Thoughts

Why us women need solidarity more than ever

This was a monumental week for womenkind, and not in a good way. Over the past few days it came to the worlds attention that one of the biggest names in Hollywood, (Harvey Weinstein if you’ve been living under a rock) is a massive, disgusting, sexual predator. Quite frankly, I’m pissed off. Why does it have to be such an extreme situation for the world to wake up to the fact sexual harassment exists? Because, let’s be honest, it’s become a part of everyday life since evolution.

Like many others around me, as a twenty-something female I’m constantly objectified by vile creatures who think it’s OK to see women as nothing more than a piece of meat. And no, it’s not a matter of us ‘asking for it’ or not, these days it doesn’t matter if a woman in a ball gown or a tracksuit, within seconds they can still be undressed by some complete strangers eyes.

We’re told ‘not to be alone’ and to ‘take care’- but why should we have to? How has it got to the point where women have to walk around cautiously, fearful that they won’t get verbally abused, or even worse? It’s a complete and utter farce.

Now, it’s time to get our voices heard, and it’s time to stand together. I, for one, will be walking in January’s Women’s March, and I hope to have my feminist peers beside me. We all need to join this conversation, because maybe if we do, people will realise the severity of the situation so many people are in.

Earlier this year I spoke to Donna Kaz, (known as Aphra Benz) one of the members of a leading feminist group, the Guerrilla Girls. They first came about in the 80’s, and have remained as prominent figureheads in their movements. The women adopted pseudonyms of deceased female artists and also sported gorilla masks, as ‘issues matter more than identities’.

Youve been a member of the group for 25 years, can you talk to me about how its evolved over that time?
I became a Guerrilla Girl in 1997. At that time the group was experiencing some burnout- members were leaving, some of the girls were exhausted and some wanted to take the group in a new direction so new members were sought. Being a theatre artist I focused on the theatre world- which was just as sexist if not more so than the art world at the time. There were a few other Guerrilla Girls who were into performance such as Lorraine Hansberry, Claude Cahun and Gertrude Stein and we formed the theatre committee. We did quite a lot of work- actions, posters,fax blitzes, and got people talking about sexism in theatre. It renewed the energy of the group and put us back on the map.
Ultimately, the Girls seemed to have many different focuses at that timeand in 2001 we agreed to split into three separate Guerrilla Girls groups – Guerrilla Girls On Tour was made up of former members of the theatre committee, Guerrilla Girls BroadBand and Guerrilla Girls, Inc. were the other two groups. Since that time Guerrilla Girls On Tour has operated more like a touring theatre company, visiting 17 countries and 45 US states with new plays,performances and street theatre actions. Why did you choose to let the world know exactly who you are? Have there been any negative repercussions? I felt it was time to share the story of how I became a feminist masked avenger, so I thought about how my journey might be useful to future generations of activists and artists. I also thought that the tactics of the GGs should be shared with others so anyone could implement them. In the end it has been a very positive experience as I am still Aphra Behn but I am also Donna Kaz and I found that unmasking was, perhaps, even more empowering than wearing a rubber gorilla mask.
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Your performances are extremely audience focused, what have you found the benefits of audience interaction to be? 
The mask is a barrier – between me and anyone I am trying to communicate with. On stage it is even more so because there is the “fourth wall between me and the audience. Guerrilla Girls On Tour developed a specific style of theatre that included audience interaction in an attempt to breakdown that wall. We always requested performance venues where the audience was close to thestage – intimate spaces, and we always had the house lights on the audience so we could see everyone in the audience and talk to them, engage them. Now, not everyone in the audience likes this, of course, but we found that we really were able to connect with our crowds by physicallygoing into the audience and talking to them. Then, we developed other ways to engage themthrough activities such as sing alongs, quizzes and questions from the audience. Our performance style is very improvisational so there were times when the audience would react to something we did and we would play off of that. We start our shows by telling the audience it is not aperformance, it is a party and that is what our performances became – a wild celebration of feminism.
What are some of the more difficult situations youve dealt with whilst youve been on tour?
We had a very real and extremely frightening death threat where we had to be escorted off campus that night, it was in Storm Lake Iowa. They invited us back the next year to do a special workshop for the students who were really upset by the threat, and it was great to feel as though we had faced that issue head on and even more so that the campus really supported us. Weve also been heckled, and once an audience member stood up in the middle of the show and started to read from the bible.In all of these situations the audience sort of gets into a cross talk and we just let them go at it and discuss whatever is happening. With the bible quoter, another member of the audience then began to challenge what she was reading and it turned out to be a wonderful moment. Afterwards, a professor told us that it was the first time people with opposite opinions had actually spoken to each other on campus. What more can you ask for? A dialogue began and we didnt really have to do a thing!
Have there been some countries that havent accepted/understood what you (Guerrilla Girls on tour) are trying to get across more than others?
We have learned that what is funny in one country isnt in another, or rather that some people express their delight at comedy by laughing and rolling in the aisle while others prefer to sit in silence and then tell you later that they thought the show was hilarious. Then again, there are many times where people want us to deal with an issue, and we say to those people that what we do is shed light on an issue so that our audiences can feel empowered to stand up and then fight that issue after we are gone. This is why we usually try to set up workshops for the community wherever we perform, we cant tackle every issue so we try to share what we do so that others can then take up the cause. 
Why do you think women are still so underrepresented in the arts?
I dont know the answer but I suspect it has to do with this patriarchal world we live in. Having a groper for a president doesnt help. 
In a world where the lines between genders have become more and more blurred what doyou think the place of the Guerrilla Girls will be?
We will continue to support gender equality and gender freedom.
What has the ‘Trump’ effect been on the group?
My book, UN/MASKED, Memoirs of a Guerrilla Girl On Tour came out on November 1, 2016. For the next week I went around New York City giving readings and talked about how this could finally be the year of the female narrative. Then Trump was elected (on November the 8th 2016) and everyone got depressed and angry. My book then turned into a motivational platform. “We’ve got this, I started to tell people who asked me what they could do about Trump. Artists are the truth tellers of society. Our job is to reflect the truth back to the world. There is no way we shall bedefeated by a liar who is president if we just keep our heads down and dont let up on the truth. The biggest effect has been that the election made us realise we cannot stop what we are doing… not just yet.
You can visit Guerrilla Girls on Tour!s website at ggontour.com or follow the group on Twitter at @guerrillagsot. Donnas book is available to purchase on Amazon.

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