Show Girls: The State of

Marion Beach investigates why the best feminist theatre groups have rejected the 'f' word.

, 16 February 2002

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

theatre

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.

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