A matter of consent

Whoop 'n' Wail

Playwright and long time Whoop ‘n’ Wail collaborator, Dan Horrigan, tells us about his play, Face the Camera and Smile, which features in this month’s 50/50 at the Arts Theatre, London as part of the Women In The West End Festival.

The 50/50 Festival caught my attention because it’s a welcome and required concept – present work where the balance of genders is equal, what you see on the stage is a parity. In it’s way it is contributing to a sea change taking place right now in British Theatre – to do with representation.

I am currently redrafting my play Face The Camera And Smile, a scene from which is part of the 50/50 Festival. It was previously shortlisted for The Kings Cross Award for New Writing in 2009. It was also treated very kindly by Writers Avenue with readings of the first 20 minutes…

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Is it easier to be a male Feminst?

It is likely that, if you have decided to read this article, you already know the answer to this question.

When Ross Putnam started his Twitter account @femscriptintros on the 10th February, I doubt he expected that he would have 50,000 followers after just a few days. Today, almost 62,000 are following his tragicomic verbatim postings, citing real descriptions of female characters, all focussing on the physical attributes rather than the actual character.

To those of us in the performing arts, Putnam is highlighting something we have all known for years. As an actress, casting breakdowns looking for “girl, beautiful, 20s” have long drawn groans, eye rolls and despair – even from women who fit the bill. Ever emailed a director and asked for more info on “girl”? I know many who have, and the response has generally been a tumbleweed, or an answer that defines her by her relationship to the male protagonist.

Casting: Looking for three actresses for great roles! We are casting – John’s mum, John’s wife, and John’s sister.

Casting: Female, 20s, prostitute.

I paraphrase, but I could produce hundreds of old breakdowns that match the above. The female characters are so often described by what they are, and not who they are. “Mum”, “Gran”, “Girlfriend” or just “Woman” are common role titles. Ask any actress you know and she will tell you she has had to make up a name for a role she has played so that it looks like more than a walk on when she updates her CV. Few male actors I know have had to do that, although that is certainly less true if they are non-white.

What has been interesting about Putnam’s contribution is that people are listening. The Mary Sue highlighted this in a recent article – which admirably Putnam immediately retweeted on his feed – women have been highlighting this for years, but once a man added his voice people sat up and took notice. Amongst numerous others, anonymous actress @proresting has been posting depressing casting breakdowns on her Tumbler since 2013, but is yet to achieve a quarter of the followers Putnam achieved in two days:


As an advocate for Gender Equality in the arts (and all areas of life) I think it is incredibly important to involve and include men in the conversation.When Ali Kemp and I started Whoop ‘n’ Wail Represents…, our mission was to encourage playwrights – male and female – to write scripts that pass the Bechdel Test. In our view, we were not going to change the face of UK theatre without changing the way that all playwrights write and characterise – and with only 17% of plays staged penned by female writers, that had to include playwrights of both genders. That said, it remains incredibly important that women are heard and their thoughts and contributions valued without male endorsement.

Last year, Clementine Ford wrote an interesting article about the differing reaction to male and female feminists. Sadly, it still holds true. As I highlighted in a previous post, women are still routinely trolled, villified and threatened for their contribution, whereas their male counterparts are lauded for their efforts. This is not to discourage men from joining the debate and supporting gender equality – far from it – but despite it’s positive impact, the coverage that The Jane Test has garnered in comparison to female activists in the same arena serves to highlight the ongoing battle.

Jane Test

It does feel like there is currently a rising awareness of the lack of gender equality, particularly in the arts, due to the contrbution of high profile women such as Meryl Streep, Rachel Weisz, Helen Mirren, Maggie Gyllenhall, Cate Blanchette, and Salma Hayek. Perhaps the positive response to Putnam’s contribution is a sign that the tide is turning? A recent YouGov poll highlighted that, in the UK, only 31% of people identified as a feminist, however 81% said that they thought men and women should be treated equally in every way. Maybe men are more comfortable associating themselves with the F Word, as the feedback from a declaration is generally wholly positive, whereas women risk a negative response that can range from complete dismissal to trolling and threats.

