This article was written for The Guardian Blog by Abbi Greenland and Helen Goalen, 20th February, 2017 - https://www.theguardian.com/stage/2017/feb/20/two-man-show-feminist-patriarchy-rashdash-soho-theatre
We are a feminist, female theatre company and we want to make a show about men. No, a show about Man. We want to say that patriarchy is bad for women and men, but patriarchy is hard to talk about without feeling academic or a bit silly. Can we really say the word patriarchy on stage?! And the show has to be about language – because language is patriarchal – but how can you speak against patriarchy if you can’t speak, or even think, outside of it? Above all we know that we are searching for a form to help us articulate all of this thinking and feeling.
First we create two brothers – believable characters who talk to each other in a realistic way, in a story told in a linear and chronological order – who negotiate a moment of crisis. This is nothing new because it feels interesting to tell a story about a struggle with traditional ideas of masculinity through a form that obeys traditional, maybe even patriarchal, theatrical conventions. We are interested in the idea that whereas in the last century women entered the workforce, this century might be characterised as the moment in which men begin to share the domestic sphere more equally. What if this has a large part to play in “the crisis in masculinity”? Our culture has to shift a great deal to allow this change, so we make our two brothers deal with that every night.
We also want to challenge the idea that patriarchy is natural, that it’s the best way of organising ourselves, that it’s logical, because that’s just one version of how it came to be. This feels more challenging to represent, because researching the origins of patriarchy blew our minds and asked us to question so many of the assumptions we’ve made about human and animal behaviour for so much of human history. We tried to imagine a time before patriarchy. The widespread worship of goddesses, women as high priestesses, women being buried in the most sacred areas. How very different that must have been!
In the show we play with a new theory – collections of ideas from anthropologists and archaeologists that take an alternative view from the conventional one. And the show is accompanied and presided over by The Goddess; a musical and benevolent creature wearing gold and sequins and underscoring the show with wild, haunting vocals and King Kong drumming. An acknowledgement that She can exist as well as He. An omnipotent and omniscient presence that keeps the space open, but never takes centre stage.
Language itself, because it was recorded and controlled by men, is patriarchal. Man is the word for all of us. He is supposedly “more comprehensive” than she. Imagine a time in which words couldn’t reduce or systematise our thoughts or feelings because they didn’t exist. Imagine the different thoughts and feelings that our brains and bodies might have been able to conceive of.
We want to explore a sensual, instinctive, emotional understanding and experiencing of the world. These ways of knowing are so often considered feminine – but feminine is just a word and these qualities are for all of us. We all know things with our bodies and hearts, it’s just that in a patriarchal world, these qualities have been subordinated. Logic and rationality have become masculine, reliable and important; emotion and intuition have become feminine, unpredictable and inappropriate. But that means we can all only be half of ourselves.
So what if we make this bit of the show with dance, abandoning words and exploring what we can say without them? Unshackled by the tyranny of linear thinking, of assembling meaning one word at a time in a logical and conventional order. Let’s make Gestalts! Let’s make moving images that speak to and of our bodies, images that are out of order and illogical and embrace another side of us. And let’s be naked when we do it – not because we want to be defiant or daring – but because if we’re being whole, let’s see all of it. The whole body, muscle and sinew, moving in its wholeness. How often do you get to see women’s bodies, with all their bumps and muscles and hairs, moving together in a non-sexual context?
As the makers and performers of the show, it feels important to recognise that we can be as trapped in received notions of gender identity as our male characters. We both identify as women, but how we are women is so different. To call us both women isn’t that useful if you want to know anything about us aside from our sex. Is it again that the word is unhelpful? Does “woman” suggest a similarity that doesn’t necessarily exist? We have a growing vocabulary to describe a number of genders and this is a process it feels important to go through. But maybe, eventually, vocabulary won’t be what we need. Maybe there are as many genders as there are people, because it’s more of a spectrum than a series of categories. For those who have fought hard to be called women and for those who feel a political solidarity with women and womanness, the word “woman” is very important. But maybe, as we address and diminish the oppression that makes this word important, we can be less concerned with our gender and more concerned with being the most authentic version of ourselves.
This part of the show calls on us to draw on our “masculine” and “feminine” selves. Both of us have internalised different but similarly oppressive ideas of how a woman should be and have berated ourselves for not being gentle/fierce, compromising/strident, passive/decisive enough. For being too quiet, for saying too much, for taking too much space, for not taking enough. After years of skilfully minimising and suppressing personality traits that don’t fit into our ideals of “being a woman” we want to name them here and celebrate them for ourselves and for our audiences.
In this feminist show about men, written and made by women, there have been many tricky lines to walk. But what’s important to us is that this is an inclusive show, made with empathy, love and hope, and a genuine belief that a more equal society with more open ideas of what it is to be a man and to be a woman could make us all freer and happier.