Proposal Title

Nepantla Meets Penumbra: Resistance to White Neoliberal Feminism in "What the Constitution Means to Me"

Start Date

June 2022

End Date

June 2022

Abstract

In What the Constitution Means to Me, a Tony-nominated play captured for and streaming on Amazon Prime, creator/star Heidi Schreck introduces the word “penumbra” as she grapples with the United States’ history of treating female bodies as liminal sites reminiscent of “nepantla,” the concept of in-between-ness explored principally by Gloria Anzaldúa. The indefiniteness of the Constitution has permitted horrific discrimination, but it is also, Schreck argues, our best hope for a permanent reinvention of intersectional constitutional rights. Using Schreck’s personal experiences and generations of family history, Constitution focuses particularly on reproductive rights and the ways U.S. law has failed to protect women from violence. The play creates a penumbra of its own, speaking through (and acknowledging) its creator’s immense privilege while deliberately aligning itself with the voices of BIPOC women, trans folks, and vulnerable children. Drawing from feminist media studies and critical media industry studies, this paper identifies the feminist theories raised in Constitution and critiques the play’s implicit use of these ideas, noting both successful interventions and opportunities for further (re)engagement with intersectional feminism. I examine Constitution as a conflicted object that, despite its development through predominantly white female producers, distills concepts like covert resistance and inherited trauma, taking viewers into political and legal debates well beyond girlbosses and pussy hats. While still ultimately working within the neoliberal, capitalist framework of contemporary Broadway, Constitution’s exploration of the penumbra/nepantla presents a potential model for attempting resistance to neoliberal feminism within the confines of the historically “Great White Way.”

Bio

Lesley Stevenson is a Ph.D. student in Media & Cultural Studies at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. She received her MA from UW–Madison and her BA from Notre Dame in Film, Television & Theatre and American Studies. Prior to graduate school, Lesley worked in New York for United Talent Agency's theatre department and for NBCUniversal on such shows as "SNL" and "Morning Joe." Her research explores the intersections of identity and labor in the media industries.

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Jun 25th, 10:00 AM Jun 25th, 11:30 AM

Nepantla Meets Penumbra: Resistance to White Neoliberal Feminism in "What the Constitution Means to Me"

In What the Constitution Means to Me, a Tony-nominated play captured for and streaming on Amazon Prime, creator/star Heidi Schreck introduces the word “penumbra” as she grapples with the United States’ history of treating female bodies as liminal sites reminiscent of “nepantla,” the concept of in-between-ness explored principally by Gloria Anzaldúa. The indefiniteness of the Constitution has permitted horrific discrimination, but it is also, Schreck argues, our best hope for a permanent reinvention of intersectional constitutional rights. Using Schreck’s personal experiences and generations of family history, Constitution focuses particularly on reproductive rights and the ways U.S. law has failed to protect women from violence. The play creates a penumbra of its own, speaking through (and acknowledging) its creator’s immense privilege while deliberately aligning itself with the voices of BIPOC women, trans folks, and vulnerable children. Drawing from feminist media studies and critical media industry studies, this paper identifies the feminist theories raised in Constitution and critiques the play’s implicit use of these ideas, noting both successful interventions and opportunities for further (re)engagement with intersectional feminism. I examine Constitution as a conflicted object that, despite its development through predominantly white female producers, distills concepts like covert resistance and inherited trauma, taking viewers into political and legal debates well beyond girlbosses and pussy hats. While still ultimately working within the neoliberal, capitalist framework of contemporary Broadway, Constitution’s exploration of the penumbra/nepantla presents a potential model for attempting resistance to neoliberal feminism within the confines of the historically “Great White Way.”