Marion Beach investigates why the best feminist theatre groups have rejected the ‘f’ word
Acknowledging myself as a feminist has made me feel more passionate and ambitious in many areas of my life. It has given me a sense of determination but it has also left me open to prejudice.
Many people are afraid of feminism. There is widespread confusion over what this word means, what it stands for and what the objectives are of the people who are involved with the movement. This confusion derives from the fact that there are many different ‘types’ of feminism. Radical, Materialist and Liberal are the three key areas, but even they split into many different factions, each with their own agenda.
Unfortunately the driving force of equality, opportunity and freedom that links the majority of these groups together, has been masked by extremist activity that centres itself around the notion of female supremacy. It is this aggressive and vengeful image that scares both men and women alike, and that kept me away from feminism for so long. However, as I began to research feminist performance at University, I realised that I can call myself a feminist and, more importantly, that there are many like-minded women out there!
My research has mainly been concerned with the state of feminist theatre in Britain and ultimately the use of theatrical design within the theatre as a way of communicating feminist ideology to an audience. I found that feminist performance does not appear to be nearly as active here as it is in Canada and the U.S.A. Reluctant though to turn my attention across the Atlantic, I decided to focus on the 2001 Edinburgh Fringe Festival, the perfect place to find obscure and challenging new theatre.
The performances that I saw were radical in their nature, showcases for anger, hatred and ‘man-baiting’. They offered no solutions, no way forward, no optimism for the future, just negative feeling. This kind of art does little to inspire women to claim their independence, it is depressive. It certainly does not help to drum up support for this movement, which has already received a ‘bad press.’ It made me feel detached from the word feminism, as if I had been disqualified for wearing make-up and liking men instead of actively seeking my revenge for the hundreds of years of oppression. If I’m not a feminist though, then what am I?
I want change. I am irritated by the sight of toned adolescent torsos, splashed across every magazine and T.V screen. I am sickened by the fact that eating disorders are rife in our country. That in this civilised, reformed society, young women need to go to such extreme measures to just to feel accepted. Women cling to the career ladder whilst trying to raise their children and run their home, with little or no support from their partners, simply because “It’s tradition” and “That’s the way it’s always been”. Where are the artists who represent this voice, my voice?
The answer is that they are out there but that they too have left the word feminism far behind them. ‘Womanist’ or ‘Pro-women’ theatre is very much alive in Britain and from what I have seen, it is being done well. All female theatre companies are producing invigorating, thought provoking theatre that deals with relevant issues, such as body image, stereotyping, the power of the media, motherhood and the reassessment of women’s history. They acknowledge the fact that women now face a more personal fight, one that is determined by individual circumstance and experience.
It is a shame that the survival of these companies’s relies on their detachment form the word ‘feminism’. A word that provokes feelings of fear and disassociation, when it should provoke feelings of determination and pride. But maybe it is time for a change. Ultimately, feminism is too small a word to describe the diverse variety of women who are in some weird or wonderful, way, shape or form, trying to make changes.
Perhaps womanist is a word that does not obscure or contradict feminism, but that represents a new kind of feminism that is fresh, informed and accessible.
Editor’s note (October, 2015): This article uses the word ‘womanist’. Womanism is generally accepted as a social theory deeply rooted in the racial and gender oppression of black women, which is not how this author is using the word. The F-Word would edit this article differently now, but the inaccurate use of the word womanist has been left in for transparency.