Dr Carnesky's Incredible Bleeding Woman // Carnesky Productions

On Monday 21 August, the new moon passed in front of the sun and a partial solar eclipse was visible from Edinburgh before the sun set (clouds aside). Ironically, perhaps, for a show about menstrual cycles and lunar rituals, Dr Carnesky's Incredible Bleeding Woman had a day off on Monday. But perhaps the power of the new moon temporarily conquering the sun would make it too dangerous to perform, anyway.

In this cabaret show performed by six "menstruants", sword swallower MisSa Blue understands the risks. She discovered the hard way that it is not only the womb and vagina that change in the menstrual cycle - there are oestrogen receptors all over the body, so most organs are affected by the fluctuating hormone levels in some way. On one recent occasion, MisSa says her throat had swollen just enough to not leave room for her usual blade, and her oesophagus was punctured during her act. So now she swallows different length swords depending on the time of the month. The 28 swords are lined up at the back of the stage throughout the show, their handles elegantly showing the phases of the moon.

Dr Marisa Carnesky studies the significance and symbolism of menstruation in different times, traditions and cultures, often involving magic, mysticism, and rites of renewal and fertility. Today, menstruation is both ordinary (a large proportion of the world's population experiences it) and taboo. In some cultures, menstruating women are not allowed to be in the same space or use the same things as everybody else, often putting them in unsafe and unhealthy situations. Carnesky and her fellow show-women have been engaged in experiments to reclaim menstruation as a vital female experience, to be celebrated with new rituals of their own devising.

In particular, Carnesky says she wants all women to synchronise their menstrual cycles, to harness the power of being in sync with the planet and each other to start a more political revolution. While scientific research suggests it is mostly by chance that women's menstrual cycles appear to fall in sync when they spend time together, this may be because scientists haven't studied women who are consciously trying to synchronise, either with each other or the moon.

What science is coming to understand, however, is that menstrual blood is truly powerful stuff. Not only would it be much more efficient to collect menstrual blood for certain medical tests, rather than drawing blood from blood vessels, but menstrual blood is also rich in stem cells that could potentially be used for research or even as the basis for new medical treatments. Maybe that will be a new kind of menstrual magic to harness in the future.

- Michael Regnier


Links relevant to this diagnosis:

Dr Carnesky's Incredible Bleeding Woman - Carnesky Productions

Seeing the Eclipse on Monday - Edinburgh Evening News

Physiological Changes Associated with the Menstrual Cycle (Farage et al, 2009) Obstetrical and Gynecological Survey 64(1) 

Blood Speaks - Mosaic

Do Women's Periods Really Synch? - The Conversation

Characterisation of Menstrual Stem Cells (Alcayaga-Miranda et al 2015) - Stem Cell Research and Therapy

Tests Using Menstrual Blood Could Help Detect Diseases in Women - Healthline

Bechdel Testing Life

Bechdel Testing Life is a series of plays inspired by the Bechdel Test, which asks whether a film, play or television series features a conversation between at least two women, about something other than a man. The question is one of representation. But it also makes me wonder whether women share ideas in a different way when they are together. 

Kate Fox, in her essay Girl Talk, tells us that there are many studies which demonstrate that the ways genders bond are different. As she writes, ‘male bonding tends to be more formal and organized’, and also that ‘every known human society has some form of men-only clubs or associations, special (often secret) male-bonding organizations or institutions from which women are excluded’. The private interactions between women are similarly important and should be foregrounded as well.

Caitlin Moran points out that women have fears totally outside the male experience. No man can really get why women hesitate before walking home in the dark. Girls are raped, robbed, assaulted, as well as diminished and demeaned for no reason other than that they have a vagina. That is terrifying. As Moran writes

We're scared. We don't want to mention it, because it's kind of a bummer, chat-wise, and we'd really like to talk about stuff that makes us happy, like look at our daughters — and we can't help but think, ‘which one of us? And when?’ We walk down the street at night with our keys clutched between our fingers, as a weapon. We move in packs — because it's safer. We talk to each other for hours on the phone — to share knowledge. But we don't want to go on about it to you, because that would be morbid.

Communication between the sexes is certainly possible, and understanding knows no gender. But empathy might be a different, and more complicated, matter. 

-       Lynn Ruth Miller

This diagnosis is based on the performance Bechdel Testing Life at The Bunker, London. Bechdel Theatre are at the Fringe highlighting shows which pass the Bechdel Test. Check in with their work here.


Links relevant to this diagnosis:

The Bechdel Test - Dykes to Watch Out For

What Women Say to One Another - Huffington Post

Women in Conversation - Elite Daily

What Do Women Talk About Mostly? - Quora Topic

What Women Never Say to A Man - Caitlin Moran, Esquire

Girl Talk - Kate Fox

What If Women Ruled the World?

Imagine a theatrical parallelogram. The back of the stage - its only wall - leans in. Opposite - though not quite equally opposite  - the audience seating leans back at a soft incline. The floor between these two slopes is the stage, a likeness of the war room in Kubrick’s war satire, Dr Strangelove: a large circular table surrounded by chairs for all manner of decision makers. All around is the dark openness of Piccadilly Station’s pallid kindred building, Mayfield Station. It’s a spot where you might not otherwise wish to find yourself on a Thursday night near the watershed. Though the 1960s Beeching Axe was not a direct cause for this site falling into disuse, its blow to numerous other railway lines across the UK in the early 60s comes to mind, a blow struck incidentally at around the same time that the Cold War-inspired film was released (1964). Paying men large sums of money to make decisions with ill-calculated social repercussions is fitting to think about, given that the performance promises to deride and unpick the very same sort of situation.

Bar one, all the actors tonight appear to be women, who play both exasperating men for our amusement, and peaceable women of reason and cooperation for our intrigue. As men, they exhibit obstinate behaviour leading to a world’s end scenario that climaxes as the characters descend into a childish rendition of war. From here, the performance takes off from the situation posited at the end of Dr Strangelove, a 10:1 women to men population dealing with survival in a post-apocalyptic subterranean world. The actors now assume roles as women, accompanied by an impressive medley of non-thespian women whose expertise is indispensable. Their range spans the dangers of artificial intelligence, manipulation of/disrespect for personal data (or lack of internet freedom), borders and asylum seeking discrimination, environmental degradation, and lack of empathy in the context of human rights law. Kate Raworth is one of the five women, presenting her 'doughnut' model of economics that shows how, as we might have guessed, investing in our ecosystem is linked with improvements in other areas of social welfare (a model advocated by George Monbiot; whilst Carol Adams’ text on the relationship between meat-eating and patriarchy also resonates).

As the discussion about reshaping our world ensues, the wall appears to loom over us. We are made conscious of time pressing on at a rate of unwelcome knots. The physical space is exciting and comes into its own when the performance is interspersed with a televised chronology of historical conflict and the Doomsday clock.

The topic of the show is flagrantly clear from its title, and with this in mind it might have drawn the very same audience had Bartana simply promised to deliver a curated panel of superwomen. The non-rehearsed performances of the panel - complete with reflective pauses, and points of indecision - maintain a performative quality; a mimetic display of the inevitable communication gaps that accompany an attempt to solve a dangerous and nebulous state of global affairs. The converging of art and non-art formats makes for interesting pensive moments, with the slicker dramatic elements used as a contrast against the more fragmented process required when contemplating real world threats. The deepening, bassy pulses which end this evening in a derelict, former public haunt nonetheless form a strong sensory experience at the close, making you think of all kinds of power, their distribution and their effects on shared space as you exit. (HR)

- Hannah Ross


Beeching Axe and Its Effects

Kate Raworth - The Doughnut

George Monibot on Kate Raworth

Carol J. Adams The Sexual Politics of Meat’

Radical, post-war, “inexistant” nightlife architecture http://www.theberlage.nl/events/details/2017_04_21_italy_s_radical_discos_and_nightclubs_as_inexistant_architecture


What If Women Ruled the World?

"Those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it" - George Santayana

Ant people river through a concrete cadaver. To listen to and observe a panel of perfection and ideals.

Forgetting the sizzle of summer outside, we walk up steps into a world reeking of regret. Were it not for the men in the audience, I could have believed that women had indeed waged a nuclear winter in a retaliatory rasp.

The people present were moved between solutions to the world’s problems through rehearsed performance, unscripted speeches and silences and a recreation of the Dr Strangelove set.

Occasional comedy.

"No fighting in the war room".
Nobody laughed. The message was already imprinted.

In today's UK, a population census shows women outnumber men. New York shares the same social symptoms. Here we consider what a world would look like in which men were found in a major minority of 10:1.

In a time where news about bombs, is sent, through space, before watershed, as standard. We meet mention of drones derelict of conscience killing to cracked calls. Our humanity, even death, allegedly, functions uncensored, yet women's nipples, somehow can't. This is decided by a virtual society we have no vote in. The production places that premise in our laps.

Algorithms and science identify a momentum towards disaster. But we've pressed snooze on the alarm. And now we're late.

