Play's the thing to make her point against rape essay

Playwright Cara Blouin took on journalist Dan Rottenberg by staging a play lampooning his recent online column about the sexual abuse of women.
Playwright Cara Blouin took on journalist Dan Rottenberg by staging a play lampooning his recent online column about the sexual abuse of women.
Posted: June 27, 2011

When Cara Blouin sat down to write her new play, she had revenge in mind.

Like many, she had read the "What Should Women Do?" essay in which Philadelphia journalist Dan Rottenberg questions whether some women's behavior makes them more vulnerable to rape.

The article includes a photo of Lara Logan, the 60 Minutes correspondent who was sexually assaulted in Egypt, in an alluring evening gown at an awards dinner in the United States. The caption underneath asks, "What message was the TV journalist Lara Logan sending here?"

Rottenberg's opinion went viral, inviting, in his words, "vituperative" attacks on him. Online outlets such as took him to task.

Like many, Blouin, a local director and writer, was outraged when she saw Rottenberg's essay.

But instead of writing a screed, she went for laughs. Within three days of seeing the essay, which Rottenberg wrote for his online arts publication, the Broad Street Review, Blouin had whipped up her retort, a 30-minute play titled Dan Rottenberg Is Thinking About Raping You.

"I wanted to get everyone in a room where we all affirm for each other that what he said was silly," she said of her play, which was performed for the first and probably only time Saturday night at Plays and Players Theatre on Delancey Street.

The real Rottenberg is on vacation in France. He said in an interview Sunday that he regretted his comments about Logan.

"I think it was insensitive of me to refer to that picture," he said. "She went through a horrific ordeal, and she deserves tremendous sympathy."

But his main point remains relevant, he said.

"I think it's naive for people to place their entire faith in the law or moral codes," he said, "and they should learn to take some precautions."

In an e-mail, Rottenberg also said he hoped his essay would generate "dialogue about male sex abuse and women's responses to it."

Rottenberg has been a figure in the Philadelphia cultural scene for decades. From 1978 to 1997, he wrote an op-ed column for The Inquirer. In the early 1970s, he said, he helped pressure Chicago's four daily newspapers into "reforming their male chauvinist attitudes toward women," including forcing them to stop segregating employment ads by gender.

Rottenberg, 69, promises he will post a "full reply to all the critics on the Broad Street Review site by Tuesday evening."

Coincidentally, his daughter Julie Rottenberg wrote for Sex and the City, a TV show whose female characters were so sexually liberated that some viewers found them unsympathetic.

In Broad Street Review, Rottenberg was responding to an article by SaraKay Smullens, a Philadelphia therapist, about the prevalence of sexual abuse. Smullens praised Logan for speaking up about the problem.

Smullens has known Rottenberg for years, admiring his advocacy on some issues, but his recent stance stunned her, she said.

"Dan has been a very fair editor when I have submitted work to him," she said. "My primary concern about what he wrote is that it could promote the shame and blame of women, something I've spoken out against all my professional life."

She and about 80 others went to Plays and Players to see Blouin's work, which benefited SlutWalk, a group that organizes marches to challenge the idea that it's OK to blame victims of crimes.

Blouin, 32, said fury had propelled her writing.

"It was easy," she said, because she lifted many ideas from his writing. "He wrote most of [the lines] himself."

The play had the character she called Rottenberg present his "Five-Point Plan for the Prevention of Sexual Assault" as if lecturing to a college class or an infomercial audience.

The audience got the joke, laughing loudly and often.

Actor Brendan Norton played the Rottenberg character as a scold and a creep who was also strangely endearing.

"My name is Dan Rottenberg," the actor said. "I'm here to talk to you about an issue that can be really scary to talk about. That issue is female naivete."

The character then presented a series of educational scenes, including an explanation from a scientist (played by Lucas Nguyen) who used a drawing of a well-endowed man to explain that for men, the penis is the dominant organ.

"Wow," the Rottenberg character said. "Looking at this, it's easy to understand why we have no choice but to put it in things and people."

Jennifer MacMillan played an audience member who popped up with questions like this: "You're saying that a man needs to conquer an unwilling sex partner. But I thought my revealing attire meant that I want to be assaulted. How can I truly satisfy men if I'm not truly unwilling? I'm so confused!"

"Don't worry," the Rottenberg character told her. "At the end of the day, it doesn't really matter what you want. It matters what men need."

Contact staff writer Miriam Hill

at 215-854-5520 or


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