War Paint: Transcript

TRENAE: Quick heads up: Today’s episode of Mouthful deals with issues of sexual harassment and and contains explicit language.

[Theme Music]

TRENAE: From Philadelphia Young Playwrights, this is Mouthful. I'm Trenae Nuri. Every week, we'll be having a complicated conversation with a young person about the things that matter to them, things they have written about and shared on stages across the city. And then we will go out into the community and talk to teens, adults, experts anyone who can broaden the conversation.

You never really know what people are going through just by looking at them. Some of us have gone through traumatic experiences and have bottled up emotions for years. And simply telling a close friend, parents or even a school administrator isn’t always easy especially when they don’t believe you.  

In that case, where would you turn?

DORI: I was just kind of angry and writing it really is the best way to get your anger.

TRENAE: That’s Dori Hoffman. Her monologue “War Paint” is the inspiration for today’s complicated conversation about sexual harassment.

DORI: My teacher said write about something you feel passionate towards and so I wrote about that.

TRENAE: Many young people, like Dori, are saying #MeToo, in fact Dori wrote her monologue before the movement. But first, let’s listen to “War Paint” performed by Donovan Lockett, live at the 2018 Mouthful Monologue Festival.

ACTOR (DONOVAN): When I walk into battle, I smear colors across my face, hiding my fear and pretending that my cheeks are Picasso’s canvas. As long as my skin is covered, I can’t be hurt or scarred. Bullets bounce off of my arms and my legs and my hands and my heart and all I feel is a slight earthquake and once I stand up and dust myself off, I know there is nothing broken- just a little internal disarray.

So when I see you, I dip my hands into buckets filled with every color of the rainbow. I press my palms to my forehead, to my eyelids, and to my lips and only then, once every part of me has been protected, am I able to walk past you.

That doesn’t stop my ears from listening as you describe my ass, my boobs, the way I walk, the things you’d do to me if you had the chance- but of course you knew that. See, we make eye contact, you and I. We make eye contact every. single. time. And I hope, with every colored particle within of me, that you not only catch a glimpse of the rainbow on my face, but that you’re blinded by it. My war paint doesn’t leave survivors. It’s the baddest bitch in town and has more resilience that you ever will. It takes back the pieces that have somehow been stolen from me- the curve of my hip, the crease in my elbow, the indentations above my collar bones- they become mine again.

Van Gogh only sold one painting in his lifetime and it became famous after he died- those 8j99 other paintings sat in the dark but he didn’t care. The art was for him, not for the people on the street who would take it and tear it apart, fiber by fiber. My stained hands and neck aren’t for you. They’re for me. My war paint is for when I look in the mirror and need to be reminded that my loudest battle cry is letting iridescent shades of anger, defiance, and self respect spill out of my mouth in abstract patterns and shapes in all different colors my colors. Because guess what. I’m strong.

It’s an echoing voice that tells the world that I’m more than just an ass. Or boobs. Or the way my hips move back and forth. And most importantly, my war paint lets you know that I don’t mess around because you’ll never have a chance to do anything with me. When I walk into battle, I make sure you know that I mean business.

[Transition Music]

TRENAE: Mouthful producer Mitchell Bloom caught up with Dori to talk about her monologue.

MITCHELL: Tell me a little bit about your monologue. Why did you write it?

DORI: I ended up writing it in November. And that was when my... I got basically sexually harassed in eighth grade and in November this year is when I found out that he was the kid was sent home from a school like a school abroad thing and ended up getting expelled because of something he had done to another girl not because of me. So I was essentially at the beginning part of the writing process. And then I ended up continuing writing it because I was just kind of angry and writing it really is the best way to get your anger. And I wasn't really allowed to talk about it in school.

MITCHELL: So that happened when you were in eighth grade and you are a... 

DORI: Junior.

MITCHELL: When you say you weren't allowed to talk about it at school. What do you mean?