Women’s voices need to be both heard and given value – and not just when men agree with them. That’s not to say we are always right; but it would be nice if challenges to thoughts, statements and articles were debated on their merit rather than resorting to threats of (particularly sexual) violence.

In September last year, the University of Toronto’s  female students and faculty members were inundated with threats, including threats to kill, particularly those working in Sociology and Women’s Studies. Feminists such as Anita Sarkeesian, Rebecca Watson and Caroline Criado-Perez have been inundated with death and rape threats for merely expressing their thoughts about feminism and/or their professions. Last month, Vocativ.com published a breakdown of the threats Sarkeesian recieves in an average week. Author Luke Malone notes that this does not include 96 “containing general profanity and abuse “:

AS Threats

The number of women subjected to this particularly aggressive version of trolling cannot be guessed, but is significant. Emma A Jane’s article, “Rape threats and cyberhate? Vote no to the new digital divide” highlights the decision many women online have to make:

Gender, class and race are all key markers of difference and inequality in terms of digital citizenship. For many women, this manifests in a stark choice: put up with the deluge of misogynist abuse, withdraw from the internet or find ways of e-engagement that don’t attract attention – like tweeting in drag.

In a way, writer Alex Blank Millard did just that. In her article “IT HAPPENED TO ME: I Posed As A Man On Twitter And Nobody Called Me Fat or Threatened To Rape Me For Once” she highlights the different responses to male and female feminists online. For example, a woman, she was told she is both “fat and ugly” and, simultaneously, “too ugly to rape”.


For her experiment, Alex changed nothing other than her profile picture – to that of a white male. Her tweets remained the same, speaking out against systematic oppression, race, police accountability and domestic violence. The difference? No trolling. No threats. No one attempting to silence her/him.


Although conducted two years prior to Millard’s, Anil Dash’s experiment “The Year I Didn’t Retween Men” also raises interesting complementary questions about (conscious and unconscious) gender bias after he discovered the vast majority of posts he was retweeting were from men.

Interest in Putnam’s @femscriptintros and discussion of The Jane Test continue unabated. This is a good thing, a positive step – perhaps it is a way into the gender inequality conversation for people who were not already involved. All attempts to highlight the gender equality gap – be that in the arts, gaming, inequal pay, etc. – are welcome and add power and momentum, but there is still an overwhelming issue about the validity of a woman’s lone voice. We mustn’t exclude or undervalue the contribution of 49% of the population, but the same must be true for the 51%.

Collaboration is key: activists need to link together to overcome, reach out to those with similar views, pool resources. When our voices join together they are overwhelming, and no amount of fear, misinformation or trolling will be able to silence us.




What’s in it for me?

Whoop 'n' Wail

Guest blogger, actress and award winning writer Dani Moseley says  if put yourself out there, you’ll find out.


Last year summer my best friend had started acting in short, one off theatre showcases and going on about how great they were and how I should get involved. I turned my nose up at the idea, thinking: ‘I don’t need to do work like that anymore’. I know, right, who did I think I was? Lol. But, work was getting quiet and I, wanting a change from just doing youth theatre tours, trusted her so, when director Alice Bonifacio, offered me the opportunity to take part in Whoop ‘n’ Wail Represents….The Launch, I slightly reluctantly took it.

Music Box 3 Dani taking notes from director Alice Bonifacio with actress Lizzie Bourne in Three Women in a Music Box by Dan Horrigan

I was cast in an all female three-hander, Dan Horrigan‘s Three…

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There’s nowhere to hide (apart from in a cupboard!)

I can’t wait to see the full length version of Grit!

Whoop 'n' Wail

From Represents…. to The Pleasance: playwright Sarah Davies on how her short, Grit, has been developed into a full lengh play.

