Feminism and the Edinburgh Forest Fringe 2014 programme
Forest Fringe co-director Deborah Pearson on the shows exploring what it means to be a woman
This article is from 2014.
The Forest Fringe co-director Deborah Pearson asks: while there are shows fighting the feminist fight, where are the shows exploring what it means to be a woman?
Wuthering Heights at Summerhall this year and the recent hit film Boyhood both interrogate masculinity in different ways – I wonder what their feminine counterparts would look like. There is a strong tradition of performance and theatre that explore feminism, and as a self-identifying feminist, I love this work. But work that asks the question ‘How do we achieve gender equality?’ is slightly different from work that asks, ‘What does it mean to be female?’
Although making work about feminism is a kind of activism, making work about femininity (or what it means to be female) is a reflective act. It takes into account the less progressive and occasionally problematic sides of the female experience, in ways that feminist rhetoric possibly can’t. At Forest Fringe we are working with several artists who are mining the ‘femininity’ territory. Emerging artist Louise Orwin, in a Cindy Sherman-esque fashion, disguised herself as several different teenage girls, and joined the ‘Pretty Ugly’ trend online, posting videos on YouTube as a series of teenage personas and asking the internet if she is pretty or ugly. Her performance Pretty Ugly chronicles the people who watch and comment on these videos, with results that are disturbing and not surprising. Mollie Naylor’s piece is about a young female teenager who needs to be a hero to her family and town when her home is falling into the sea, Laura Dannequin’s Hardy Animal is about the injuries her body suffered as a dancer, and Tom Frankland’s new piece is about transitioning gender.
None of these pieces have billed themselves as being about femininity, and I wonder if that’s because the term is more plagued by unwanted cultural baggage (visions of Cosmo articles on how to apply lipstick etc) than masculinity. ‘What does it mean to be female?’ is a question that gets asked or answered far too infrequently. The reason that a television show like Girls got as much flack as it did for representing only white women, only privileged women, and only New York women, is that it was saddled with the burden of representing all women as one of the only games in town. Comedy at the Edinburgh Festival blew the femininity question open last year, and we’re very pleased to be hosting so many performances that follow suit.
Forest Fringe, Out of the Blue Drill Hall, Dalmeny St, Wed 6–Sun 17 Aug