DORI: Like I was literally told by the teacher in 8th grade by the guidance counselor. Like don't talk about it. She basically was like like try to empathize and try to see where he's coming from. The first question I was asked was like what were you wearing? And second I was like you should empathize with him. And then like I was really kind of told not to bring it up again. And then I was in 10th grade. Some guys in my grade started giving me some problems. And I told my she like my high school guidance counselor at the end of tenth grade and I was like hey like this is kind of what  went down this year. Is anything you can do. Because like in eighth grade nothing was done and she said no that I would have to like be embarrassed almost to come forward and tell the entire grade what happened instead of like she's like we can't deal with behind the scenes you have to come forward he can't at all. And so I was like oh my god. Now the first time I was told that I can talk about this time I was told that I can really really talk about it and embarrass myself and get really uncomfortable or not talk about it. And I was like I'm just not going to say anything because I was told not to say anything. So.

MITCHELL: So when your monologue got picked and this is what was about. How did that make you feel.

DORI: It's like a weird feeling I guess because like I submitted 7, around there, and it was interesting because like different ones that I wrote touched on different topics. But this one I think was the most close to my heart and it was very validating like knowing hey my writing isn't that bad. Hey, something that I have to say actually matters.

MITCHELL: What was it like to see it performed?

DORI: I was I was really speechless. I didn't actually see the finished product until opening night. It was just it was really awesome to see.

MITCHELL: So in the monologue when you say "the art was for him" meaning Van Gogh, and not for "people on the street who would take it and tear it apart." Can you explain that to me?

DORI: OK so originally my first draft was like "war paint" is makeup. But I didn't really like that, so it didn't end up being that. But I kept that piece in because like Van Gogh, his intention of artwork, creating artwork, wasn't like "OK I'm going to make money off that" or OK like "this is for everybody else to enjoy my artwork"; it was essentially like this is for me and he kept it in his house, like he didn't let anybody see his artwork. Besides one painting, really, and so it's like it was definitely his painting, his art was just for him it was for like him feeling like he was good. Him loving the artwork, not, not for anybody else. And so I think that that's what super crucial about like like who I am as a person like the things I do I do for me. I'm not a follower. I'm not someone who feels like I need to conform or I need to like change the way I am based on other people's opinions. And that's why I think being quiet about the situation from 8th grade to like now is really hard for me because I'm not someone who normally is willing to just sit and be quiet. 

MITCHELL: What do you hope that people who hear the monologue take away from it?

DORI: I think it definitely depends on the audience. When I talk about it to my friends like I hope that they understand that like first of all that they understand they're awesome and like you know you can do whatever you want. You can't let other people really affect you based on that. Also like a lot of people especially at school definitely feel like they know me when they don't. And a lot of them actually don't really know me. They choose not to know me and I'm very small very very selective grade. And it's like that to kids and most of them have made a decision to you know like not know me. They don't really talk to me and I have like two very very close friends one of whom actually came to see the performance. And then to some other people like I hope you hear it and you're like oh crap no I shouldn't have said those things to her when she was standing there. Maybe I should have made sure she was comfortable. You know I don't know. I just hope different people different things.

MITCHELL: Have you ever had a conversation with with a male peer about about this kind of thing?

DORI: I've talked a little bit about it to my boyfriend and then a little bit about it to my two really close friends who are guys but otherwise really haven't talked about to guys and the people I have talked about it I'm very close to you. So I definitely like ooh I'll beat them out. But I think like I haven't had the chance really to talk about it with people who would give me different opinions besides like I support you.

MITCHELL: So now that this has happened do you do you feel differently about any of that. Or like are you do you feel empowered or emboldened to to talk about it or to address it in a different way than you may have between...?

DORI: A little bit I think because like especially the #metoo movement, which I think I wrote this before the #metoo movement. But because of that. There was like that in my school because of that January. There was a committee and they talked about sexual assault that was created by some of the teachers I wasn't even part of it. And they actually asked me if I would talk to you PYP and like see if I could arrange some kind of thing where the monologue could be read at school or like something could happen where you know they talk about sexual assault. And like it was really interesting because I don't really feel comfortable yet talking about like what happened to me in front of my classmates because a lot of them are super judgmental because I did talk about it in the beginning like people look at me like oh she you know attention attention seeking but it makes me it definitely makes me more aware I think of other people's situations like I'm more empowered to talk about it to other people like maybe not in my school yet, but definitely to people who hear the monologue and look I have a lot of family friends who heard it and like them they asked me what it's about. And I finally feel comfortable to say this what happened in 8th grade and ninth grade and tenth grade. And I may not feel comfortable yet to confront the teacher who said that or both teachers or be able to confront like the students who did it but I definitely feel more comfortable talking about it which is a huge huge help.

