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In the coming weeks, actress Mila Kunis and actor Paul Rudd are slated to receive the Woman and Man of the Year awards from the Hasty Pudding Theatricals. In receiving this award, they will be joining the ranks of the amazing artists who won it before them, including Meryl Streep, Samuel L. Jackson, and Neil Patrick Harris. Their names will be etched on a plaque along with those of Octavia Spencer and Ryan Reynolds. They will be celebrated and lauded in joyous events.
However, they should not accept these awards.
When the Hasty Pudding Theatricals had its first show in 1844, Harvard was still all-white and all-male. Eventually, all-male Harvard merged with all-female Radcliffe, and in the same decade, the Pudding began allowing women into creative, musical, administrative, and technical aspects of the production. But today, the cast of the Hasty Pudding Theatricals remains all-male, standing as one of the most prominent vestiges of Harvard’s prior institutional discrimination.
This is one of the Pudding’s many problems. Every year, the Pudding produces an extravagant production with professional staff. It runs like a Broadway show, with a crowded performance schedule for five weeks. Performers have access to the Pudding’s extensive alumni network, and the group has gone on week-long trips to New York City and Bermuda. No other organization on campus comes anywhere close to providing these benefits and opportunities for female performers.
Opponents of opening the cast to all genders frequently tell us women to make our own club, but just as the formation of Radcliffe in addition to Harvard was insufficient, creating our own organization would also not be enough. The Pudding has the benefit of a 170-year head start in history, membership, and money that no new club could match. We are being denied tangible benefits and opportunities. We are also being, as Kunis so eloquently put it in her 2016 essay on gender inequity in the film industry, “sidelined, creatively ignored… and otherwise diminished based on [our] gender.” To entirely exclude a gender from even part of the organization is blatant discrimination.
Some claim that men in drag are simply funnier than women in drag, but this argument ignores women’s capacity for comedy (see Melissa McCarthy as Sean Spicer or Kate McKinnon as Jeff Sessions). There is no plausible “real differences” argument on which to exclude us based on talent or ability. We are trained, skilled, and dedicated, and we would be major assets to the production.
Even when we prove our abilities in auditions, the Pudding often counters our protests with the argument that having men in drag is their "artistic trademark." This is another of the Pudding’s many problems. Performing in drag was once common because acting was not considered a career suitable for a lady. It was also common in American minstrel shows, in which white male performers atrociously mocked black women for laughs.
Today, drag serves as an important form of gender and artistic expression for members of the LGBTQIA+ community. A bunch of college men in dresses using women as a punchline does not do so. Having men play stereotypical ditzy, damsel-in-distress characters for laughs is not gender expression but a farce. The drag itself that the Pudding champions as its trademark is misogynistic and transphobic, and it has no place in the artistic community.
Some might claim that my language is too strong or that I should not care so much about such a small organization. But now is a time of reckoning. Perpetrators of gender violence are being exposed and discredited. Institutions that reinforce gender discrimination are being questioned and fractured. With the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements gaining momentum and popularity, we must not forget the little folks. Finally tearing down barriers in the Pudding will not solve gender discrimination in this country, but we cannot ignore its cumulative effects. If every explicitly all-male group welcomed women with open arms, then even the de facto all-male institutions—the United States presidency, for example—will eventually do the same.
Then one day, we will have a culture that truly respects and values women for all their facets.
Everyone has a role to play in this.
To the undergraduate members: Be good allies. Fight for us. The fastest way to tear down unjust institutions is from the inside.
To those who are keeping us out: This is not a phase. We are not whiny girls who will stop throwing a temper tantrum when we tire. There is an injustice, and we will not stop until it is fixed. We are in this for the long haul. We will not tire.
To Kunis and Rudd: Heed the words you, Kunis, wrote in your essay.
Do not “play by the rules” of all-male groups.
Do not be “complicit.”
Do not accept this award.
Liz P. Kantor ‘18 is a Molecular and Cellular Biology concentrator in Dunster House.
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