position, as the job of tending to the emotional health of relationships is even more rarely placed on male characters.

I like this because it makes Nathaniel fairly unique in this respect. Also it makes for an interesting juxtaposition with his process of unlearning the standards of patriarchal society that is a big part of his character journey. That’s something I enjoy doing, casting conventionally masculine characters in lights considered to be traditionally feminine, because it upends expectations and widens the variety of portrayals we see in literature. Undermining the rigid definition of gender roles is a worthy goal, but more than that, it serves to define Nathaniel as an individual, giving more dimension to a character I hope to make interesting, unusual, and worth following.

Mrs. Hawking by Phoebe Roberts will be performed on Saturday, May 9th at 2PM and 6PM at the Center for Digital Arts at 274 Moody Street, Waltham as part of the 2015 Watch City Steampunk Festival.

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Mr. Ambrose Hawking

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Though I’ve written very little in his voice, I’ve thought a great deal about the patriarch of the respectable, successful middle-class Hawking family, and the father of Justin and Nathaniel. While his younger brother Colonel Reginald Hawking served in the military, Ambrose built the family business from the ground up, turning a series of small investments into a thriving venture capital firm with interests all across the empire. He was close to and very proud of his brave younger brother, with Reginald’s choice to marry the fiery, inscrutable Victoria Stanton being the only difference to ever come between them. This conflict is referenced in Like a Loss, a ten-minute play featuring the Colonel and his valet.

Ambrose is a bastion of traditional Victorian masculinity, accustomed to authority and privilege and very skeptical of the notion of women having agency. The world and its accompanying systems have done well for him, and so he is loath to see them change. His younger son Nathaniel, however, is beginning to question and even reject the assumptions to which his father raised him. It will come as quite a shock when he is confronted by Nathaniel’s new perspective on things, especially when it comes to affect the way Nathaniel decides to raise his own son.

I don’t know if or when Ambrose will ever actually appear in the plays. Even in the upcoming third one, in which I plan for other members of Nathaniel’s family to appear and drive the conflict, I don’t know if there will be room for him. Still, I think the influence of a traditionally Victorian patriarchal father is important for Nathaniel’s sorting out of how he’s going to engage with feminism. If nothing else, I’m sure he will be mentioned, as he is in Like a Loss, or perhaps show up in another in-universe short piece.

Here is a small chunk I felt compelled to write, just as a way of exploring the slightly more human side of him. One thing is clear, he cared very deeply about his brother the Colonel, and what pained Reginald was also pain to him. I also think it serves to make his strong antipathy towards Victoria a lot more understandable. So, in service of that, here is a conversation I could picture them having about the Colonel.

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NATHANIEL: Did you think he ever knew just how… strongly she felt?

AMBROSE: Are you joking? Of course he did. He wasn’t a fool.

NATHANIEL: How do you know?

AMBROSE: Everyone knew. You could read it in her every glance, she never tried to hide it. And it cut him.

NATHANIEL: Did he tell you?

AMBROSE: He didn’t have to. I was his brother, I could see it in his eyes.

NATHANIEL: You never told me.

AMBROSE: By Jove, Nathaniel, do you fancy I hate her just because she’s unpleasant at dinner parties? The woman my brother loved despised him above all else. And he had to live with that. You may have found a way to forgive her, boy, but I never shall.

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Sparking a romance

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As you may have gleaned from reading Vivat Regina, I want to explore the idea of a relationship between Mary and Arthur Swann, the police officer she meets (and makes use of) in that play. All I wanted to do in that story was start a connection, but that meant I had to take care to get it off on the right foot.

I like the idea that romances begin because of something special that two people see in each other. Mary of course demonstrates she is brave and tough and quick-witted in a way Arthur didn’t expect, but Arthur shows he finds the fact that Mary saved him intriguing. He is not threatened by Mary’s capability, but impressed by and delighted with it. That immediate respect he shows makes an impression on her. Moreover, he’s not without wit and charm himself. These things altogether spark something that ultimately turns to romance.

