Skip to content

Sexism On and Off Stage

June 25, 2014

There was, apparently, a lot of talk recently about a reviewer who made much of the physical appearance of a female opera singer. I couldn’t follow the story much, as it didn’t seem to get the coverage in places I read my news, but it happened.

And it got me thinking a bit. Theatre is an interesting mix of values. It’s inclusive, but men and women are “boys and girls” yet “Mr and Miss” backstage too.

In my own online opinions I do sometimes comment on the attractiveness (but never otherwise) of some of the cast. It doesn’t challenge any personal taboo or instinct for me to do so. Also, I do rather feel that a genuine compliment on appearance is acceptable from anyone, if it is kindly meant. That may not be the latest “P.C.” but it was how I was brought up. Off-stage, well, from experience, I’ve found that it can “make someone’s day.” So, I won’t be stopping any time soon.

On the other hand, something happened to me on the way to the theatre last weekend that I found disturbing, so I wanted to share.

So. I was on the tube, in a section of carriage with 6 seats – 3 one side, 3 the other. On one side, me, an empty seat and a mid to late teenage male. Opposite him, his female companion, two empty seats beside her.

Me reading newspaper, ignoring everything.

Male begins by telling female to “move her legs apart,” and then proceeds to mark each leg out of 7 (probably not bright enough to count higher). Then enquires about her state of underwear (if she is wearing any) and encourages her to sit next to him.

All this was loud. She didn’t answer some of his remarks, and they did at least get off the tube together.

As it went on, I got angrier and angrier.

Perhaps it could have been done for my benefit – waste of time, I’m not that shockable. Really, really, not that shockable. Simply because teenagers can of course be like that. All theatre, then, maybe? Still, that level of disrespect he showed her, and the crudeness with which she was treated… That’s not funny, I’d hope, even to a teenager.

It was the steady stream of vileness, delivered as if the woman had no feelings at all, like the “man” (note the inverted commas – he isn’t deserving of the actual title) was trolling her in cyberspace. That’s what really worried me. If that’s what a diet of internet material or something in his upbringing has lead him to think acceptable, it was deeply twisted and no joke at all.

Yes, I was angry at him. Enough to want to decorate the carriage with “hint of scumbag,” almost. Also to tell the young woman to seek help to boost her personal self-esteem and respect. Fact is, I know that if I’d ever talked to a single one of my female friends in that way (not that I’d have dreamed of doing so, of course), I’d be in great demand for high voiced opera parts myself…

…And yet, I said nothing. If it was their teenage form of ‘street theatre,’ does it matter? If they were not actually a couple, I know I would have intervened, I couldn’t not. Well, I hope I would. There’s lines and boundaries, and whether on the page or in the street, perhaps we all occasionally need reminding.

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: