gender

Who's Afraid of Ideology? (part 1) // Marwa Arsanios

A woman is standing in the middle of a valley, a brown landscape of mountains and rocks. She walks towards the camera and starts to talk. The camera retreats, slowly and continuously, keeping her in frame as we listen to her voice. But something seems to be off. The movement of her lips doesn’t match the voice we hear. There is a kind of displacement, something that we still cannot fully understand. By disconnecting the voice from the body in the image, Marwa Arsanios seems to suggest that we need to slow down a bit, to escape immediacy, to pay attention and listen carefully. 

The body will be later replaced by landscapes. Snowy mountains from elsewhere. The words reverberate in that space, and when they come back to us, they seemed to be charged with something else. The connections are there but we need to jump into a space of contemplation and reflection in order to find them. It’s as if it’s not necessary to find answers, but to inhabit the questions in-between the silence and the landscape. 

The film is built from material - images, interviews, conversations and thoughts - collected by Arsanios during a period in which she stayed with the Autonomous Women's Movement in Rojava in northern Iraq. It presents a series of stories and reflections that are linked to the experience of the Kurdish people’s resistance, and to the relationship between ecology and feminism within it. 

To think about ecology, especially about an ecological consciousness developed within the frame of war, makes me think about the very idea of protection, and the spaces of protection that we have left, or believe that we do. A later voice talks about a common understanding of the liberal system, that individuals and groups must surrender the means of protection to the State. The State, therefore, has the monopoly of violence as the only one authorized to exercise it. It reinforces that the use of force is most frequently a tool for the maintenance and the support of the established geometries of power. That is still constituted today by the definition of the bodies that must live and of those who can die, an idea that the philosopher Achille Mbeme has developed under the concept of necropolitics. 

When the state no longer defends us, what kind of strategies can we use in order to defend ourselves? Where do we flee and where could we find protection when the experience of life itself cannot be separated from the mediation of the state? 

The idea of protection as a right granted to a citizen of a certain state becomes especially problematic when the very notion of nation-state is falling apart, and if we take into consideration the huge amounts of individuals that are continuously pushed out of this system. In the same way, the idea of peace, or of living in peace, has become a strategy of governance in the systems that we live in. To live in peace means not only that we should surrender the fight but also to accept the conflict that is imposed on us by others. This dynamic might also be what allows the transfer of violence to the red zone of the world, far away from the centers of power. Violence became then a distant idea, something that happens outside of the safety of the west, making invisible the mechanisms of control that operate or our societies.

When the idea of peace became a strategy to govern bodies within certain geographies, how can we understand resistance and radicality? Is it possible to operate under a different paradigm? 

A voice from the screen talks about how the state works to break the relationship of the individual with nature, as the only possible way to legitimise its power. And I’m led to think that this is no longer just about safety or protection, but about the individual's ability to establish relationships of survival without the State as their intermediary: “existence is based on the ability to defend yourself”.

Who is afraid of ideology? opens space for us think about ecology, not only in relation to nature, but in the very set of relations that individuals establish with all their surroundings, with communities, knowledge and territories. And the question that remains is, as artists and individuals, how can we learn from the experiences of those who live in different communities, under different paradigms, to build strategies of resistance? When difference is continuously threatened, can art still be a space of protection?

- Túlio Rosa

Links relevant to this diagnosis:

Who’s Afraid of Ideology? Ecofeminist Practices Between Internationalism and Globalism - E-Flux Journal

Kdo se boji ideologije? / Who is afraid of Ideology?

Thinking Projects - Marwa Arsanios

NECROPOLITICS - Warwick University

Hope Hunt and the Ascension into Lazarus // Oona Doherty

The audience hubbub subsides as a clapped-out old car with a bin bag taped over the front passenger side window revs up to just in front of Vooruit, its shell suited occupants diving out to fall to the floor. From the car blasts out music, lyrics suggesting the Northern Irish origin and Belfast base of the artist. People crane their heads in the drizzle to see over the shoulders of people in front of them, and the two who tumbled from the car continue to dance.