I had Mary save Arthur to deliberately turn that damsel in distress trope on its head. Also I wanted to contrast it with the first meeting of Victoria and Reginald as the Colonel describes it in “Like a Loss.” Both men are impressed by the women’s display of courage and independence. But while Arthur wants to encourage and enable her to take her own action, Reginald’s impulse is to cocoon her protectively so that she doesn’t ever have to be brave or fierce or stand up for herself again. Arthur wants to nurture Mary’s strength, while Reginald wanted to neutralize it in Victoria. This makes for an interesting way to explore the effects of feminism, or the lack thereof, in our characters’ lives.

I haven’t figured out the whole trajectory of Mary and Arthur’s relationship, but I think it’s off to an interesting start. Especially in contrast to Mrs. Hawking and the Colonel.

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“Why won’t you trust me?” — early draft of a confrontation from Vivat Regina

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This is one of the earliest scenes I wrote for Vivat Regina, and it turned out to be a very crucial one. Bernie pointed out that, while Mary’s decision in this one is that yes, she would like to become a “new Mrs. Hawking” of sorts, Nathaniel’s is at least starting to reject his old desire to become like the Colonel. He idolized the Colonel his whole life, and it’s been a difficult thing for him to swallow how much pain his hero caused Mrs. Hawking. Him backing away from that, at least the parts of the Colonel that caused that pain, is a big step on his development toward becoming a true feminist. It’s a crucial part of being a good male ally. You can’t fix a problem before you admit you have it, and Nathaniel’s doing so demonstrates his very real desire to learn, and do better than before.

~~~

NATHANIEL:
Aunt Victoria— why won’t you trust me?

MRS. HAWKING:
Oh, do spare me, Nathaniel.

NATHANIEL:
No. No, you mustn’t put me off. I know I haven’t been the quickest study when it comes to this business of yours, but I’ve been giving it a serious go. I surely do mean to be of help to you, and by God, on occasion I even have. Isn’t that so?

MRS. HAWKING:
Yes. You have.

NATHANIEL:
Then… why won’t you let me on? Really let me on? Is it— is it because I’m a man?

MRS. HAWKING:
Nathaniel.

NATHANIEL:
Is it because I’m not clever enough? Do you think that once in a tough spot, I’ll lose my head and disappoint—

MRS. HAWKING:
You look so much like him!

(Pause.)

MRS. HAWKING:
Too damn much.

MARY:
Like whom? Do you mean— the Colonel?

NATHANIEL:
You never told me that. Others have, but not you.

(MARY looks to the portrait on the mantle.)

MARY:
I never noticed it.

MRS. HAWKING:
The years and the whiskers throw it off, but all the men in the family have that look. Your father, your uncle, and you. Your boy will have it too before long. Strong jaw, devil-may-care grin, handsome as the day is long. The sort of face to win anything a man could want in the world. But that was face I first looked into twenty years ago when a promising young soldier was first transferred to New Guinea and trammeled up my life forever. The same eyes from which I had to hide everything of any meaning to me so I might be permitted to have it.

NATHANIEL:
I don’t want you to feel that way about me. Not anymore.

MRS. HAWKING:
I know that, and not for nothing. But the years I lost and the pains I took…

NATHANIEL:
I know.

MRS. HAWKING:
Yes. Now you know. So it galls me, boy. I tell you, it galls me to look into those eyes and that face and give all the game away to them.

NATHANIEL:
I can’t help who I look like.

MRS. HAWKING:
No. But all the same, he’s in everything in you. His blood and his name and every effort in the world to be just like him.

NATHANIEL:
But… I’m not like him.

MRS. HAWKING:
To your eternal sorrow.

NATHANIEL:
Still. I’m not him. I can learn better.

(Pause.)

NATHANIEL:
And I mean to. But I’ll need you to teach me. I can’t do it without you.

(NATHANIEL draws himself up with a quiet, cold dignity.)

NATHANIEL:
Rather… none of us could. The Colonel neither. Because the God’s honest truth is you don’t know if he couldn’t have learned. You never gave him the chance.

(NATHANIEL turns and strides quickly from the room.)

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“The Other Mrs. Hawking” — scribblings on Clara Hawking