MITCHELL: Talk to me about the #metoo movement. How have you received that?

DORI: I think he can be good and it can be bad. And I mean that I love that people are coming forward but it can get it can get dangerous with people who are saying oh she only did this because of me too. You know like she only did something because the movement that's going on. And I think that that's important to recognize that that's not the case like every single person they speak out are doing it for themselves that are doing it for other people around them. And I think that that's important to recognize it's not all your doing it because meeting them like no I'm not I'm not actually because the #metoo movement. And like yes I'm doing it because someone else paved the way to make me feel comfortable but not because someone else did it. I'm doing it right now.

[Transition Music]

TRENAE: When I heard Dori's monologue it immediately made me think of a short film that I saw "Walking Home." It was created by a filmmaker, educator, and activist named Nuala Cabral.

NUALA: A lot of power comes from telling your story just like Dori is doing here.

TRENAE: That's Nuala.

NUALA: The way I came to the movement around street harassment is the film that I made, Walking Home. When I put it online organizers and activists starting using the film in the movement but I wasn’t even aware that there was a movement that a movement existed at the time. When I created that film I didn’t know that that movement existed. And so that was my entry point to activism that was how I became involved once I became aware of the movement um and being involved in that movement um made me feel really empowered.

TRENAE: Here's an excerpt from "Walking Home." Please be advised: some of the language is explicit.

FILM EXCERPT: You see me a woman on the street brown silky legs small breasts long curly hair in a sundress jeans sweatshirt doesn't matter you don't remember me you don't even know me but I know you and I know what's next you grab my arm turn around and stare you say a shouty smile damn sexy you got a fat ass where you going I see you on the phone but can I interrupt you for a minute I'd fuck the shit out of that oh you don't speak well fuck you then I'm sorry Nana yeah I'm still here yesterday I think you remembered me because you called me sister when I was wearing my dashiki but today you call me sexy and wait for me to respond with a blush you expect me to feel honored by your recognition but sexy is not my name so then you ask what's your name like it matters after all a body doesn't need a name.

TRENAE: Nuala's film and Dori's monologue are two voices in what has become an increasingly loud chorus of #metoos. Nuala created “Walking Home” in 2009, and has since dedicated herself to working with youth around many different issues, including consent and street harassment. I knew that she would be able to provide some insights into the issue as well as some practical suggestions for how to confront it and create change.

TRENAE: Can you describe to us or explain to us what you define as street harassment?

NUALA: So I define street harassment as unwanted attention in public space. I think most of us many of us have internalized like well that’s how it is it is what it is. And I think what we’re experiencing in this moment is a cultural shift. People are saying no this isn’t normal this isn’t okay. Sexual harassment, sexual assault is wrong. It needs to stop and we need to talk about it. So we need to provide more opportunities for young people to talk about.

TRENAE: If someone feels like they’re being catcalled or they’re experiencing some kind of street harassment what examples or what can they do to respond.

NUALA: So that’s a great question. We talk a lot about that in the consent workshops. And I think a lot of people are creative about their responses. I was told growing up to ignore it but actually what I’ve found is that ignoring it isn’t always the safest response. The aggression escalates sometimes when you ignore it because I think in those cases the harasser feels you know that their ego is bruised. There’s a lot of different ways that especially women and girls but also members of the LGBTQ community and gender non-binary folks, that we kind of adjust to try to navigate and to try to minimize street harassment. And obviously you know we cross the street or we’ll walk a different route or even police what we wear And I think that we can lift those strategies up but the strategies that um that we also talk about are around bystander intervention so for example if you see someone being harassed and you don’t know them but you want to do something you can pretend that you know them. Physically stay close to what’s happening. You know make eye contact with the person that’s being harassed. You might not feel comfortable intervening and communicating with the person the harasser but you could stay close by and make sure things don’t escalate and when the harasser leaves approach the person who was being harassed and say hey I’m sorry that happened I was watching are you okay? On some level we have to start feeling more responsible for each other, take care of each other and at the very least just show that we care somehow some way.

