I have been working on Rodgers and Barer's "Shy" in my Musical Theater class. I initially chose it as a challenge, because I do tend to present as vulnerable and sensitive onstage, and I wanted a song that would force me out of that mold in a big way.
It is turning out to be tremendous fun, both for me and for my teacher and classmates, and I think we are going to include it in the end-of-year performance. I like getting in touch with a loud, brash part of myself that doesn't often find voice in my everyday life.
After reading this post, though, I have been reflecting on exactly why a strong, aggressive woman is such a hilarious theatrical phenomenon. Of course, part of the song's appeal is that Winifred keeps insisting on her meekness, but that isn't all of it. I have been imagining the song sung by a man, and it just doesn't work. No matter how conventionally "masculine" and bold the actor might be, we would take at face value his assertion that he is "actually terribly timid and horribly shy," because why would a man make such an embarrassing admission unless he was so tormented he couldn't hold it in? That wouldn't be funny. But a woman, especially a princess, is supposed to be sensitive and restrained, and what is comical is that she isn't but (of course) wants to believe, and wants us to believe, that she is.
I can't live my life worrying about the feminist implications of everything I do; I would be paralyzed and joyless. This is a terrific song and I am enjoying it to the hilt. But I think it is important to look at the assumptions that often underlie "innocent and harmless" entertainment.
Susan O'Doherty, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist with a New York City-based practice. A fiction writer herself, she specializes in issues affecting writers and other creative artists. She is the author of Getting Unstuck without Coming Unglued: A Woman's Guide to Unblocking Creativity (Seal, 2007). Her Career Coach column appears every Monday on Inside Higher Ed's Mama, Ph.D. blog, and she is a regular guest panelist on Litopia After Dark. She can be reached at Dr.Sue at mindspring dot com.