This street scene makes sense as the place where the piece begins. It reminds me of the earlier days of teenage licenses, aimless driving around and the blaring of music on suburban streets. Of brief furtive incursions into the city, from where you live to where it all happens. And then the car drives off, leaving the artist alone in the road with the reedy bass from the car fading off into the distance. This forlorn figure, angry in their loneliness, turns back to the crowd.  

Go inside the theatre! Go inside the theatre!’ they bellow.

Obligingly trudging up endless stairs and taking up seats, the solo movement which follows trips and wallows in the universal visual language of bored and disaffected men. Gender is the subject throughout, a physical and vocal cycling through anger, cockiness and vulnerability in language after language - from German to English to guttural cough. The transition from space to space is as smooth as the invisible seams between dialect shifts, suggesting perhaps a universal European anxiety, an illustration of a free movement of deprivation, forgetfulness and the rejection of empathy that prowls round the backs of our superficial wealth. 

The solo ends in rapturous choral form, before the back doors swing open to reveal the picture of the missing driver, long lost from the car and alone at a cheap folding table. Watching tinny football on a glowing laptop whilst drinking beer. It’s an image that could be snapped in any country in the world of an isolated man and the undocumented experience of small room unhappiness. The audience are invited to share a beer in the space of the stage, a social bond to be formed in the dim half-light from the sad picture behind. The move-down begins and ends in the slow shuffle of feet, with drinks clasped to our breasts like guards against feeling. The football plays on. 

-      Lewis Church

Links relevant to this diagnosis:

Oona Doherty - Hope Hunt and the Ascension in Lazarus

Oona Doherty takes on Belfast’s Hardest Men - Irish Times

La danse virulente et poétique d’Oona Doherty - Le Monde (en Français)

The Crisis in Modern Masculinity - Guardian

A Tale of Two Masculinities - The New European

She's A Good Boy // Elise Heaven

Are you a girl or a boy?

No.

Gender is a spectrum, and the acknowledgement of that is the bare minimum 2018 should expect. Not everyone wants to wear the same shirt or underwear, or to be called a man or a woman. The signs and signifiers of what makes a man or a woman are constructed through language and symbols, and so are as up for deconstruction as anything else. You can be one, or the other, both or neither, and if nothing else it’s simply polite to accept how others choose to define themselves. Absolutes are incorrect, and definitive claims made in the name of science inaccurate. What it means to be male or female changes across societies and cultures and across history. There is no medical gender binary, no chromosome test that accurately dictates the gender of every person in the world. XX and XY do not neatly correspond to men or women, and ‘man’ and ‘woman’ are just ideas.

Elise Heaven uses their own experience of this articulation of gender to create their show out of humour, anecdote, silly props and homemade costume. The ridiculousness of someone telling someone else how they feel is rightly lampooned, and any mystery around being non-binary subverted through mime and monologue. Like many other shows which engage with the experience of non-binary or trans performers, familiar difficulties are staged and explained – the expectation to wear gendered clothing for a wedding or a job, the awkwardness of parents when kids simply ask, and the unease sometimes felt in everyday interaction. Accompanied by ukulele songs and debates with themselves, Heaven engineers an easy interaction with a supportive audience. The debate around gender continues both within people and about them. Connection and education is the first step.

