Leighton Meester pens feminist essay

ANNIE STEVENS
Last updated 05:00 18/07/2014
leighton meester
Reuters

SPEAKING UP: The experience of playing a woman who doesn't have a name, and who dies without anybody really caring, has been a difficult one for Leighton Meester.

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You might have written a searing book report in year 10 on John Steinbeck's classic American novel Of Mice and Men about the struggles of two migrant men, and friends against the world - George Milton and gentle giant Lennie Small - drifting from farm to farm in search of work, and dreaming of having their own during the Great Depression in the 30s.

The play is currently being staged on Broadway starring Chris O'Dowd (Lennie Small) and James Franco (George Milton) along with former Gossip Girl Leighton Meester who plays the unnamed wife of Curley, the threatening son of the ranch owner where they find work. 

For Meester, who wrote a well-received feminist essay/book report for The Huffington Post, the experience of playing a woman who doesn't have a name, and who dies without anybody really caring, has been a difficult one. Namely that the book, the play and the audience posit Curley's wife as "asking for it" (her death and also her general hatred) because she was a "tart", an issue that depressingly tinges conversations around the treatment of women today. 

"If this woman is purely a victim, why is she so hated? And if she is truly harmless, why is she so threatening? Without question, it was a commentary on the social climate at the time, which still surprisingly applies today," writes Meester in the piece for The Huffington Post. 

And Meester, who has labelled herself a feminist in the past is right on this - women are feared and despised all around the world. Look at the atrocities happening in India, look at the way a 16 year-old girls' rape went 'viral' and try to think otherwise. 

Most troubling for Meester is the reaction of the audience to her character's death.

"The final, eerie moment of her life is often accompanied by the uproar of laughter. She is violently shaken, rendered lifeless. It doesn't seem to get less painful for me, less terrifying, less tragic with time, yet our unusually young audience seems unfazed, if not amused by the savage act. Perhaps it's the only response that comforts them in an awkward or tense moment. Curley's wife's dead body lies still on the floor as Candy spits at her, 'You goddamned tramp, you done it didn't you? Everybody said you'd mess things up, you just wasn't no good.' And again, the audience cracks up."

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Each night the curtain opens, writes Meester, she is reminded of the fate of this lonely woman - and others like her,

"Yet somehow, each time I enter the stage, as I'm faced with the audience who laughs or sneers, I'm struck with the loneliness that I can only imagine a woman like Curley's wife must feel - the desperation for conversation, respect, and above all, dignity. Each time, I'm caught off-guard when I lose it."

Read Meester's full essay at The Huffington Post

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