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After the Bare Bones Mrs. Hawking reading, Brad Smith, the actor who read for Cedric Brockton, commented that it might be interesting for the characters to encounter “the other Ms. Hawking,” as in, Nathaniel’s wife, and see what she thought of the whole business her husband had been drawn into. What I’d want to do with this character is make her a model of weaponized femininity– extremely happy with her place in society and her gender identity, but using it to her advantage as a sharp, strong femme woman. Of course, you can probably guess how Mrs. Hawking feels about her.

This was originally written on August 22nd, 2013, with the vague notion that it might become part of Vivat Regina, the first sequel and the second story in the series. I’m not sure if it will ultimately be included in that story, but I very much want to use it at some point, in a story where there is room for Clara to have a substantial role.

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Day #22 – “The Other Mrs. Hawking”

MRS. HAWKING: You shall have the pleasure of making the acquaintance of Mrs. Hawking.

MARY: I beg your pardon?

MRS. HAWKING: Not me. The other Mrs. Hawking.

(Enter CLARA HAWKING, curvy and beautiful, in a flurry of activity and sweeping skirts.)

CLARA: Aunt Victoria!

MRS. HAWKING: Clara.

(She rushes over and kisses MRS. HAWKING’s cheek.)

CLARA: You haven’t visited us since Christmas! We were beginning to worry that you might have bricked yourself up inside that study of yours. Of course Nathaniel is glad to be seeing so much more of you. He says he’s enjoyed your time together immensely. Miracles happen, I suppose! And this must be Mary, your lovely housegirl. Nathaniel speaks very highly of you, miss. Of course, any girl who’s managed to last as long as you have in dear Auntie’s employ must be a saint! Don’t mistake me, dear, we do love our Aunt Victoria, it’s only to know her is to love her, and we know her! You must come to supper more often. I know you’re fiercely independent, but what is family for, if not to take care of widowed relations and see that you eat properly every once in a while? I know that left to your own devices, you might starve to death over your books! I’m sure you try your hardest with her, Mary, but heaven knows it can be like trying to push the boulder up the hill! And I’m sure you’ve been missing Sophia and little Reggie as much as they’ve missed you. We’d hate to think we’re allowing you to go on lonely. Now! I’ll have Jane fetch the tea things, and I’ll catch you up on everything about the children since last you came about.

(She bustles out.)

MARY: Good heavens. She’s…

MRS. HAWKING: Indeed.

MARY: And so…

MRS. HAWKING: Oh, my, yes.

(Pause.)

MARY: I love her.

MRS. HAWKING: You would.

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The Hawking family tree

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Large families were all the rage in Victorian England. Guess who set that trend?

For most of the writing of the original draft, I did not give much thought to the specifics of the structure of the Hawking family. I wanted Nathaniel to share the Hawking name, so he had to be the blood nephew of the Colonel, which made him Mrs. Hawking’s nephew by marriage. But when I realized how much drama I could get out of bringing a large extended family in the story, I immediately started figuring out who they were.

Nathaniel is, in fact, the younger son of the Colonel’s elder brother Ambrose. Ambrose is an old-fashioned, self-satisfied man who very much regards himself as the family patriarch. While Reginald pursued a career in the military, Ambrose set himself up as an entrepreneur, building a venture capital firm that made its money in financing industry in the colonies. I decided Reginald was the younger brother so that I could parallel in him that manner with Nathaniel. As I mentioned, they are quintessential Victorian middle-class. Ambrose began the firm as a young man, but has since mostly ceded control of it to his sons. Nathaniel takes care of the books and the business end of things from London, while his elder brother Justin travels the world, investigating for possible investment opportunities.

Justin is a very different person from Nathaniel. Charm runs in the family, but while Nathaniel is sweet, romantic, and gentlemanly, Justin is more roguish, with a somewhat meaner sense of humor and a lot more self-centered arrogance. Nathaniel fell head over heels in love and married young, while Justin tomcats around; I imagine his good looks and charm make him very popular with the ladies.

Nathaniel’s wife of six years is named Clara, and they have two small children Beatrice and Reginald, named, of course, after his beloved uncle. Clara is designed to be in many ways the polar opposite of the other Mrs. Hawking; she’s totally happy with her gender role and her place in the world, embracing her femininity to get the things she wants accomplished. However, like her husband’s aunt, she has learned to use her harmless appearance to her advantage, and she is a complete master of the art of throwing shade from beneath a veil of polite conversation.