-       Lewis Church

 

links relevant to this diagnosis:

Elise Heaven - She's A Good Boy

Gender Beyond the Binary (Video) - Guardian

What Is Non Binary? - refinery29

9 Things People Get Wrong About Being Non-Binary - Teen Vogue

Gender Doesn't Come Down to Chromosomes - The Globe and Mail

Agender and Non-Binary - Our Queer Stories

Joan // Milk Presents

Joan filters historical qualities of gender through a fourteenth century legend and a classic cabaret vibe. It’s centred around an almost music-hall central figure in the person of champion drag king Lucy Jane Parkinson, who takes on roles and costumes to reframe Joan of Arc through intimate connection and historical reflection. It says valuable things about ideas of gender and society’s relationship to the changing dynamics of its representation - Joan of Arc not just as a legend or symbol, but a real woman who put on armour at a time it was unheard of. Joan with short hair. Joan as a canvas for drawn-on moustaches and someone whose clothes change their movement. Joan as a peasant girl and as a saint, as a soldier and as a leader. 

Four corner mirrors form a cross in the centre of the performance space, with the audience positioned between them. They look across to each other throughout. It’s delivered in the round to facilitate this easy interaction, alongside the participation required at several key points. Two men are invited up to interact with Joan, teaching her their walk, or standing in for an imagined partner. There’s an implicit questioning of their behaviour in their laughter and conversation. The presence on stage of audience members encourages this examination and perhaps reveals some assumptions about gender that might otherwise never be actively considered. The audience laugh with them in their unsure stance and their self-consciousness as they are asked to perform their maleness. 

As funny as the show is, as good natured and enjoyable, there are also moments of loss and hope stand out in stark contrast to the rest of the easy monologue. Parkinson looks to heaven with the same wide-eyed hope as Renée Falconetti. Another Joan, represented in another form, but one as serious as any other, meditating on loss, identity and the burden of history. 

-    Lewis Church

 

Links relevant to this diagnosis:

Joan - Milk Presents

Joan of Arc - Biography.com

Gender Identity - Young Stonewall

Gender Variance Around the World Over Time - Teen Vogue

Le Passion de Jeanne d'Arc (Extract) - Starring Renée Falconetti, directed by Theodor Dreyer (1928)

Venus and Adonis // Noontide Sun and Christopher Hunter

Incidents of women forcing men to have sex is are perhaps rarely discussed, and yet Shakespeare wrote about it back in 1593 in his poem Venus and Adonis. The poem tells the story of Venus, the goddess of love, and her unrequited passion for Adonis, an extremely handsome young man who would rather go hunting than give in to her seduction. The poem concludes that because Venus’s attack on Adonis ended in his death, love from then on would involve pain and suffering.

Some say it isn’t love that hurts but the expectations that go with it. It is certainly true that all love does not hurt, but forced sex is not love. It is aggression. Although Venus believed her lust for Adonis was love, it was not. Anger, frustration, money worries…all can lead to physical abuse of a partner. Safeline.org.uk report that one in six men have been targets of rape or sexual abuse today. That’s 5 million men in the UK. It can happen to any man, of any age, race, class or sexual identity. Men can feel trapped and isolated by misinformation about male sexual abuse and rape, such as the false view that men can’t be raped and fears that sexual abuse can make you into an abuser.

The psychological harm caused by this sense of humiliation can be very harmful. In Adonis’s case, it led to death. For most men however, the effects, though severe, are not that extreme. In our culture, boys are socialized not to be victims. 'If I am a victim, can I then also be a man?' Tradition tells us big boys fight back.  They don’t call the police to report that they have been victimized, especially by a woman. It doesn’t fit the male tough guy stereotype. And so they minimize or deny what has happened.

That is why sexual assault against men is often not reported. An article in the Telegraph last March reported that female sex offences against men are viewed as a rare and peculiar phenomenon, but this is far from the truth. Determining how common female-perpetrated sexual offending is a very difficult task, but an international study last year found that although it constituted 2.2 per cent of sexual offences officially reported to the police, the rates discovered in victimizations studies were six times that amount. That means more than one in nine sexual offences are committed by women. Venus was not alone in her determination to force Adonis to make love to her. Indeed, it speaks to a long and troublesome tradition. 

