Blush: Revenge Porn & Gender

It’s been a busy month; I went to Venice and Verona with my sister and it was so beautiful, I want to go back! However, this has meant that there have been 0 theatre trips and 0 blog posts – oops.

That all changed this weekend though, as I went to see Blush by Snuffbox at the Wardrobe Theatre, Bristol. Written by the talented Charlotte Josephine and directed by Ed Stambollouian.

This is not a review, it’s more of a commentary about the subjects raised, because I feel like they should be addressed. But as a side note, I thought the play was incredible and an excellent exploration of these themes.

Blush addresses our relationship with the online world and sex, and frankly, how we as human beings haven’t had a moment to truly adjust to it. We follow three women, energetically multi-roled by Charlotte herself; one, a rejected lover looking for revenge, another, an 18 year old girl seeking approval from the online world, and her older sister, worried sick about her younger sister’s situation.

Then we have Daniel Foxsmith, multi-roling the two male characters. One, a young, bright entrepreneur who creates apps for a living, another, a father with two young daughters.

Revenge Porn

Their separate stories slowly unravel, until they all seem to compliment each other, delivering a strong, punchy message through various voices. We discover how regardless of the situation, women tend to come off worse. A leaked sex tape is seen by 30,000 people on various porn sites; the young 18 year old girl is mentally scarred, her reputation tarnished. Meanwhile, the rejected lover shares videos of her boyfriend and it’s simply shrugged at – she’s accused of being a headcase, she’s suspended from work and forced to apologise. The question here is – where is the young boy who shared the sex tape? What happened to him? He is voiceless, faceless, exempt from shame.

It was discovered that there were 1,160 reported incidents of revenge porn from April 2015-December 2015, from 31 of the 43 police forces in England and Wales (BBC News). Unsurprisingly, in a separate report, 90% of victims are women, so no wonder Charlotte was fuelled to write this piece. This isn’t just a question of cyber-rape (because that’s basically what it is), this is a much bigger question about gender and the way women are still often viewed as sexual objects to be taken advantage of. This does not work in reverse. It just doesn’t.

Sexual Rejection

This plot line is accompanied by the young entrepreneur, giving a talk about online behaviour and apps. He goes on a date with a woman, Lucy, who attended his talk and she challenges him about the effect his app might have on the people who use it. He makes a pass and is rejected. Hurt and drunk, he heads to social media, stating that she led him on. He is fuelled by followers who accuse Lucy of being a ‘cock tease’ – he is confused by the stance, the overwhelming majority who shame this woman they don’t know, simply because he read the signs wrong.

Is this about male pride, fundamentally? Normally, when a woman rejects sexual advances from a man, she’s accused of “friend zoning”. On the other hand, when a man rejects a woman’s advances, she tends to question her self-worth. This is a massive generalisation, I know, but you see where I’m going here. This can contribute to rape culture, as the friend-zone theory became a grotesque slogan: “She put me in the friend zone/I put her in the rape zone”. For so long, women’s sexual desires have become muffled through “friend zone” accusations, porn and unsolicited dick pics.

Guilt

Blush addresses the underlying guilt within the male characters. The young entrepreneur is ashamed by his following, who all accuse Lucy of being a slut, and that they’ve ‘got his back’. He’s bewildered that while he gets a slap on the wrist, Lucy is sent to exile by the online community. Meanwhile, the father character accidentally clicks on the leaked sex tape of the 18 year old girl and sees the very same poster his daughter has in her room in the background. It’s not until he imagines his own daughter in that situation, that he is forced to reassess his relationship with sex.

They are trapped in their own masculinity and are waking up to it and analysing their position in the world. Charlie Glickman refers to it as “The Man Box”. When masculinity is threatened, (e.g. when they experience sexual rejection), they fall outside of the box; gay, female or loser. This can eventually lead to aggression in order to prove their masculinity in a more obvious and open way, which in turn, can contribute to rape culture and revenge porn.

This kind of theatre is so important; it opens up dialogue and gives us a snap shot into this microcosm of society to allow us to engage with it as a whole. Blush was a shocking and thought-provoking piece which inspired me to write about thoughts I’ve had for a very long time on this subject, but had no starting point to bounce off.

If you’re interested in the subject of masculinity, you might want to attend Robert Webb’s talk at the Festival of Ideas in September.

And if you don’t already, please follow my blog and find me on Twitter.

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