‘She deals with the world now with a grimace that to her looks cheerful, and to everyone else, looks like the final stages of rigor mortis setting in. She puts it on as she reaches the school gates and leaves it in herlap-top case at weekends. Pupils go out of their way to let her pass now in corridors, heads respectfully bent to the floor. Because she never checks her reflection she can’t see their view; that carnival mask grin and her eyes like dead things that float in ponds. Belly-up and sweetly rotting she goes about her day, the coffee-prep-register-teach-coffee-prep-teach-mark-coffee-mark-never-finish-coffee-mark day that stretches into months’.

Colleen Daley as Val Colleen Daley as Val

I love the fact that I live in a world where I can say ‘Ok, I’ve written…

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Death by a thousand cuts

Earier this month, NHS England chief Simon Stephens urged the govenment to change their mind on measures that would see an estimated 30,000 nurses deported. The preposterous decision not to include nurses on the list of “shortage occupations” would mean non-EEA workers who earn less than £35,000 after six years in the UK will be deported.

As someone who works in frontline NHS services in London, I immediately recognised that – in one fell swoop – this would bring the NHS to its knees. The vast majority of my qualified colleagues are from overseas. NHS staff have not had a pay increase in 5 years – because a 1% increase when the average rate of inflation is 2.67% is a pay cut.

The starting pay band for a qualified nurse is £21,692 (Band 5) – this would mean mass deportation of people who have chosen to train in the UK and remain to care for its population. Oh, and paying tax, which supports the very system they work within and we all use. The top of Band 5 is £28,180 and would take 7 years to attain – even with London weighting this disqualifies all non-EEA nurses. Only staff of Band 7 and above would earn enough to be permitted to remain. Outside of London, it becomes even more impossible to achieve. In addition, the government are proposing severe cuts to pay for junior doctors, driving even those who are UK born and bred to look to other countries for a living wage.

The nursing exodus already started. We are not only failing to recruit into the NHS, we are drastically failing to retain the experienced staff we have as pay remains static and the cost of living rises. Recruitment and Retention payments staff previously received have also been been cut. Many go to Australia, where their profession is respected and welcomed, and the standard of living is better.

There is an unhealthy conflation of immigration, migration, and those seeking refuge. There is a presumption that everyone is desperate to get into/stay in the UK: with the ungrateful way people who work all hours, day and night, 365 days a year (including bank holidays, weekends, Christmas and New Year) are treated is it any wonder they are looking to greener pastures? The government keep saying they are going to train more “home grown” nurses, but that does not happen overnight – plus do we benefit by losing all the experience our current nurses have?

The recent Joint union membership survey from the Royal College of Nurses (RCN) states:

The NHS trade unions’ latest joint survey of members across the UK highlights high levels of dissatisfaction with the level of pay awards, low levels of morale and motivation due to workplace stress.  NHS workers do not feel there is enough time and resources to carry out their jobs and regularly work in excess of their contracted hours in order to provide the best care they can for their patients. 

No news there…

So, in a spectacular but fairly predictable climbdown, it has been announced that the government have temporarily lifted restrictions on recruiting nurses from overseas.  What this means for the enormous number of care workers who do not have a nursing qualification (eg. heathcare assistants) is anyone’s guess. Simultaneously the government announced a “cap” on “expensive agency staff”. No Trust chooses to use agency staff instead of substantive staff! In Mental Health care a personal knowledge of your patients and a rapport with them is unbelievably important, as it is in all other areas of healthcare. Agency staff are filling the gap left by years of pay freezes, real-term pay cuts, removal of overtime payments…the list goes on. Substantive staff are resigning and going to work for agencies because they are paid more! Oh, and next Jeremy Hunt thinks abolishing unsociable hours payments is a grand old idea – but avoided a commons debate about the £1bn NHS deficit. This year MP’s got a 10% pay rise, while NHS staff again got only 1%. Would you work Christmas Day or New Year’s Day in A&E for £9.00 an hour? Well apparently that is a living wage my friend, so you best get used to it.

