Alternatively, Woman.


An actor is a theatrical performer, one who represents a character in a dramatic production, or one who behaves as if acting a part (1). But suppose there is an actor who is a woman. What will she be called? For certainly she is quite different from a male actor, in the same way that an actor who is also an astronomer is quite different from an actor who knows nothing of the stars. Naturally, we would call the former an actronomer. Similarly, an actor who is a child is a chactor, and an actor who has never before had sexual intercourse is an actin. It only makes sense.

Therefore, it follows that we should call a woman actor an actress. That way, a waiter who is a woman can be a waitress, a prince who is a woman can be a princess,  and so on. Yes, I think we’ve stumbled upon something great.

But, wait! What if an actor is a child and also a woman? Which takes precedence? Is she a child actress or a woman chactor? I guess she could be a chactress…  Yes, that works. Phew! Problem solved.

Oh, but see, if we have an actor who is also a musician (an actician, obviously), how could a woman be one? For then she would have to be an actressian, and… Well, I suppose that works. And if she were also a child? A chactressian. Good, good. Perhaps we worried too soon.

But what shall we call the woman version of an African American, elderly, upper middle-class, educated, adopted, single-parent, actor? An Aframeldupmidedopsingparactress? No, no, that’s ridiculous. That sounds like a dinosaur.

Why is this not working anymore? Are we making it too complicated? Let’s take a step back here and remember why we were doing this in the first place: To identify differences. Yes, to distinguish one actor from another actor, based on the characteristics they have.

Perhaps rather than making compound words, we could create entirely new ones! That would be much simpler! That way, someone who is gay and also a woman can be called a lesbian, to distinguish them from gay men, who don’t need their own noun, because they’re already gay.

Sooooo, an actor who is a woman can be called a… Oh, who are we kidding? It will take way too long to come up with all these words and nobody will want to memorize them all! But how else are we to distinguish between different kinds of actors?

Perhaps we ought to narrow that down a little. To make it less complicated, let’s only identify the differences which are relevant to being an actor! Yes, yes, of course. That makes perfect sense. Why didn’t we think of that before?

In which case…let’s see… an actor who is a child is certainly a different kind of actor, for he would have far less experience and would therefore not act as well as an adult! So chactor works!

But no, not necessarily. For just as there can be child prodigies in music, so can there be child prodigies in acting. Natural talent must be taken into account, regardless of experience! In addition, an adult actor may begin acting as an adult, and would therefore have the same amount of experience as a child actor. Perhaps they would act the same way! So perhaps age is not a relevant enough determinant.

But then, what is? Any of the characteristics stated above could affect one’s acting, but by definition, they do not necessarily. Why must we distinguish differences at all? Perhaps this is a pointless endeavor.

Let’s stick to identifying gender. That seems relevant. Good, then, we’re agreed! An actor can be of any age, race, class, level of education, or other status, but must be male unless specifically identified otherwise, in which case she must be called an actress. Case closed.

I can only guess at the philosophical train of thought which landed us a language in which man is the default.

I can only guess at the philosophical train of thought which landed us a language in which man is the default.

1. Merriam Webster’s Online Dictionary definition of “actor.”


2 responses to “Alternatively, Woman.

  1. First of all, I appreciate (again) that many of your posts are thematically centered around children. Which makes sense in a broader understanding of gender, acceptance and projections of self. In this post you focus on labels and the desire of people to feel as though they need to label, or quantify the type of actor a person is perceived as. I think the truth lies in literature. (Oronooko the royal slave, by Behn comes to mind first) People need to feel comfortable with whatever it is they are engaging with. It is how they relalate to or, connect with a person, or concept. It stems, I think, from fear and insecurity. It is why typically people ask basic questions upon first introductions. What do you do? Where are you from? What activities do you enjoy? Where do you live? Its too asess commonalities and depending on the response, they are able to effectively create a persona based on their cultural perspectives and experiences. I think you raise a great question. Patriarchy is the standard language. The inprinted stereotypes and compartments which we so easily place people in were established long ago from a very narrow, male privileged lens. Presenting these oxymoronic scenarios are vital to open up an intelligent dialogue that will remind us to rethink or question everything we have been told.

    • I’m so glad you agree! I was inspired after learning about the post-modern approach to feminism in Women’s Studies today… 😉

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