Something shifted two years ago, when the first #MeToo found itself pinned to an alluding tweet.
Unwittingly, we had stumbled into a new uprising: one laced with belated anger and hot breath. One that was necessary and tingling. One itching to be found in the pages of future history books.
Art, business, hospitality, sport: every industry felt – and continues to feel – the wrath of women’s pain. No longer asking for permission to bite the hand that feeds us (or rather, pretends to), marginalised folk everywhere embraced the new revolt in its hashtag-able form and leaped at the opportunity to critique, to dismantle, to destroy the patriarchy from the inside out.
Men trembled, unsure if they were next to have their name pinned. A reverse Scarlett Letter – if you will – was taking place. The tables had turned.
It made sense, then, for director Steven Mitchell Wright of The Danger Ensemble to champion this: to let men tremble, quite literally, in the discomfort of a changing world. His team of theatre makers devised the production Let Men Tremble, something performer Alexandra Hines affectionally calls “a call to arms for those who have been disenfranchised” when she, Wright and I sit down over coffee to discuss making art in a post #MeToo cultural climate.
“When we talk about making work in a #MeToo era,” Wright starts, “what we’re really talking about is the fact that what #MeToo did is shift the power imbalance with the way conversations are being had.”
Sexual harassment and discrimination have always been something obscured, behind-the-scenes, a part-and-parcel facet of living in the world as a woman. But putting such a critique of the patriarchy on stage is a provocation, an explicit shifting of power and paradigm, something that the digitised success of #MeToo permitted.
Wright didn’t tiptoe around his being a man, and what that meant in the context of directing a theatre production about gendered oppression. “I didn’t want to make a feminist, anti-patriarchal work without holding myself accountable to my privilege, to my hand in that,” he acknowledged. “And I think that’s been a really difficult thing to negotiate in the rehearsal room, but something we’ve done with transparency.”
It seemed apt, then, given the production’s title, for Wright to grant himself the capacity to shudder, to feel uncomfortable in such a domain.
The #MeToo movement has been lauded for its capacity to shift gender hierarchy’s “tectonic plates”, as Catharine MacKinnon suitably describes them, to instil not only power but trust into those whose testimonies are often disregarded, to promote a kind of sureness and validity when it comes to the words of women.
At its heart, though, is the age-old act of story-telling, of sharing and splitting parts of one’s self, of hand-balling tales – no matter how dark, or monstrous – to one another. “Instead of picketing on the streets,” Hines says, while reflecting on theatre as a form of protest and objection, “it’s a different call to arms.”
But for any art-makers, a pertinent question still stands: if we reject something, be it the patriarchy or otherwise, how do we go about that rejection? Do we appropriate it? Do we destroy it? And if we destroy it, how do we start again?
This is why Wright didn’t provide his audience with a sense of catharsis, he tells Archer. “The work refuses to do the emotional labour. You literally… let men tremble.”
Not only are marginalised people willing – and able – to disrupt a world that refuses to serve them, they don’t owe their abusers answers, resolution or hope.
When Donald Trump’s former chief strategist, Steve Bannon, watched the Golden Globes in January of this year, he trembled. The performance of anti-patriarchy was enough to cause him to quiver in his boots. “If you rolled out a guillotine, [the women would] chop off every set of balls in the room,” he declared, and it was this unwitting hark back to society of old, a call to what once was, that worked as inspiration in Wright’s performance. “Our work is always looking back in some ways,” he explains.
What strikes me the most in conversation with Wright and Hines isn’t necessarily their impudence, their cheek, the way they delight in creating contentious work.
It is their relationship to accountability, or rather how important they thought it was to facilitate it, for their audience, cast and crew to be answerable to somebody, something.
“[The men in the show] literally sit in the space. They’re stripped bare and forced to face that. And they do that on stage. That’s an act of bravery. That’s a willingness to embrace accountability. It’s an act of compassion on their part,” Steven tells me, with resolution.
In a post #MeToo climate, it is this that demands care: liability, acknowledgement, tired and useful nods to the less powerful.
Madison Griffiths is a writer, artist and poet whose work has been published in The Guardian, VICE, Meanjin, Kill Your Darlings, Overland, The Lifted Brow and more. She is also the producer of the Tender podcast, an audio-documentary that explores what happens when women leave abusive relationships. Her work revolves predominantly around issues concerning women, digital medias and resistance.
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