So now Nurses will temporarily be added to the government’s Shortage Occupation List, which means nurses from outside the European Economic Area will have their applications prioritised. So they are temporarily as necessary as ballerinas.

Meanwhile, the government’s obsession with kicking vulnerable people while they are down continues unabated. Following on from the outrageous “bedroom tax” and proposed cuts to working tax credits, it has now been confirmed that UN representatives will visit the UK to investigate “grave and systematic violations” of the rights of disabled people, alledged to have taken place under austerity measures. Mental Health services have been cut, at a time where they are more oversubscribed than ever. People are literally dying from the impact of austerity – a policy that has been repeatedly shown as counter-productive by economists. In Paul Krugman’s The Austerity Delusion he highlights:

Since the global turn to austerity in 2010, every country that introduced significant austerity has seen its economy suffer, with the depth of the suffering closely related to the harshness of the austerity…The economics of austerity are the same – and the intellectual case as bankrupt – in Britain as everywhere else.

You remember the Blairism “Tough on Crime, Tough on the Causes of Crime”? Whatever you think of the speaker, violent crime is currently at its lowest rate in twenty years. But not for long. Today, Met Police Commissioner Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe highlighted that the proposed cuts to Police budgets “will put London at risk”. With cuts estimated at a cool billion, Hogan-Howe estimates a loss of 8,000 officers in London alone.

In the meantime, while we continue to imprison more people, cut the number of prison staff to a minimum and do almost nothing to prevent reoffending we tax payers continue to pay more than it costs to go to Eton for each person we incarcerate. On average our prisons are currently at 97% capacity, but some are so overcrowded that they are running at 179% of the CNA level (Certified Normal Accommodation). Half of the world’s prison population of is held in the US, China or Russia; but you may be surprised to know that in England and Wales we incarcerate more people per head of population that the Chinese. 148 people in every 100,000 to be exact (in China it is 118 ). Heaven forbid we invest in adequate mental health provision, probation services, affordable housing and education to prevent people offending, reoffending or being recalled in the first place. No, far better to force people into abject poverty and just wait and see what happens.

But maybe if we can just push all those nurses out it’ll be okay.

We stand #withMalala!

It’s time! Tweet now to stand #with Malala and show your support for Girls Education. Join the campaign and sign the petition: www.change.org/withMalala

Mal Malala

Source: We stand #withMalala!

Don’t mention the M word!

Whoop 'n' Wail

Film director Georgie Weedon’s journey into feminist theatre.

As a director of factual movies (I have stopped saying documentaries following Michael Moore’s recent brilliant advice), the opportunity to direct a play was thrilling and a little terrifying.

I met Ali and Debs for the first time, in a cafe in Covent Garden in March. I had seen an advert calling for directors for a night of new plays that would pass the Bechdel TestWhoop ‘n’ Wail Represents…Mayday.

To me the appeal was two-fold: I am dazzled by Mark Rylance’s performance in Wolf Hall but bored by the number of male characters wafting about the screen in some kind of Tudor stag night saga; And then those ugly stats about the dismal number of female directors and lack of trust in female-led films and theatre.

Ali and Debs weren’t just ruing the situation, they were doing something…

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Election 2015: Play Nice – “Pile On!” is for the Playground

On the eve of election day, I took to Twitter to push my views in other people’s faces. After all, that’s what Twitter’s for, right?

This election will be a first for me – I will not be voting Lib Dem. I still believe in their ideology, but unfortunately Clegg chucked it under a bus, so as a proud employee of the NHS I will be voting Labour tomorrow and hoping against hope for a new government on Friday morning #VoteNHS.

I despise the Tories (I am Scottish, so it was bred-in), however way above them in the scumbag stakes, and way below in my estimation, comes Farage’s UKiP.