One of the biggest reasons I like plotting out the Hawking family is because of how they influence Nathaniel’s arc. Nathaniel begins the story very much a product of his environment. He comes from a family of very decent, upright people who take for granted the conventional wisdom of what men and women are like. Their traditional view of Victorian masculinity has shaped him with the sense of command and entitlement he shows at the beginning of the story. Their pressure for him to conform is also going to be a major obstacle in his growing past this.

Needless to say, the family does not get along very well with Mrs. Hawking. I think it’s mostly her fault, as she makes no secret of the fact that she dislikes them all, but they are hardly openminded about how different and weird she is, plus they do not have progressive ideas about the place of women. But she is forced to deal with them because, thanks to the Colonel marrying her, they are now her family and social norms will not permit that connection to be severed. So on top of everything else her marriage forced into her life, it inextricably bound her to people she has this much trouble getting along with.

This actually makes Nathaniel’s relationship with her very interesting. At the beginning of the story, his presence could not have been more unwelcome. Basically, her husband’s nephew, a young man with no blood relation to her, had the right to take full legal responsibility for her, and had no qualms about doing it. Making decisions for her, trying to control her. But he is growing, growing in ways neither of them never ever thought he would. Once he starts to make a real effort to get passed that patriarchal sense of entitlement and instead wants to help her rather than hold her back, he actually becomes a positive presence in her life. I think she is resistant to this at first, but in time comes to see him as important to her, even precious. Which for her is a pretty big leap.

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Mrs. Hawking’s asexuality, and its peculiar effect on her outlook

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I couldn’t tell you why, but I have a fondness for asexual characters. They are very rarely represented in fiction, so I am fascinated when I encounter them, and tend to be very protective of the integrity of their identities thereof. Those of you of the type inclined to ‘shipping may find this frustrating, but that’s the way I’ve always seen Mrs. Hawking.

Mrs. Hawking is to my mind a true aromantic asexual. Completely disinterested in sex, in fact rather disgusted by it, and completely incapable of experiencing romantic love. She is a loner by nature, made worse by her rage and alienation in regards to the world around her, and frustrated by how there seems to be no place or understanding for people who feel that way. This frustration is interesting because despite this, I don’t think she fully realizes how exceptional she is in this respect.

It intersects weirdly, in fact problematically, with her particular outlook on women. As I’ve mentioned she is supposed to represent a kind of radical feminism, the kind that needs tempering with a more broad-minded, inclusive force, which in this case is Mary’s more intersectional feminism. She tends to view sexuality as something men impose on women rather than something that women can and should own themselves. I don’t think Mrs. Hawking has ever really personally witnessed women be anything but victims of men’s sexuality, much less have a healthy sexuality of their own. It’s not like she’s close to many people, so the women she mostly comes in contact with are mostly clients, and given that they’re people in trouble, they’re much less likely to be in happy or healthy partnerships. That combined with the complete disinterest in sex she finds in herself has led her to conclude that NO women are sexual, and there is no positive way they can experience it. Sex, marriage, and even romance are just traps made by men to further arrange the world to their liking regardless of what women need.

It makes it a bit difficult to think about how that played out in the course of her marriage. I think she and the Colonel both bought into the Victorian conventional wisdom about sex much more than was healthy. They both concluded, I think, that of course women are not very interested in such things, and of course men expect them anyway, so they both had a seemingly plain explanation for each other’s behavior. I hate to say it, but I guess Victoria just kind of put up with it– on an occasional basis, at least –because it was the easiest way to deal, and Reginald believed that was just how these things worked. And I have a feeling that after (spoiler) the stillbirth, the issue came up considerably less often.

