Archive for the ‘Social theories’ Category

A verbatim musical about the Ipswich murders of 2006 sounded to me a bit like ‘Springtime for Hitler’ – squirmy, in bad taste, and with no artistic merit.  Fortunately London Road is none of these things.  Alecky Blythe (book and lyrics) and Adam Cork (music and lyrics) have created a piece of theatre that is innovative, funny and moving.  The verbatim script, complete with hesitations, repetitions and cliches is transformed into music that is a hymn to everyday speech.  These are people’s real lives, the poetry and the prose of it.

The murders of the women working as prostitutes in a quiet suburban town was dealt with salaciously by the tabloids and with moral hand wringing by the broadsheets.  Alecky Blythe went and talked to the local residents to ask ‘how has this affected you?’  The answers are touching, peculiar, inspiring, and chilling.  The community, angry at the portrayal of the area as a seedy red light district, rallied together and formed a residents association.  This led to a ‘London Road in bloom’ competition, a beautifully, quirkily British affair.  The residents hated the prostitution happening on their streets, they hated the men kerb crawling and accosting local women, they hated the associated drug problem, they mostly hated seeing the prostitutes themselves.  The residents have varying degrees of sympathy for the women, and the circumstances that led them to become sex workers, and the most chilling moment comes when a resident says, unapologetically, that she would like to shake Steve Wright (the murderer)’s hand for cleaning up the area.

For a liberal, London, National Theatre-going audience, this is a complicated moment.  The resident’s (literal) sang-froid feels pitiless, horrifying.  And yet, the result of these terrible murders has been a community reinvigorated, engaged as citizens, looking after each other, taking a pride in their environment.  The horror, the indifference, the hope and the the joy coexist, morality is muddied, because life is muddied and morally complex.

The residents are presented as they really, are, because these are their actual words.  They are as normal, as odd, as funny, as un-self-aware, as lonely, as inspiring, as kind, as cruel and as loving as all of us.  When their words become song, it is moving and beautiful to hear the poetry there is in prosaic, quotidian life.  The production ends with a stage filled with hanging baskets.  The English obssession with gardens garlands the hopes of the community, and perhaps also signifies a wreath-laying of sorts for the dead women.  In a small community, these things lie side by side.



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My friend M appeared in a all-female production of A Doll’s House. 


I went to see it to support M, but I wasn’t sure what the point of an all female cast would be.  Not that I thought it would be a bad idea, but what it could add to the original conception.  In the first act, I found the woman playing Torvald, the husband, almost unbearable to watch.  The performance was so arch, so stereotypically male, all lechery and patronisation and raised eyebrow.  In the second half however, as Torvald’s certainties start to fall apart, the performance became more fractured, more pathetic, more sympathetic, more real.  

I felt as if, in the casting of women, I was being shown masculinity as performance,  as a face that needs to be adopted as the man faces the world.  That masculinity is a construct, as much as femininity is.  A few weeks later I went to the Royal Vauxhall Tavern to see a Drag King night with S and C.  Women dressing up as men, for the entertainment of other women, is an incredibly carefree night out.  The night was mixed, some men, some straight women.  But the atmopshere was like a wonderful girls’ common room, no teachers and no boys allowed.  Girls, women, were free to take on the stereotypical attributes of masculinity, male performers, and subvert them.   Maybe women need to experience a sock down the pants to understand how hard, how ridiculous, how painful it must be sometimes to be a man, and that being a feminist means wishing for a world in which we destroy the contructs of gender to experience each other, and each other’s realities as men and women, different certainly, but not opposed.

Women as men hasn’t been a deliberate quest recently, but perhaps coincidences make themselves, and I saw Twelfth Night recently.  As it’s cast today, a woman will play Viola, pretending to be a man, to make her way in the world after the storm she assumes has drowned her brother.  In Shakespeare’s time, a young man would play a woman, playing a man, and it would be interesting, if a little mind-bending to see that today.  And lastly, on this gender-blurring tip I’ve been on recently, I read Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides.  In an interview he gave on the book’s publication,


Eugenides says,

‘I grew up in the unisex 70s.  The heyday of nurture.  Everyone was convinced that personality, and especially gender-specific behavior, was determined by rearing.  Sexologists and feminists insisted that each child was a blank slate and that rearing determined gender roles.  Now everything is reversed.  Biology and genetics are considered the real determinants of behavior. Having lived through the demise of the first oversimplification, I suspect the imminent demise of the current one… So we have these pat theories about evolutionary causes for our present behaviors.  Men can’t communicate because 20,000 years ago they had to be silent on the hunt.  Women are verbal because they had to call out to each other while gathering nuts and berries.  This is just as silly as the previous nurture explanations.’

I hope his predictions about the immiment demise of pseudo-scientific, pseudo-psychological misogyny and misandry are correct.

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Who’d be a feminist these days?  No really, who?  Who defines themselves as a feminist?  For me, being a feminist is axiomatic to being a woman.  You can’t be one without the other.  You can be a male feminist (thank you E, for restoring my faith in male feminists), although only the most courageous of men would admit it freely.  And it seems that not so many women would, either.  What’s with that?!  Sisters, our work is FAR from over.  We do not live in an equal world, there are still so may battles left to fight.  From the quotidian – equal pay for equal work, to the attitudinal – rape victims are often to blame, to the sociological – the sexualisation and commodification of our bodies.

My particular loathing is for the horribly regressive attitude to gender attributes – men are a certain way because they are men, and similarly for women.   This is reductive and over simplistic.  People’s behaviours are formed by their upbringing, geographical location, class, educational background, religion, as well as their gender. 

In order to explain and rationalise the world, humans have a strong need to anecdotalise, and then extrapolate that into an overarching social theory.   In this diverse and complex society, most people usually understand that not everyone is the same as us, has the same beliefs, ideas, behaviours.  Only the most old-fashioned would these days think that all black people are ‘the same’, or Jews, or Mancunians.  So why do we insist on lumping the genders together in one undifferentiated, homogenous mass?

When we decide that men and women are essentially, fundamentally, unbridgeably different from the other, we allow ourselves to live in a society that is just as conditioned by gender as was our grandparents’.  Too many young girls today believe that their worth lies in being desired, in being able to satisfy a man, in being an accessory.  Too many boys, in being encouraged in games (physical and virtual) that are aggressive and combative, believe their worth lies in an unreal hyper-masculinity.  And so we reach a point where we think men and women can’t communicate, don’t speak the same language, have different skills, and different abilities.

Much of our anecdotalising comes from our experiences of relationships.  Relationships are hard work, and as humans are not mind readers, we can never really know what the other person is thinking.  But if all the problems we have with relationships are down to gender, same-sex relationships would be a walk in the park, right?  My anecdotal research would suggest that is no more true that hetero relationships. 

It’s not our gender that causes misunderstandings, it’s because no two people are the same.  Men are from Earth.  Women are from Earth.  Deal with it.

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