- Lynn Ruth Miller

 

Links relevant to this diagnosis:

 

Venus and Adonis - Noontide Sun

Venus and Adonis - Folger Shakespeare Library

Safeline

Survivors UK

Why Boys Do Not Tell About Sexual Abuse - Psychology Today

Does Love Always Hurt? - Quora Topic

Female Sex Offenders - Telegraph

Eve // Jo Clifford and National Theatre of Scotland

Eve represents one of a number of shows that documents trans experiences at the fringe in 2017, its monologue format flashing back through the life and thoughts of its writer and performer Jo Clifford. Upsettingly familiar narratives emerge over the course of its highly personal narrative. Of gender specialists as the gatekeepers to treatment. Of Inadequate provision for those seeking help, and shame and oppression preventing others from ever revealing who they are or would like to be.

There are multiple levels of history here, from 1950s boarding schools and 1960s adolescence to 1990s lectureships and parenthood. We are told that this is the ninety-first play Clifford has written, and the craft and the weight of this experience leave her personal narrative technically and theatrically precise and poised. The language is honed, every word, to reflect the odd moments that make up a life. The structure of Eve similarly avoids a linear chronology, living in the medium of ‘queer time’ referred to throughout. The space of the theatre, like the space of memory, is separate from the everyday progression through the world.

Whilst the content is deeply personal, Clifford’s biographical tracing gestures to larger debates around trans identities and the dissolution of old binaries and absolutes. As much as Trump, the governor of North Carolina and other forces of regression might try to beat back the tide, through continued work and determined sharing, artists like Clifford, audiences, and especially young people are working to ensure that trans identities continue to be acknowledged. It is a generational privilege and obligation to ensure that oppression lessens. As the old quote goes, from Theordore Parker through Martin Luther King Jr and Obama, ‘the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice’. But it must be bent, for justice and tolerance comes from hard work and determined engagement in a process of change.

- Lewis Church

 

Links relevant to this diagnosis:

EveJo Clifford

A Look at Trans Shows at the FringeThe List

A Vision for Change: Acceptance Without Exception for Trans People - Stonewall

Trans Mission: How to Tell Trans Stories on Stage and Screen – Fury, for the Guardian

A Comprehensive List of Trans Autobiographies – TG Forum

Hymen Manoeuvre // Evelyn Mok

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:

Hymen ManoeuvreEvelyn Mok 

The Pleasure Principle - International Woman’s Health Coalition

Bitch Media

Eight Women Of Color Comedians on Sexism, Racism and Making People Laugh - Wear Your Voice

Misogyny on Facebook: A Rant About ‘Vagina Cleavage’ - Gal Dem

Out // Rachael Young with Dwayne Antony

Rachael Young and Dwayne Antony choreograph their challenge to homophobia and transphobia in Caribbean communities through a stylised repetition of tasks and dance steps pushed to the limits of endurance. Their two bodies exist in relation, not only in the obvious moments of unison or canon, but in the instances of quiet as well, in the peeling of oranges and the unzipping of shoes. Two bodies, poised and beautiful, unapologetically black and queer. One of the most impactful moments of the performance features the voice of a pastor haranguing the ‘immorality’ of homosexuality and of trans identities, looped and warped to accompany a lean and bend, in and out of a strict band of light. The performers faces appear and recede, into light and out of sight into darkness. The hateful narrative of the soundtrack loses its legibility through its rhythmic hijack.

Out engages with the legacy of colonial laws that still permeate the legal systems of many Caribbean countries, buggery laws that foster and endorse a wider homophobia. The histories that affect cultural perceptions of sexuality involve the world, and the contemporary experience of individuals in diasporic communities echoes the legacy of varied oppression. Whilst Western societies congratulate themselves for increasing (but still not universal) tolerance, the impact of its role in the origination of these attitudes must be still acknowledged and reflected on.

The fierceness of the movement in Out, the physical conviction and relentless power reflects an often-unacknowledged strength in difference. It reflects the egregiousness of masculinist and cisnormative dialogues, and the fragility of cultural stereotypes. These different signifiers circle throughout, race and sexuality, bodies and power. Dancing in abandon to dancehall in the opening, a genre that became a musical byword for homophobia in the 1990s, the two performers assert their place in wider culture, the importance of their identities and an affirmation of their selves.  