No amount of slippery rhetoric can get around the fact that, with the BNP effectively neutered, their cohorts have gone in two distinct directions: UKiP and the EDL. Or both. This does not forgive or forget the numerous faux pas of other parties’ candidates, however the Daily Mirror’s video of a UKiP candidate threatening to shoot a Tory candidate purely on the basis of racism makes all others pale by comparison. If you haven’t had the displeasure, the link to Robert Blay’s outrageous outpouring is here.

So, I duly added my cyber voice to the @hopenothate Thunderclap using the hashtag #NotVotingUKiP. Unsurprisingly, the kippers are out in force trying to tear down those using the hashtag, alongside a fair number of professional and wannabe Trolls who just can’t face not being the most hated show in town. What was surprising was the poor quality of the Trolling – I am either not interesting enough or do not rise to the bait properly anymore (as I write about Gender Equality this is not my first rodeo).


Fairly lackluster.

Meanwhile in a different Twittersphere, and unknown to me, a young feminista was being “piled on” in an attempt to shut her up after someone sympathetic shared a post where @staywithgrace gave her personal reasons for not voting for UKiP. The main issue I have with Twitter is how easily someone can summon their friends/minions/cohorts to an argument to back them up and attempt to silence the person at the other side of the argument, not with facts and figures or considered opinions, but with weight of numbers. That is, of course, a classic bullying tactic. And ironically one that UKiP will probably be most proud of. When the barrage finally made Grace say she was not going to engage further her new ‘friend’ cyber cheered to all his Twitter inclusions by calling her a victim.

Goodbye Victim


But don’t worry – the boy can multitask:


While the first (and arguably worst) onslaught was cut off, like the mythical hydra three more heads rose in its place. Being that the initial post came from *shock horror * a woman – and self confessed feminist – the assault inevitably turned sexual in nature. No better way to shut a woman up than by trying to slut-shame her into the bargain, right? Our friend @hattondog appears to have removed the initial tweet to all his cronies saying Grace was sending him “filthy” private messages, but the response remains:


Others suggested she “make them a sandwich” andbemoaned the “terrible” treatment of convicted rapist Chad Evans.

I had already sent Grace a couple of supportive Tweets, but this last one got my goat and I entered the fray! I was riled, so I was almost disappointed when the best @hattondog could muster was the following:


The fight continues on Grace’s page just now – a person I have never met but feel hugely connected to as I have experienced some fairly hardcore Trolling myself on the #HeforShe facebook page. One guy sent my literally hundreds of messages, cramming my inbox with his woman-hating, “feminists are Nazis and here is the proof” propaganda. Like somehow I was going to decide not to be a woman anymore and just shut up.

It started because he ‘liked’ The Launch of  the Whoop ‘n’ Wail Represents… nights, ostensibly because we promote gender equality through male and female creatives working in collaboration. He messaged saying how great we were, unlike ‘evil feminists’, and I corrected him explaining I am a feminist but that does not mean man hating – taking me back to an old post I wrote called The F Word. The result was a deluge of material, too much to read, digest and respond to. Which of course is the point. You can’t respond, or can’t fully appraise yourself of everything you have had thrown at you quickly enough to reply citing all the ways in which they are wrong. So they chalk it up as a victory – as Grace found out today. I tried ignoring it, assuming my guy would get bored and move on, but oh no, he continued to inundate me.

Realising the thing he desperately wanted was my engagement I continued to ignore him (through very gritted teeth) as he likened me to Nazis and genocidal dictators. While that likely frustrated him it equally frustrated me as I was effectively STILL BEING SILENCED! Finally I composed a well thought through, even-handed response to him explaining I do not have enough hours in the day to wade through his screeds of ‘evidence’, and that perhaps we had best agree to disagree. The response I received was surprising. Not vitriol, not a redoubling of his efforts to bury me and my account under a weight of cyber info. Shockingly it was a very emotional outpouring, accusing me of failing to listen to him, of not valuing him. I could paste what was written here, but despite his behaviour what he told me was very personal and revealing and I wouldn’t feel right about doing so. Up until that point I had assumed I was dealing with a professional Troll, someone who is not particularly invested in the fight but enjoys the reaction they get. In reality this was a fairly damaged human being – one I entirely disagreed with, but who seemingly felt entirely voiceless and had a pathalogical need to be heard by women who, given the forum he chose, were inevitably going to disagree with him.

