Sickness and Sexuality: Feminism and the Female Body in Age of Arousal and Chronic

By Scott, Shelley | Theatre Research in Canada, Spring 2010 | Go to article overview

Sickness and Sexuality: Feminism and the Female Body in Age of Arousal and Chronic


Scott, Shelley, Theatre Research in Canada


A close comparison between two of Linda Griffiths's most recent plays, Chronic and Age of Arousal, yields a surprisingly rich, inter-textual exploration of the relationship between feminism, female sexuality, and a certain medical conceptualization of the female body. In my 2000 review of Griffiths's plays, I noted that "[Griffiths] is fascinated with the epic, with larger-than-life characters that allow us to grapple with their relevance to our lives" (Scott 84). Her characters are always struggling to have some larger significance, each within her own context; she "draws connections between the particularities of her character's situation and its larger resonances and implications" (Scott 88). Griffiths acknowledges this common thread when she explains, "My concentration on the sexual lives of women in Age of Arousal is part of a continuing exploration of the relationship between sex, politics and emotions" ("Flagrantly" 137).

The exploration in Chronic and Age of Arousal is rooted in an intense preoccupation with the female body as a site of social conflict, beginning with the spectre of sickness and its etiology, whether somatic, psychological, or social. In the nineteenth century of Age of Arousal, women are socially defined by their "natural" reproductive role, which, it is believed, makes them vulnerable on many levels and susceptible to nervous conditions and diseases. In the twenty-first century of Chronic, the central female character is well aware of this historical dismissal of a woman's right to understand her own body and the denigration of her perspective, and she thus feels entitled to demand a biological rather than a psychological explanation for her mysterious ailment. In both contexts, the meaning of the personal experience is inextricably social. As Rebecca Hyman has argued in reference to the feminist response to Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS), "the rhetoric surrounding nervous disease cannot be detached from larger debates about the modern self (189). The notion of a modern self, particularly the self as expressed and experienced physically, leads in both plays to a seemingly contradictory pairing: the power of illness and the power of sexual agency. It is the task of this paper to bring these two strands together and to examine the larger social implications of what Griffiths seems to be working through with her characters. Through the example of Chronic and Age of Arousal, these two threads--female incapacity and female sexual power--are considered as potential obstacles to the possibility of alliances between women.

Chronic, which premiered in Toronto at the Factory Theatre in January of 2003, and Age of Arousal, which premiered in Calgary at the Alberta Theatre Projects playRites Festival in February 2007, would not appear to have much in common. (1) However, Griffiths's plays all tend to have certain points of comparison, particular thematic elements that run through her whole body of work. For example, in his introduction to Chronic, Jerry Wasserman compares it to the play before, Alien Creature, in 1999. While Wasserman cautions, "I don't want to push these parallels too hard," he notes that "[a] long with the virtuoso writing that characterizes all her plays appear certain common structural and thematic qualities." For example, "her central figure is almost always a woman engaged in a struggle for power" (iii). In Chronic and Age of Arousal, the central characters in each play, Petra and Rhoda, are single women in their mid-thirties, engaged in white-collar professions dominated by men--in Rhoda's nineteenth-century context, the secretarial world, and in our own, the high tech realm of computer programming. Their struggle for economic independence, in a non-traditional field and in a changing social climate, is key to both plays.

Chronic is set in an unnamed urban centre that one might assume to be Toronto, particularly given the centrality of that city to the high tech "dot com" phenomenon of the 1990s.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Sickness and Sexuality: Feminism and the Female Body in Age of Arousal and Chronic
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.