Sameena Zehra - Feminism at the Festival 2018

August 13, 2018

The excellent Sameena Zehra answers some of our questions about feminism and performance below. You can get tickets to her comedy show "Existerhood" here and find her on Twitter @sameenazehra 

 

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What makes a show feminist for you? For example, does it need to be explicit in saying that the content or performers are feminist? Is a performance feminist, as long as there are female performers/writers/directors and not actively sexist?

 

What makes a show feminist depends on your definition of feminism. Feminism is different things to different people, depending on their particular circumstances, the choices they have made, and their cultural context.

My feminism, at it's core, is an exercise in inclusion, and requires agitating and fighting for a level playing field and representation, sharing power cooperatively, and exercising real choice. It's about intent and consequence; power and control.

 

Having said that, a show can be feminist or have aspects of feminism, or even be both feminist and anti-feminist at the same time. It's not as simple as not being sexist, or simply having female/fem gatekeepers. So, for example, you may have a powerful and famous woman doing a solo show in which she speaks of her own empowerment, while at the same time, decrying the #MeToo movement. At one level, her being there, being powerful, being able to speak her truth, making that choice- all of those things are positive feminism. At another level, her show is deeply anti feminist. There is a cognitive dissonance there, and there are nuances within shows that will make them one or the other, or a bit of both.

 

Would you call yourself feminist? Would you call your show feminist, if so how/why?

 

Yes, I do call myself a feminist. I would say my show is feminist according to the notion of feminism that I espouse and choose to exercise. It is entirely possible that other, different feminists would disagree; say it doesn't go far enough, or that it goes too far for the feminism they choose to practise. That's ok, too. We are allowed, as feminists, to disagree and debate and constantly question our own feminism and that of others. Society is dynamic and ever changing. Social movements need to be so as well. Can you describe any feminist moments you've experienced recently, either at the festival or elsewhere?

 

There are lots of things going on- one example of solidarity and direct action is the setting up of a FB group called 'I'll Walk With You', for women to be able to get home safely after late nights, when they have to walk through dark, lonely or rough areas in order to get to their digs. It's a great way to support each other in an empowering way. There are men in the group, too, who have been nominated and vouched for by women in the group. Another initiative was the setting up of the Home Safe Collective, which is a last resort go-to, for vulnerable people, if they cannot find someone to walk with, or if they feel stranded, and cannot afford to pay for a taxi. It's funded entirely by donations, and once you are registered, you can use your code to call a cab to take you home, safely. 
 

What are your thoughts on the relationship between performance/comedy and feminism? How do you think we (as a society) can use performance/comedy to explore and talk about issues such as tech abuse and gender based violence in general?

 

All art is politics, even when it is not political. So yes, there is a relationship between performance and feminism. As there is between performance and art, and every other kind of political/social movement. The degree and intensity of the relationship may vary, as may its impact. We are already using performance, all the time, every day, to explore this relationship and what we can do with it.

 

One of the shows I am doing this fringe is explicitly exploring how we can address some of these issues within the UK comedy industry. I encourage anyone who cares about the current climate to come see the show and have their say in the Q&A after the show. Details on the show here and tickets here.

 

How do you deal with sexism in your life? Any self-care tips?

 

I address the stuff that is within my power to address; I try to rally and work in groups for the stuff that is outside of what I can handle as an individual; I don't sweat the small stuff.

 

In terms of self care tips: 

 

  • Make a distinction between those you can educate and those that are beyond help, and do not waste your emotional energy.

 

  • Surround yourself with people who lift you, respect you, support you. Lift them, respect them, support them. Do not chase or seek the approval of those who seek to undermine you, even when (especially when) they are people who should be lifting you, like family, partners, friends.

 

  • Take a break, treat yourself, don't beat yourself up for not addressing every single instance of misogyny you come across. Sometimes you will be exhausted. Acknowledge it, and let someone else hold the line for you. Hold the line for them when they are exhausted.

 

  • Understand that you are not alone and you cannot solve this alone, but also, every individual act that you do has a far reaching effect. Celebrate that.

 

  • Celebrate your wins, and the wins of others.

 

  • Access your sense of humour. It's so beautiful to see the response of some niqabi women to Boris Johnson's inflammatory hatred. They have been taking pictures with letterboxes and posting them on line with tags saying things like 'out and about with my bestie'. However they are being victimised, they are refusing to be victims. Niqabi women are gathering and calling for Johnson's expulsion from the party, but they are also being funny about it. It's inspiring.

 

Finally, do you have any feminist Fringe recommendations?

 

I really don't know where to start- there are so many. Go and see the women- all of them, cis, trans, women of colour, women with disabilities, storyteller, comedians, theatre makers, dancers, singers, clowns- they are all out there, with a smorgasbord of delights for you to discover. Some of my personal favourites are Daphna Baram, Jojo Bellini, Juliet Meyers, Luisa Omeilan, Spring Day, Giada Garofalo, Sindhu Vee (she's sold out, but try for returns), Kemah Bob, Cameryn Moore, Gráinne Maguire, Robyn Perkins, Sophie Duker, and so many more I am forgetting and will remember when I suddenly wake up at 2 in the morning!

 

Thank you for your great tips Sameena! Be sure to catch her comedy show, on nearly every afternoon till the 26th at Sweet Novotel.

 

 

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