I myself have never been able to find out precisely what feminism is: I only know that people call me a feminist whenever I express sentiments that differentiate me from a doormat – Rebecca West
When the nameless ‘Fleabag’ enters, she sits herself down on a stool and opens the show, with what we later learn, to be the ending – An interview with an obnoxious and arrogant corporate giant who she inexcusably takes no shit from. She needs a job after her café has gone bankrupt. Cue quick witted anecdotes, cynicism, sarcastic deadpan and PURE FILTH! We know what type of person she is and it’s not for the faint hearted. Arm slapping, eyebrow raising and head jilting laughter soon followed (its important to note that being with a friend, I had known for a few years, definitely contributed to how much I found the performance funny. I’d even go so far as to say that being with someone of the same gender made a difference to the experience).
As a one woman show Fleabag definitely made clear distinctions between feminism during its infancy back in the 1800’s and what it means to be a sexually liberated young woman in the 21st century.
Something I was appropriately reading at the time, which also manages to illustrate this new movement of feminism using humour, was Caitlin Moran’s ‘How to be A Woman’. A book I still refer back to when that inner turmoil, between being allured by society’s expectation/shite (of brazilians, botox and babies) and breaking conventions, takes over. Moran often reassures me by asking: ‘Would a man feel bad about it? No. Then neither should you.’
Immediately after the show I began to ask myself what is it about ‘Fleabag’s’ approach that makes us on her side and why do I (and even the men in the audience) admire her and find her one liners hilarious?
On the one hand Fleabag has embraced her sexually liberated attitude and behaviour and is almost exonerated for taking on a more masculine approach towards promiscuity – something which has had undeniably difficult affects on women in becoming socially acceptable…but this new generation, of young women, is changing that. ‘Would a man feel bad about it? No. Then neither should you.’
But…where does this sexual liberation come from? The 21st century media that’s where and Fleabag makes that damn clear. Fuck off readily available pornographic images – We were fine until you came along. (Actually…don’t go too far – inner turmoil!)
Anyway, it got me thinking that when a woman takes on more masculine traits its seen as more acceptable than when a man were to take an interest in the feminine. Pairing men with the feminine is seen as an insult – as if one were to lower themselves, almost becoming an aversion to the effeminate.
So we’re seeing feminine things as bad and weak but its much more complex – the problem is the expectation, that anyone perceived to have extremely feminine traits, is seen as less valuable. Should I have roared with laughter when she told us about her night out in the local club?
‘This guy cupped my vagina from behind (Pause) It’s ok. He bought me a drink so its fine’
Perhaps it was a test.
I agree that rejecting the feminine can be an important critique of oppressive gender roles, but as long as that critique doesn’t turn into actual hatred of the feminine and by women themselves. On the plus side it seems there is a new generation of fairness and expectation when it comes to equality in the home, the work place and in the bedroom and Fleabag represents this brilliantly – young women are better at tackling these issues and are less…surrendered than anyone.
Fleabag explores this concept well but as a result we see the cracks begin to emerge when she unravels insecurities and emotions behind the guarded exterior – especially when her nonchalant promiscuity turns into a desperate plea to be loved. We discover that this attitude, in fact, comes from the grief of losing her mother to breast cancer, losing her best friend in an accident, bankruptcy and her addiction to porn.
So don’t be fooled here-not everything in this show is ‘anything to do with women’. Yes it explores concepts of feminism but this story is for anyone. It’s truth.
Let’s not also forget what has brought writers like Waller-Bridge to write this stuff. I could go on but the history of women’s oppression is an important one. Neoliberalism, capitalism, globalisation, class society, exploitative systems, commercialisation, objectification, socialism, colonialism and decolonisation (the list goes on) have all contributed to the existence of feminism and our current position.
And even though I didn’t find ‘Fleabag’ theatrically groundbreaking, it was witty, funny and full of dark action. But whilst we sit back and enjoy, it’s also something to take away and think about.
Fleabag by DryWrite ran at the Edinburgh Fringe at the Underbelly from 2nd – 26th August.
Now showing at Soho theatre until 22nd September 2013.