Show Girls: The State of
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.
It is this aggressive and vengeful image that scares both men and women alike
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.
It made me feel detached from the word feminism, as if I had been
disqualified for wearing make-up and liking men
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?
All female theatre companies are producing invigorating, thought provoking
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