This feeling of being voiceless, of being silenced, is therefore one that is strangely shared on both sides of the argument, and perhaps this is the appeal of political parties like UKiP. There are large numbers in their ranks who are bigots and sexists, but it would be a mistake to assume all fall neatly under that banner – though it may be more comforting to make that assumption. The fact is that people feel so removed from the political process, and so powerless, that fringe parties are picking up votes from unexpected places. The political power of fear should not be underestimated, and all three of the big parties have lost so much respect and broken so many promises in the past that the electorate are looking for alternatives. The Greens will likely (and hopefully) pick up seats tomorrow, with the Lib Dems expected to take heavy losses. With the Tories balancing uncomfortably between their natural base and some more forward-thinking policies (supporting marriage equality for example) some of their voter base are looking for alternatives, and some have allowed the blinkers to go on so that they can ignore the fact that UKiP is a party that includes a huge racist/xenophobic/sexist element.

After a long period of financial and political uncertainty – the recession, the coalition, austerity – I suspect that what everybody really wants is some stability. What I want is a government that values the NHS, immigration and equality, and one that recognises taxing the middle to fund the rich is a recipe for disaster.

At work today, I asked my colleagues what would happen if all the “immigrants” decided to take the day off work tomorrow. My hospital would certainly grind to a halt – we would not even be able to muster the bare minimum of staffing required to run our wards, full as they are of inpatients who were largely born in this country and are primarily cared for by people originally born overseas. If we included two generations as the Nazis did, or three as the BNP did, the place would be empty and I would also be at home. Even if there were people ‘eligible’ to come to work, there would be no public transport to bring them. This idea that ‘our’ country is overcrowded with benefit-hungry foreigners is an absolute nonsense: the vast majority of immigrants work, pay their taxes, and contribute to the welfare state that the Tories have yet to successfully destroy. Recent economic studies have dispelled the myth over and over, showing that immigrants contribute far more to the country financially that they take out of it. It is all scaremongering – look over there, it’s his fault you don’t have a job! Those than can work should, those that can’t through no fault of their own should be looked after, because that is what a civilised society does:

“From each according to his ability, to each according to his need”

So, for the first time in my adult life, I am voting for Labour tomorrow. I hope, whoever you vote for, you are voting for Hope not Hate and #NotVotingUKIP.

Britain: For the Love of God, Please Stop David Cameron

Benjamin Studebaker

On May 7 (this Thursday), Britain has a general election. I care deeply about British politics–I did my BA over there and will return to do my PhD there this fall. But more importantly, David Cameron’s government has managed the country’s economy with stunning fecklessness, and I couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t do my part to point this out.

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My worst nightmare!

Ali Kemp on anxiety dreams and amazing theatre!

Whoop 'n' Wail

Preparing to go on stage as Katie in Madjesty for Whoop ‘n’ Wail Represents…Mayday, I put the finishing touches to my make up. Lipstick on and dabbed, I stood by the wings and waited for my cue. The opening music, The Sex Pistols’ God Save the Queen, fired up and on stage I went.

As the lights went up there was a howl of laughter, screams and wolf whistles from a packed house. What was so funny? We hadn’t even started yet. Why were people laughing?

And as I stood there, bemused, I felt an uncomfortable draft. With horror, and hardly daring to look, I went to place my hands on my stomach, now sick with nerves. My hands were met not with the soft cotton of my blue wrap around dress but the synthetic polyester and elastane silkiness of my big black ‘Bridget Jones’ pants. I stood there…

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