As a result, she is, to use the academic jargon, extremely sex-negative. It’s part of the way she fails at feminism, as it leads her to either deny part of women’s essential humanity, or look down on women who are sexual as complicit with their victimizers.

But Mary’s role in her world is to challenge her, to temper her and encourage her to grow, as intersectional feminism does to radical. So, I think Mary will emerge as a counterexample to that view. She will be a woman who not only is capable of a functional, equal romantic relationship with a man, but one who DESIRES such a relationship. I think that’s going to be very difficult for Mrs. Hawking, as she has a hard time seeing romance and marriage as anything but submitting to the enemy. That’s going to be something that Mary’s will have to stand up to her about, and help her to see that a woman wanting love and sex does not have to be diminishing to her independence or agency.

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What Nathaniel does for a living, and other middle-class folks

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People sometimes ask me what Nathaniel’s day job is. He does have one, you know, even though it’s never directly mentioned in the text. It’s important because the Hawkings are supposed to be quintessentially middle-class people. The Victorian period was the first time in Western history that the middle class were becoming an important demographic, a group with a lot of their own money and growing political influence. Still, the old class system that prioritized the nobility still hadn’t totally been overcome, so there is an interesting conflict between those with titles and all the hereditary powers associated with them, and increasingly significant professional class that was growing richer and more numerous than they. I want this conflict to have a presence in and effect on the story, as classism is a major theme I want to engage with.

So Nathaniel, as it happens, is what would have been called back in the day a speculative financier– or in modern terms, a venture capitalist. They find promising business ventures, which in this time tended to be resource acquisition in the colonies, and lend them the startup money to get going. His father Ambrose is the head of the firm and Nathaniel has recently become a partner. I am leaning toward Ambrose being the founder, and having him be the first generation of the Hawking family to attain significant wealth and social prominence. Nathaniel’s elder brother Justin may be part of this as well, I haven’t decided yet. The Colonel was not so much, as he was pursuing his military career, but I do think he had a financial stake in the operations. This would enable him to have, as they say, “incomes” from investments. Mrs. Hawking inherited these as his widow, and they provide her with a very significant return.

I like to think that Mrs. Hawking doesn’t think about them, or any money, very much at all. She is the daughter of a prominent, high-ranking military official and went from there to be the wife of another one, so she has never had to worry about such things. I don’t think she’s particularly materialistic, but I also think she’s pretty used to never being limited by money. Again, I want classism to be a big theme in these stories, so this part of her needs to come into conflict with the characters around her that haven’t been so fortunate.

Moreover, she’s in control of her money. As a widow, nobody has power over it but her. That is a MAJOR feminist issue– women with financial resources of their own have a great deal more agency and independence than those who don’t. This casts her in sharp contrast to most women in her society, and those are the sorts who will need her help the most. Her lack of strong consciousness about the privilege that gives her could be an interesting source of drama when she encounters those not as fortunate as her. This could even include Mary, who despite her closeness and growing importance to her mistress, is still her maidservant, still massively less privileged and in a strongly subordinate position.

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Mrs. Hawking’s radical versus Mary’s intersectional feminism

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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.