The fabulous Jenny Lindsay answers some of our questions on feminism and performance below. You can catch her spoken word performance, "This Scripts and Other Drafts", on the 20th to 22nd August at the Scottish Storytelling Centre. Tickets available here. To find out more, you can follow her on Twitter @msjlindsay.
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?
I’d say that a show is feminist if it seeks in some way to further the process towards female liberation. Now, that’s a pretty massive thing really, and can take loads of different forms. Feminism isn’t an orthodoxy, so I’d not proscribe how such a thing could be done, but where an artist is either shining a light on the condition of women, or is seeking to expose truths, shine a light on power hierarchies in terms of gender? Aye, that show is feminist. I’d definitely not say that a show is necessarily feminist simply by virtue of being written by a woman and/or featuring only female cast members. Not all women are feminists and not everything we do, say and think is necessarily feminist either. I think that’s almost dangerously reductive.
Would you call yourself feminist? Would you call your show feminist, if so how/why?
Yes, I call myself a feminist, but it is tough to be a feminist and I’m often a terrible one. We all are because we live in this system and it’s pretty tough not to be. This Script is feminist in the sense that it’s an exploration of the schisms within feminist thinking, it also seeks and encourages collective action and empathy, and moreover it’s an encouragement to speak out, be brave, and stop self-censoring - and to forgive more. We hold ourselves to impossible standards. Written largely in the wake of #MeToo, it’s querying the relationship between the ‘I’ and the ‘We’, in light of the backlash to that movement from both left and right, feminist and anti-feminist thinkers, and it’s an honest, personal account of both my joys and anger at the progress that has and has not been made since I was a kid and first started battling gendered expectations.
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?
Absolutely we can. And must. My own art form of spoken word poetry abounds with women doing just this. The trick, I guess, is to get the balance right between keeping yourself and your audience safe, and still holding truth to power in a way that will make people listen and not feel preached to. I know that I’ve battled to get men into my show as they see the word ‘feminist’ and often run a mile, even though the show is about the online culture wars too - something men speak about, arguably, far more than women do! We can, rightly, say that it’s not our job to educate men about feminism, but we kind of have to. They’re the ones who need to explore this and to listen to us. I’ve been incredibly grateful to have had extremely positive feedback from the men who have come to my show, as well as blown away by the solidarity of women from all walks of life (and from across the spectrum of feminist thinking) too.
How do you deal with sexism in your life? Any self-care tips?
The comfort and succour I gain from my older female friends - and my mother - are vital. Unfortunately, sexism is engrained. I guess the first act of self-care is understanding the systemic nature of it and finding the ability to challenge it and speak out about it. That is self-care. It’s not easy at all, but silence is corrosive and eats away at you and I know I’ve felt sicker when I’ve let something slide rather than rock the boat or what-not, whether that’s in challenging hiring practices at institutions, challenging promoters who lazily book all-male line-ups, or, more seriously, challenging sexual harassment in the arts scene.
Finding others to help you when you’re unable to speak out too, though, for whatever reason. In terms of my work, working full time as a writer, performer and promoter, being part of online women-only groups of fellow arts workers has been so, so important too! We all need to rage sometimes!
Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us, Jenny!