I thought that concerns of ‘safe spaces’ for college students had long ago been eclipsed by white guilt and the nation’s quest for social justice. But once again, it’s reared its ugly head. This time at Western Washington University. The college’s Theatre Department is planning a performance of “No Exit,” a play written by French philosopher and existentialist Jean-Paul Sartre in the 1940’s.
The plot revolves around three damned souls, one man and two women, who are forced to spend eternity together in a single room in hell. Garcin, the male, emerges as the leader in the room. Estelle tries and ultimately succeeds in seducing Garcin. And Inez, a lesbian, tries to seduce the smitten Estelle, but is rebuffed.
By the end of the play, they realize that this punishment is worse than anything they could have imagined.
Garcin then delivers his most memorable lines: “What? Only two of you? I thought there were more; many more. [Laughs.] So this is hell. I’d never have believed it. You remember all we were told about the torture-chambers, the fire and brimstone, the ‘burning marl.’ Old wives’ tales! There’s no need for red-hot pokers. Hell is — other people!”
A group of students have begun to circulate a petition, which claims that this play is “problematic because it gender stereotypes women and lesbians and puts a man in a quasi-leadership role, which perpetuates patriarchy,” according to The College Fix. So far, they’ve gathered 200 signatures.
It states: “When choosing a play for the upcoming season, there seemed to be a blind spot: gender and sexuality were not considered. We understand that this is a piece that is meant to challenge us as a department, but this play is not challenging if it doesn’t allow us to feel safe.”
It goes on to say that “because it is set from one room in which the characters cannot escape.” They’re supposed to be suffering. They’re in hell.
The group believes it might be too “mentally taxing for the community to watch. Especially if we are still in quarantine at that time.”
“This play is not challenging, but instead is reinforcing classical notions of womanhood designed by the patriarchy. … “It is disturbing and unacceptable.”
“The stereotype surrounding Inez is inaccurate and extremely harmful and perpetuates abusive ideals around lesbian-identifying individuals,” it says. “This [is] the wrong kind of queer representation that is very hurtful to LGBTQ+ people in the student theatre community.”
“Plays with depictions of sexual harassment or unwelcome sexual advances are harmful and may reignite feelings of trauma within audience members and students that are watching/working on this piece.”
That gives you the gist of it. The full petition can be viewed here, if you are so inclined.
The College Fix spoke to WWU theatre student Katie Ginther, who began the petition. She tells them, “Gender stereotyping and sexuality stereotyping is just not needed.” The play, Ginther says, “is based upon the idea that women need men, but we don’t.”
Ginther is not sure if the play will actually be performed, but if it is, she told the Fix she “will support students that choose to be in the play.”
The petition asks for the inclusion of “a trigger warning for the audience and sensitivity training for those involved in the production.”
Additionally, it recommends “a female and LGBTQ+ led panel before or after the play that is REQUIRED for all audience members to attend.” [Emphasis in the original].
The cancel culture has come for Jean-Paul Sartre.