During her teenage years, Evleyn Mok protected her hymen with ‘a ninja-like focus’. Such candid humour effervesces throughout her show Hymen Manoeuvre. Mok weaves a multi-stranded show around her heritage, generational differences, sex, body shaming, and the personal/political intersections of institutionalised racism, classism and sexism. In the intimate setting of Bunker 1 (Pleasance), Mok losing her virginity at twenty-five is the story tussled into the foreground with plenty of awkward interaction with male audience members. Mok repeating the word ‘vagina’ or ‘my vagina’ feeling palpably radical to some.
And there it is - the discomfort that some may feel at a woman of colour speaking about her vagina a lot, giving a detailed description of her breasts out of a bra, preferring cake to her ‘first time’, shrieking a little, taking up space like she is meant to be there, being funny and maybe - more disruptive in a comedy show - not being funny…
Mok’s writing upends expectations. She critiques racist, sexist, fat-phobic stereotypes by teasing, unravelling and morphing them. More often than not, after a story that sees her bemused, abused or disempowered, her punchlines land the agency firmly back in her hands. This feminist act of claiming power is one in need of tireless repetition to counter the daily aggressors - the manspreaders, the revenge porn video senders, the stand up comedians who spill the beans to their other stand up mates about sleeping with a 25 year old virgin, these mates who then make comedy routines about it…The latter happened to Mok. Her intimacies and right over them became appropriated into someone else’s material.
Patriarchy teaches girls to be nervous that boys will be trading secrets about them i.e. school gossip or sexting made public. Women are taught simultaneously to guard our bodies for fear of humiliation but loosen them up just the right amount for male pleasure. Mok’s is the too familiar tale of public shaming and Hymen Manoeuvre could be seen as Mok’s way of wrestling back control and making sure people hear her experiences on her own terms.
As she hurtles us through her autobiography, what opens up is patriarchy’s messages that there is something essentially shameful about the female form and female pleasure. It seems to be only some time after losing her virginity, that Mok asks herself if she had good time. She did not. The suppression of talking about female pleasure within sex education and wider media accompanies the shame many girls and women feel about their bodies. What’s more, female bodies frequently become funny - something to draw ridicule from and, as in the case of Mok, this humour is leveraged to assert male social power.
Oppressive power structures take so much multi-stranded work to undo. In tales that continually resist collapse into any singularity, we glimpse the burden of this effort. She wonders whether by making the show she is indulging in her shame. She shares the incessant, looping questions she has about someone’s intentions when she first encounters them. At times, there is a sharpness to her tone and the room is silent. The shield of her wit sometimes slips and we as audience are sitting quietly with someone un-filtering themselves and letting us in. Maybe to be this funny and defiant, you have to cut close to your own bones.
- Alexandrina Hemsley
Links relevant to this diagnosis:
The Pleasure Principle - International Woman’s Health Coalition
Eight Women Of Color Comedians on Sexism, Racism and Making People Laugh - Wear Your Voice