TRENAE: When should we start teaching young people about this topic?

NUALA: Yeah I think we can start talking to children about consent as soon as they’re able to understand language even for example I know a lot of parents who are now not forcing their children to hug people that they don’t want to hug. You know? And it’s basically you’re teaching them about consent and not shaming children for listening to their inner voice and their body. And so I think that obviously talking about rape and sexual assault to a five year old, that’s a lot, but there are ways to talk about touching for example that can be really important and that can get started at a young age.

I think it’s really critical to raise awareness and educate um I think a lot of time when we do these workshops in high schools in Philly young people are eager to have these conversations because it’s real it’s part of their everyday lives, but they’re not given opportunities to talk to unpack these things in school. A lot of times when we do workshops I lead these workshops around consent and a lot of the feedback that we get from boys in particular is well it’s a compliment what if I’m commenting on her the way she looks it’s because I’m giving her a compliment and I want to talk to her.they’re not thinking about the fact that you don’t know this person. You don’t know what they’ve been through and you’re not entitled to their body or their personal space, period. I think that this idea of this entitlement is something we really need to deal with and it’s connected to a larger it’s connected to patriarchy to rape culture and I think that’s why when we talk about street harassment we’re talking about a symptom of rape culture and we’re talking about a symptom of a culture that minimizes it or excuses rape and sexual violence and gender-based violence and street harassment is a form of sexual violence. Um it’s on the spectrum but I think a lot of times it’s minimized you know oh it’s just a compliment or oh boys will be boys but we’re talking about situations for many girls and non-gender conforming folks who are walking on a daily basis to school or to work they’re experiencing this every day and that shouldn’t be normal that should not be the case. Because I think once and sometimes in our workshops you know once folks understand that this is not okay uh and once they hear from their peers about their experiences you know monologues stories like this a lot of them actually say you know what I actually think that I have harassed people for sure and I’m going to do differently now. And so for me those a ha moments are critical.

TRENAE: Anything else that you want to add about War Paint or about this topic that we might have missed?

NUALA: I just want to also commend Dori for writing this piece um the fact that she is unapologetic about owning her body, doing what makes her feel good what makes her feel comfortable and confident and calling out um calling out this problem so forcefully um I think it’s really powerful I think it’s really inspiring and I hope that it sends the message to her peers in particular any anyone who is listening that we’re not dealing with this anymore. We don’t need to live in this world. Um. And uh you can either be with us or step to the side because there’s a whole movement happening, and we’re saying no. We’re saying me too, we’re not alone, this is not okay, and we want to create a better world where everyone can feel safe walking down the street.

[Transition Music]

MITCHELL: In what ways, from your perspective can we change the culture?

DORI: Honestly I think it's just about making people aware of what of what they're doing. What what part they play in a situation like the kid who in eighth grade. He groped me three times. Like at different points within a month like a couple months and it was in front of everybody. Like he didn't apologize. And I think that all I would have needed like of course you can't heal anything just with an apology. But I think I just needed recognition. Ok I did something wrong and I'm sorry. I think that that's the most important thing that we can change is just like apologizing. And I think that sounds really silly and a lot of people are like oh an apology isn't going to fix anything but I think it really does because I think it just means that the person's acknowledging the fact that you know I screwed up. And that's the only way I think sometimes you can move forward and that's why I think I didn't, I wasn't able to move forward. So it's like I think the thing that we can do to change anything right now is just having people acknowledge something. Yeah.

TRENAE: Dori’s school is holding its first-ever Sexual Assault Awareness Assembly today. Her monologue will be performed as part of the event.

Thanks to Dori and Nuala for the conversations. Be sure to check out Nuala’s “Walking Home” film on YouTube.

What’d you think of today’s episode? Send us a tweet @mouthfulphilly.

I’m Trenae Nuri, thanks for listening.