The promise of anonymity has always been essential to medical and social science research, recognising the often-sensitive and invasive nature of questions asked of subjects whose life experiences (and often traumas) are being recorded and annotated for the benefit of society. In Manwatching, a work-in-progress monologue, written by an anonymous woman, and performed by an unprepared male comic (who receives the script live on stage), anonymity serves a number of functions. At first glance, the anonymity of the female writer protects her from being identified with the sensitive subject matter (female sexuality, masturbation and the darkness of sexual fantasies), but very quickly extends into a much more politically potent intervention: it matters less who the author is, and matters more that any woman telling this story would be less considered than a man telling the same story. Armed with some recent research that demonstrates how women’s voices are less heard than men’s (which seems quite unsurprising but still unsettling), Manwatching extends to a conversation about science and medicine not only because of its meditation on female sexuality and female sexual behaviour, but because it reminds us to be critical of the sources that we listen to, trust, and where bias might be hidden.
The world of science and research is laden with double blind studies and peer reviewed journals, but which voices are silenced, and if one voice doesn’t make it through these extensive processes for any reason, should they be discounted? Of course, these processes are in place to avoid false reporting or unevidenced research, but we are still conditioned only to trust certain voices. Are they only using certain tones? Certain words? Spoken with certain accents? Manwatching challenges an audience to look at the message despite the messenger.
In terms of Manwatching’s take on female sexuality, the anonymous writer talks about the very real conflicts between sexual fantasy, a world dominated by misogynistic and violent pornography, and feminist movements, all of which put pressure on women in different ways. Coupled with society’s inability to talk about female pleasure and sexual habits – without instantly turning into a medical conversation (as just happened with the flibanserin controversy) – Manwatching follows in the footsteps of sexual health researchers (Masters & Johnson, Kinsey and more whose objects/research are currently exhibited at the Wellcome’s 'Institute of Sexology', and also discussed in Masters of Sex with Lizzie Caplan) who have tried to open up conversations about sex and, particularly, female sexuality, in hopes of making the world a place where pleasure is accessed more equitably. (BL)
Earlier/Later, programmed by Paines Plough
10-21 August (various dates)
Venue is wheelchair accessible, please confirm other access needs with venue.
Voices of men
On Flibanserin, and recent controversy
Wellcome Collection’s Institute of Sexology
Masters of Sex
On Tearoom Trade and controversial ethics of ‘anonymous’ sex research