What if women ruled the world?
What if nobody did?
What if we shared?

What if we rid ourselves of the Machiavellian, neutering language we've come to accept? What if we stop seeing men and women as alien entities? What if we ignore this Freudian foolery for what it is? Archaic logic. Simply a theory based in divisional language. Daring us to destruction.

Surely, there are other genders that must also accelerate to acceptance? Our society, sadly, sees mainly male and female. Blinkered to most intersex or non-binary identities. Shaking hands with trans is not necessarily affirming an acceptance. Especially when the other hand is prescribing a diagnosis, devoid of empathy, yet promising that principle. 

A suggestion came from a human rights barrister: "Empathy screening for people in power" and struck a resonating string. People clapped. I did too until my neighbour opined "Nobody with autism could assume such roles in this future then".

Do we not have empathy for those without? That's a paradox. Screening tests make a medical model of society. Medical models, despite degrees of insight, are not future focused. They are one size. And our future (if we don't personally propel ourselves to extinction) needs to be inclusive. Not exclusive.

Positive change start with us. Regardless of gender or geography. It can happen microscopically. But the important thing is it happens. What we mustn't do is scapegoat and scandalise people to promote power. This is our collective future and we who steer the handles.

We must be wise. We have one world only. (CM)

- Clare McNulty

Links relevant to this diagnosis:

Fog Of War - Eleven Lessons From The Life Of Robert S. Mcnamara

List of Countries by Sex Ratio

15 Things You Might Not Know About Dr. Strangelove

Apocalypse 30 seconds Closer - Doomsday Clock

Gender Identity Research and Education Society - http://www.gires.org.uk/

People with Autism Can Read Emotions, Feel Empathy - https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/people-with-autism-can-read-emotions-feel-empathy1/


What If Women Ruled the World?

A surrealist segue from Yael Bartana’s performance piece might ask, how would the audience design a war room from scratch? The product designer Ayse Birsel says you can deconstruct and reconstruct anything and in this production’s reconstruction of a war room, female leadership lies front and centre.  

The performance is structured through an opening re-enactment of the end of Stanley Kubrick’s film Dr Strangelove; a performative re-imagining of a future where – as in the film – women outnumber men 10 to 1, though in Bartana’s scenario this ratio has granted the women de facto leadership. The large circular table, central to the design of the film’s war room, is replicated here, though now it’s furnished by adroitly hanging ferns. World-renowned female thinkers and doers discuss the structure and governance of this new world order in the second half.

There are numerous precedents where female leadership has provided a rebalance on proceedings.  Companies with women on their board significantly outperformed those with male only boards when the global downturn came through in 2008. Angela Merkel took action where no male counterpart would, opening the borders to 1 million refugees fleeing war and displacement,

The five female experts each chose a point of contention for structural change in the new world order:

  • Irena Sabic, human rights lawyer, emphasizes empathy screening and training for people in power
  • Kate Raworth, economist, wants a new focus to and implementation of climate change recommendations
  • Lisa Ling, security expert, advocates stopping drone warfare which disassociates the killing of innocent bystanders from the people dropping bombs
  • Mariam Ibrahim Yusuf, refugee campaigner, encourages borderless countries
  • Holly Kilroy, internet specialist, leads on Information Freedom

They also challenge the status quo. The minority male population is represented by Carl, a buff man in the skimpiest of outfits asked to bring the tea.  Given ultimate power, some of the women in the room start to question why he has been put into that position, and go on to question the empathy of the women who would do so, before asking him to sit in on the conversation whilst they broach the topic of having no male signatories to the convention.

In the 20th century, it could be argued that a key innovation in conflict transformation was to elevate nonviolent resistance into mass action through the work of Ghandi and Martin Luther King Jr.  In the 21st century, might female leadership present another opportunity for mass action and innovation in the sphere of governance? What implications are there for the prevention of global emergencies if the governance of nations and companies had 50-60% female leadership?

The performance ends with a doomsday countdown as threatening as what is at stake. If the war room is not reconstructed then global emergencies, war/disaster, continue. Another unknown soldier is tragically lost in a foreign land, another young woman is raped by people who have killed her friends and family and millions more displaced people will face a future they had no part in creating. 

How would you reconstruct the war room? (RY)

- Reina Yaidoo


What If Women Ruled the World? - MIF

“Our lives are our biggest projects” - Creating Your Own Original Life


Shares of Companies with Women Directors Outperform Men-Only Boards

If All the Avengers Posed Like Black Widow

The Refugee Project