After a September staged reading of Mae West’s play SEX, during the world famous Frigid Theatre Festival, the audience, cast, director-and an actual sex worker-stayed for an audience ‘talk-back’. Of course much was made of the current state of misogyny in the U.S. election (though the recent revelations about Trump, Billy Bush and grabbing women by certain body parts had yet to come out), but the debate about how Miss West fit into the definition of what is feminism today mostly raged full steam ahead in the conversation.
Labeling someone a feminist, (as much as conversely labeling them a misogynist, or akin to tagging someone a racist) is a subjective call at best. But if that person doesn’t fall into those modern subjective definitions of a word, it doesn’t mean they weren’t one of these things ‘back in the day,’ even if they did not declare themselves one. At the NYC SEX ‘talk-back’ it was postulated that since West seemingly seemed to know so much of the world of sex workers, and her history is sketchy for a time after she left vaudeville before landing in Hollywood in her 4o’s, that the lady might have been a prostitute herself.
Like Catherine the Great, who we feature in an exhibit presently, West might have simply been a woman who explored, and yes, maybe even exploited her femininity in the way she wished. West was every bit a ‘ruler’ of her environs, an actress, singer, playwright, screenwriter, comedian, with a career spanning seven decades and by the mid 1930’s not only the highest paid woman in the U.S., but the 2nd highest paid person in America.
How’s that for a feminist?
And in the end does it even matter if we label Miss West or that great Catherine a feminist? Couldn’t it be enough they were smart and seemingly very capable people who made a mark on history in the way they wanted?