Howdy all! Back with another monologue. Generally, the monologues on this site are more-or-less endorsed by the site. However, this week is different. This is a monologue we recommend nobody actually perform.
While diving through Portuguese-language monologues (see A Street Car Named Desire for the fruits of that labor), I discovered the following monologue, which, admittedly, isn’t very good. It is indeed entitled “How to Be a Bitch.”
Don’t do that. Please, put that small box away. Don’t ask me to marry you. Listen, before I met you I was happy to be a slut. People at work considered me a slutty bitch. True. Those people I introduced [to] you as my friends, they were never my friends. They were just afraid of me. I was never the kind of person to say “thank you,” “please” in a restaurant. To be laughing at each other’s jokes. On the contrary, I was always sharp with my tongue, fast in offending people. And now I’m having all these impulses to donate money. Feed the hungry. Hug the poor. Help the elderly cross the streets. Don’t you see? You transformed me into a nice person. And what scares me the most is to think that you gonna open that small box, propose to me, and I might say yes! Shit! I’m gonna say one “yes” and I’m gonna have to be a nice person for the rest of my life. This is terrible! This is awful! The world has plenty of nice people it doesn’t need me. See, I was born this way and I wanna remain this way. It’s who I am. It’s how I recognize myself. Please, do me a favor. I’m not even asking, I’m begging you. Don’t marry me.
And in Portuguese:
“Não faça isso! Não abra essa caixinha de presente! Não me peça para casar com você.
Não posso deixar você fazer isso comigo!
Antes de te conhecer eu costumava ser uma vadia. Verdade! Todos no trabalho me considera-vam uma tremenda piranha. Ninguém realmente gostava de mim. Aquelas pessoas que eu apresentei para você como meus amigos,de facto, não eram meus amigos. Eles estavam com medo de mim!
Antes, eu nunca disse por favor ou obrigado num restaurante. Nunca gargalhei ou sorri das piadas de ninguém. Pelo contrário sempre fui rápida com os insultos e ofensas!
Agora tenho esses sentimentos, esses impulsos para doar a instituições de caridade, distribuir sopa aos sem-teto, dar abraços a pessoas humildes, ajudar velhinhas a atravessar a rua e por aí vai!
Você não vê!?
Você não vê que me transformou numa pessoa agradável!
E o que realmente me assusta é que você vai abrir essa caixa e perguntar-me se eu quero ca-sar com você, e eu vou aceitar, putz! Vou apenas dizer “sim”, e então terei de ser boa alma para o resto da minha vida! Isso é horrível! Péssimo!
Pelo amor de Deus, coloque essa caixa de volta no bolso. O planeta já tem milhões de pessoas agradáveis – ele não precisa de mim! Eu sou uma safada e é assim que quero permanecer … desse jeito!
Não estou pedindo …não!
Estou te implorando:
Por favor … não case comigo!
You don’t have to be a professional translator to know the English version is more like a Reader’s Digest version of the Portuguese.
Women in Portuguese-speaking theatre
Since this monologue is so popular in Brazil (and I suspect was actually originally in Portuguese – more on that later), we should look at the history of women in theatre there. Maria I (known as The Pious in Portugal and The Mad in Brazil – quite an achievement) banned women from the theatre in both countries except for women portraying the Virgin Mary. In 1794 a theatre producer opened a small theatre which indeed had a female performer, but it closed quickly. Only after Napoleon’s invasion of Portugal and the flight of Joaõ VI to Brazil with his court in 1807 did women begin acting regularly on the Brazilian stage. He was ruling as regent for his mother, Maria I. Maybe allowing women on stage was an act of rebellion against mom?
Portugal suffered under the same general ban, but occasionally the government made dispensations. One of the greatest European actresses and singers of the 18th Century, Luísa Todi, only performed once in her home country with special permission. I can’t find specifically when things relaxed in Portugal, but I’m guessing around the same time they relaxed in Brazil.
Women in English-speaking theatre
Women can have it rough finding good roles in theatre. Don’t believe me? Do a Google search. Or go audition for a play with like six male parts and one or two female parts.
In the English-speaking theatre world, this goes all the way back to when women were banned from the theatre. Ever wonder why women make up less than 16% of characters in Shakespeare’s plays? Because little boys played Juliet, Ophelia, Cleopatra and all the other female parts.
Women only began appearing in theatre with the restoration of the Merrie Monarch, Charles II.
Then the breeches role became popular for women. This is where a female character dresses up like a man (i.e. wears breeches) and the audience can see her legs.
To Be a Bitch or Not to Be…
From this bizarre start, things haven’t really progressed much. I asked playwright, producer, published author and podcaster Laurel Myler about this monologue and roles for women in theatre and she had the following insights:
“Characters who are women are not often written as complete characters. Instead, they exist to fill an archetype: the love interest, the nagging wife, the ingénue, the old lady, the vixen, et cetera. Female roles rarely delve much deeper than their surface textual functions. Take the “How to Be a Bitch” monologue for example. Women do not talk like this. Women do not think like this. The character shows little complexity or forethought. It’s a laughable, stale stereotype, and yet I suspect that this monologue might be praised as “bold” or “daring.” A comprehensive examination of female roles in theatre does not yield much different results. This is what women look like in plays. Of course, there are exceptions, and I do think contemporary theatre is trending toward the creation of more engaging, complex roles for women, but it’s hard to unlearn the standard system. I’m a female playwright, and I’m guilty of this kind of characterization myself. I don’t suggest that female characters can’t be unlikable, can’t be the villain, can’t be wrong or in the wrong, or can’t genuinely be bitches. They absolutely can. They absolutely should. But they should also be people.”