-       Lewis Church

 

Links Relevant to this diagnosis:

Out - Rachael Young

LGBT Rights in JamaicaEqualdex

Being Black and Gay: The Illusion of InclusionThe Fact Site

 Being Black and LGBT in Britain (2016)Maroon News

Britain Can't Just Reverse the Homophobia It Exported - Guardian

Frantic Assembly // Fatherland

A middle-aged man swings through the air, arms out flung, singing of the joy he gets from taking pride in his son.  

Another man, lit as if by flames, ascends a ladder and belts out a horrific tale of scraping up the remains of a burned man who had been ‘melted up the wall.’

***

Fatherland is a play about fathers. It’s also a play about making a play about fathers. Frantic Assembly - Scott Graham, Karl Hyde and Simon Stephens - went back to their hometowns of (respectively) Corby, Kidderminster and Stockport to gather stories about men and their relationships with their children. These stories appear verbatim in the play, retold by actors. Familiar tales of pubs, football matches and emotional inaccessibility are woven into scenes depicting the creators’ anxieties about the ethics of representation in verbatim theatre: is it democratising or exploitative?

Although men in general are still vastly overrepresented in theatre, it is unusual today to see a production of just men and of course, this is the point – men do not need more representation but masculinity itself needs to be put under the microscope. It was telling to hear how different audience members reacted to this – a young man spoke about how the masculine energy of the show never felt aggressive or threatening. Yet, for any women watching, the times where dozens of men circled the perimeter of the Royal Exchange seating area and banged on windows or shouted loudly out of sight, may have been received differently. Suddenly, extra actors would join the cast and a crowd of men would appear seemingly out of nowhere and burst out again, as though their energy couldn’t be contained, like the swell of a football crowd.

But what can theatre do to expose or challenge gender norms? Attitudes to fatherhood and traditional gender roles have shifted and relaxed in some respects (one character quips ‘I was a single dad before being a single dad was cool’) yet still society still does not allow men to freely express their emotions. Suicide is the biggest cause of death for males under 25 and men are less likely to access psychological therapies than women. The two scenes above exemplify moments where emotions that couldn’t be expressed in real life took flight (literally at times) on stage in song and dance. One song has the refrain ‘we don’t say the word’ – the word being ‘love’ which is left unsaid, hanging in the air. But through the song the silence around expression is itself given a voice.

Scott Graham writes in the programme that your hometown ‘is your father.’ If this is the case, each of the creators has somewhat rejected theirs for the apparently irresistible pull of London. Their hometowns are looked back on with a mixture of nostalgia and disdain, Simon Stephens’ character claiming to ‘forgive’ Stockport – a joke which lands particularly hard in Manchester of course and a Manchester fizzing with energy, pride and international recognition brought by the MIF.

Fatherland ends with a monologue of introspection and responsibility – a young father clasps a flower and tells how he apologised to his young daughter for swearing at her. ‘It’s never okay to do that’ he says. 

- Nathalie Wright

 

Links relevant to this diagnosis:

The Ethics of Verbatim Theatre

On the Under-Representation of Women in Theatre - Guardian

Fatherhood is Changing - The Conversation

Men Struggle to Express their Emotions- Huffington Post

Statistics on Single Fathers - Guardian

HOW WE LOST IT / Cheap Date Dance Company

HOW WE LOST IT / Cheap Date Dance Company

Three sets of clothes are laid out on the floor. Three women walk out on to the stage in their underwear and proceed to dress in an exaggerated choreographed manner. We are being lured, reeled in, played. Within this act of dressing, concealing - the subtlety of provocation is disarming - but then, this isn’t like a traditional kiss and tell, teen angst trauma fest or misery memoir.