Women of the Resistance - with Jehan, Part II
M: Do you think Jypsy’s Performing Arts was influenced by Muslim culture and community? I mean, from the outside, it looks like you pendulum swung the opposite direction, but I suspect it’s a little more complicated and integrated than that.
J: Hmmm, probably. I didn’t model it, and I never thought I was doing that, but yeah, of course, it’s there. But I also grew up in a lot of female only circles besides church. I was on the first all women’s Taekwondo competitive team. There’s not a lot of women doing that, but in our case, it was just an accident. There were five girls at that gym who stuck with it and wanted to start competing. So it was just like, I guess this is the team, cause that’s whose here, who's coming three times a week, in order to make a team. So, we didn’t intentionally try to do that, but it just happened. Yes, we had a male coach, but yeah, whatever. So there’s that. Growing up Muslim, we were separated in lots of ways and of course I went to all girls’ camps. But you know, I also went to Webb, and even though there are boys and girls on that campus, you have separate classes. Or at least you used to. It was all girls until senior year, and in my English classes, we read all these feminist books and we got to discuss them in a group of young women, all the same age, with a female teacher, which is really empowering and really unusual. So, I was always surrounded by groups that were mainly women. And then when I went to college, I was in the women’s ensemble theatre troupe, it’s so natural for me. I mean, I had so many positive experiences with women, I was floored when I heard women doing shitty things. I was like, what??? Women don’t do those things! Women don’t do shitty things! I seriously had never seen girls or women behave like that.
M: Women sometimes have a scarcity mentality when they’re around men, because they’re taught a man is a prize and you have to compete against other women for them. I mean, most women are taught that a man is necessary, and she has to find a way to acquire one, which is sometimes at the expense of other women. I know you’ve never competed for a man, but apparently it’s a thing. Are there other ways you see yourself as part of the resistance?
J: I know for one, the biggest thing is the resistance in day to day things. It doesn’t have to be a rally. It’s the little choices you make for your life in general. Like, how am I running my business? Where is my money going and how? And why. I think about this a lot. I want my business to reflect my values.
M: Like how you allocate resources?
J: Sure. I mean I took my money out of the banks and put it in credit unions, but it’s more than that. It’s about who I’m employing and how I treat them. I want to be in a position where I provide space for women to do what they do best. I have teachers here who are really talented and I want to create a space that empowers them. And the same thing with doing our shows, you know? The way we invite people in our community in and it's amazing how much we can do by just accepting what each person can bring. In this space, I’m allowing other people to flourish, which is a big thing. Allowing people to teach workshops and supporting other women in business. I mean, women in business is a really interesting topic to me. I think a lot about how progressive we say we are, but how little women know about business.
J: I’ve noticed that there’s a whole different way women few business. Very few women who run businesses who are doing so full time. They are almost always side businesses. It’s not the norm that women are running businesses to support their children. I was watching this TED talk the other day about how women aren’t taught to take risks. It’s like we have to be successful, or just don’t try it. There’s huge pressure in that. I think, wait a second, there’s men out there who are the sole support for the family, with a wife whose whole job is to raise the children, and he is supporting the kids and her and himself and he does it all while taking a risk. And women don’t do that.
M: Well, to be fair, it’s largely that the men doing that have a woman caring for their kids, and the women who are supporting children have to be home to cook dinner or make sure the kids to their homework and have clean clothes. I mean, they can’t just leave for a few days to secure a business deal. They’re doing the caregiving.
J: Yeah, but we’re not taught to take enough risk. Men take risks all the time. I feel we have a long way to go in this. Not that I see women are victimized. There’s a lot of women who play the martyrdom card. It’s not that. It’s that we have to take a risk to find creative ways to change the nature of business. It’s like we’re two steps away from being empowered and just not looking at the other side of the coin yet.
M: How are you empowered?
J: Well, with our shows, the idea behind them, is I get to be really sneaky with my messages. I never come out and say what my statement is. But I believe if you’re a good enough artist, everyone should just get it. I mean why did we do a show called Mirage last year? Where we had this glorious desert scene and we just celebrated all this amazing beauty of middle eastern cultural influences? I mean, with the travel ban and all this ugliness, and the attitude toward Muslim people, I just felt so sick. I mean, that’s my people, that’s my family, that’s my extended family. Sometimes I forget about that, and then I think, wait, that’s me, that’s me they’re talking about. That wasn’t a coincidence. We did a show that gave people a chance to really feel it in their gut. I have a producer I’ve worked with, named Bobby Burlesque, and he gave me this piece of advice I’ve run with, that if you want to hit your audience on all five senses if you want to make an impact. And I thought yes, I’m going to do that. I’m going to make them feel this. So, we burned the sandalwood and we had the musicians and served the food and had the performances so you could feel it in every sense of your body. And it may not be very direct, but 3-6 months later, you might be reading this article about whatever racist bullshit is going on and you wonder why you feel so strongly about this, why you're so angry and it’s because you’ve really experienced the culture, really felt it, and you enjoyed it and owned it and it’s in your blood and it becomes your culture too and you just feel it. I always have this inner purpose with these shows. Yes, I want to empower my performers and the community, but apart from the individual experience, there’s always an experience on the macro level as well, about what I’m saying about society as a whole. All my shows are like this. We have to be solid in who we are, but also contribute in a broader way toward a new way of doing things.
M: What’s this next show about?
J: Mutiny came up because I just got fed up at a point, like I just felt, this is ridiculous, that it’s all just de-evolving and what if we just said, we’re done with all this? I mean, culturally, why are we obsessed with pirates? Because there’s a part of us that is obsessed with rebelliousness, and pirates do that. They literally reject the laws and the formal speech patterns and even the land. It's a rejection of society on every single level. And there’s an innate attraction for many of us to the idea that pirates create their own societies, and the nature of it was actually very multicultural, and they did create their own societies and that’s what we’re doing here. I mean, I’ve rejected what I’ve been told about business and we all come together here, from every socioeconomic background and we are coming together and working together, a bunch of displaced people trying to find a home. I think about how there’s a huge theme of that going on in society right now. What if our pirates are a refugee situation? We're putting a positive creative spin on that, offering people a little seed, getting people to think about what it’s like not to have a home, what its like when you’ve been rejected by everyone else. And I want to say with our shows, you can come watch and say, oooh, fun pirate show, and go home. But some people will pick up on one layer and some others two or three and you can just take on whatever you’re ready to take on when you see it. When you're ready, change will happen.