Chicago-based playwright Sharai Bohannon echoed her concerns:
“The roles aren’t there because very few theatres are producing work about women. Most theatres still treat the canon like the end all be all so roles for women are still just wives, mothers, mistresses who work more as props in the male narrative. It’s frustrating to watch and mirrors how society treats us (which is why the government keeps trying regulate our bodies).”
To get a performance and pedagogical-based perspective I reached out to prominent director, teacher, intimacy choreographer, choreographer, actor and dancer Nicole Perry She had a lot of insight into this piece. Possibly more than the piece deserves.
“I have a few problems with this monologue. Some from a technical/educational perspective. Some from a feminist/political perspective. I’ll start with technical/educational, as I think that’s a little more objective.
As a high school drama teacher and a coach for competition monologues, something I often see from the young women I work with is the choice of an angry monologue. As women, we’re so often told to be “nice”, “polite”, “act like a lady”, etc. So, getting to play a character that embodies the opposite is refreshing. I get the choice. However, it often doesn’t serve the actor.
This monologue, for example, might seem refreshing at first go. She’s owning her negative qualities. However, this monologue, like so many “angry women” monologues, does not actually empower women. It does not show us a character that is using her voice, to own all parts of herself, to accept all emotions and behaviors she has. She has no self-examination as to WHY she feels these things or WHY she feels threatened by the opportunity to change. Therefore, she’s not making interesting choices. She’s insisting on same-ness, which is not compelling. The character is, frankly, flat. The monologue only has one note or one emotional tone. There is no nuance in this monologue. She does not arouse our curiosity.
She also does not engage our empathy. The most interesting villains are ones that still have some shred of humanity that makes us, as an audience empathizes with them and their choices. To see ourselves in them, and understand, just for a moment, how someone could get there. There is none of that in this monologue. She’s simply hard and cruel. There are plenty of strong female characters out there, who know why they are angry and help us see their side of the story. And, at the end, even if we don’t agree, we empathize. Whether your monologue is for an audition, competition, or show, you want the audience on your side, at least for a moment.
The poor sap with the box though, I feel very badly for that person! I am much more curious about them. How did they fall for her act so long? How did they inspire these feelings of “nice”-ness in her? What are they thinking and feeling right now? If you are an actor, performing a monologue, you likely do NOT want the audience or adjudicators thinking more about the person NOT in the scene than about you. But that’s what happens here.
Speaking of “nice”, that’s just an incredibly vague word. It may have to do with the translation, but “nice” doesn’t really tell me anything. Compassionate, empathetic, helpful, generous, all of these words are better choices and would tell me much more about her state of mind.
Ok. Now. Feminist-wise, this monologue is troubling. The first concern that I have with this monologue is its use of derogatory words for women when it’s written by a man. I am NOT saying men can’t write female characters or that they can’t write women who make bad choices or are even villainous. But, “bitch” and “slut” are really loaded words. For a really great take on this, check out the short play Webster’s Bitch by Jacquline Bircher on New Play Exchange. But, quickly, it’s about defining the word for the dictionary, and who gets to define it, and what it means when a specific person defines it.
“Make no mistake, “bitch” is a gendered insult that has undercut women and reduced them to their sexual function as long as it has existed (Allison Yarrow, 2018.).” Its use in conjunction with “slut” is a bit redundant. But besides bad writing, it is a sexist choice, regardless of the fact that a female character is delivering in the line.
“Slut”, like “nice” doesn’t really mean much. Every person has their own definition of behavior that fits, from wearing a miniskirt and red lipstick to frequent sexual activity. Again, poor word selection, and sexist choices.
In this monologue, a male writer has reduced a female to a sexual definition and contrasted it against her partner (who is genderless, but my gut says intended male), who makes distinct social behavioral choices (gives to poor, feeds the hungry, helps the elderly). It’s not an even playing field: he is a social agent, she is a sexual one.
If you are a female actor wanting an angry monologue to claim those emotions for yourself, or to contrast with a saccharine-sweet character, I understand. But this one isn’t it.”
Despite all the videos attributing this monologue to an English-language writer named Frank Edwards, I can find no evidence Mr. Edwards exists or that it truly was translated from English into Portuguese. Translation credit is given to Aguinaldo Silva, a renowned Brazilian writer.
The source of the monologue seems to be the Facebook page of an arts school named after Mr. Silva. The monologue is also on the homepage. There is a video of an English version of this monologue. My feeling is it was translated out of the Portuguese, but I can’t prove this.
Female performers should not have to subject themselves to inferior/poorly-written roles, especially when it comes to monologues.
Worthwhile female monologues exist, also written by women, including Allison Moore, Tera Meddaugh (and here), Neith Boyce, Ntozake Shange, Alice Gerstenberg, Aurora Rooker, Annie Eliot and Diana Son. All of them are 1,000 times better than How to Be a Bitch.
Portuguese B (she calls him Felipe at the beginning)
Oooh, look how popular!
Thanks for reading/watching and join us next week for more monologues!!!