Review and reflect on at least one live performance and/or one film that you have watched within the duration of this brief. Consider how the work you have chosen reflects on life within the context of modernity. Use critical and theoretical ideas, quoting/paraphrasing authors, reviewers, writers.
This essay will discuss the subject of feminism within performance, specifically focusing on Hot Brown Honey, and the significance of social changes concerned with modernity that relate to changing attitudes between the 20th and 21st century. Located at Assembly Roxy, the hive is a safe empowering environment, inhabited by six all-powerful women targeting microaggressions of the everyday, as well as controversial and less subtle prejudices that have real impact on their lives. The question of how the new generation can influence change will also be considered by studying different perceptions in society regarding gender and race, acknowledging the sense of dependence women have on male figures for acceptance and power; built up by years of oppression and elitism. Throughout the essay, established sources such as ‘The Monstrous Feminine’ will aid the discussion, alongside contemporary pieces written by witnesses of the production, reviewing the effects a performance such as Hot Brown Honey has on an audience.
Hot Brown Honey is a 2016 movement of politics, presented in a medley of dance, comedy and circus, incorporating burlesque and cabaret into an engrossing display; a means of gripping the audience into an indisputable understanding of the issues faced by women of every background. Unlike many productions that create harsh fictional imitations of the world, Hot Brown Honey puts reality up for demonstration, exposing the presence of privilege and successfully shaming those guilty of micgroaggression. Until applied to their own existence, many individuals are ignorant to their prejudice. Rooted in lived experience, the searing political messages lead to questioning how people may feel certain prejudice but no longer feel they can voice it publicly due to the evident but slow progress made. Using online platforms, opinions and encounters can be shared without physical threat or harm, and due to growing online communities, antagonistic behaviors are not tolerated and are immediately put to rest. Although this is progressive, it proves that discrimination is present. Discriminative views have wholly been built up from outside influence, whether it be parental or education teaching, or peer influence via personal contact or online materials. However, the generation gap is becoming more conspicuous. Young people today have access to materials and experiences which the older generation did not, harnessing opportunities for modernist understanding and equality more freely. Therefore when proudly unapologetic productions such Hot Brown Honey are reviewed, their purpose and message can be utilised in the most impressionistic way. “Putting brown women centre stage also talking about more universal things that effect lots of people of colour everyday, and sometimes we feel like we cant talk about it so we’re trying to make a nice space that we can talk about it openly, and people receive it because we do it with fun and humour” (Fa’alafi, 2016) Their method of using unflinching, bold musical performance pieces, speaks to the audience on a deeper level than just conveying their rights simply using conversation. It immediately becomes relatable, keeping an entertaining tone to maintain the audience’s attention. “The lyrics of the song would have a resounding effect to anybody of colour who has had to suffer the indignity of a stranger touching your hair. There is a sickening privilege that some still believe they have over people of colour and that ‘our’ hair is fair game for random hands to come and fondle.” (The New Current, 2016) Despite this being an effective method, the need for an entertainment piece in order to discuss important political issues is extremely reflective of societies attitude toward concerns that do not impact them personally.
Fig 1. Hot Brown Honey (2016)
“Women are taught to internalize self-hatred and shame of our bodily functions, such as breast-feeding, giving birth, and especially menstruation. The abject female body must be covered, hidden, and disguised by traditional modes of femininity.” (Megankarius MK Feminist, 2011) The Abject can be defined as the reaction to the threatened collapse of meaning, as a result of loss of distinction between subject and object or between self and other. Applied to the female body, history has defined its biology representative of a “fearful and threatening form of sexuality.” (Creed, 1993, unknown) Sexuality has been moulded by the idea of what societies male figures see as attractive and acceptable. Women have become confined to specific guidelines, and anything out of these guidelines is seen as completely abject and taboo. Women have been taught to oppress their thoughts, as male privilege has influence over what they can and cannot do. There is a thirst for the female body amongst the media and within pornography, putting femininity into idealised scenarios, materialising and sacrificing women at the expense of the male ego. However, in the face of a woman wanting to express her sensuality, it is looked upon as a way to ‘gain attention’ from male peers, and that a woman’s sexuality is a show for the male gaze, not an act of self expression and love. The presence of a woman’s sexuality is determined by convenience for male figures, objectifying women as products of male control and creation. The pressure to conform to gain acceptance leads to females oppressing other females in order to please male figures. The thirst for ‘ideal femininity’ is always present, encouraging women to tailor themselves to the ‘on-trend’ notion of what is ‘sexy’, and even then being told when and where is acceptable to express this sexuality. Hot Brown Honey challenges what society considers ‘Abject’ and pushes its audiences to view what is considered ‘taboo’ as natural and the social norm; encouraging thoughts outside of the mould and pushing away from the ignorance of male dominance.
Fig. 2 Hot Brown Honey (2016)
Hot Brown Honey attacks the stigma confining all women to specific abjections in which society are uncomfortable with. Women are held accountable for the discomfort men feel when faced with the discussion of menstruation and anything that juxtaposes the glorified idea of femininity, resulting in a society that would aim to repress the natural process of womanhood rather than educate all generations about the reality of femininity and detach it from the dissimulated idea of sexuality and allurement. “Then a few years ago I accidentally bought a pack of lemon scented tampons. Mainstream marketing of a product this useless (and perhaps directly harmful because of the chemicals used) says a lot about the current “menstrual culture” (Kissling, 2006) where menstruation is dominantly considered as something to be concealed. This was a moment when it became evident to me personally that there are mechanisms in society that consider menstruation only as something to be silenced. As something shameful. Injecting artificial lemon scent into a tampon will never make the vagina or the used tampon smell like perfume, I am sure. It was evident that the only purpose of this then is to remind people who menstruate that this bodily mechanism needs to be concealed.” (Barkadottir, 2016) To read a firsthand account of the effects of oppression personalizes these issues, taking them out of the detached ‘social injustice’ category and instead shifting them into a very direct and unavoidable issue. Many women could write similar accounts, putting these experiences together into a very strong argument that no one is detached from these problems and that every woman has, or will, experience this oppression. “It’s the beauty myth, an obsession with physical perfection that traps the modern woman in an endless spiral of hope, self-consciousness, and self-hatred as she tries to fulfill society’s impossible definition of “the flawless beauty.” (Wolf, 1990)
It relates back to the point of society being obtuse to issues that have no relevance within their lives personally. There is a failure to see how there is a responsibility related to white and male privilege to raise awareness and concern for communities that lack this subtle advantage. Each cast member of Hot Brown Honey uses their presence to personalise each issue, creating a intimate environment to encourage understanding and support from audience members who may be unaware of the underlying oppression, or encourage change from members who although have a clear understanding of the discussions, do not feel it is their place or duty to counteract, and detach from the situations in order to depersonalise themselves. The fact female thinking has been effected to this degree proves the importance of defiant productions such as Hot Brown Honey and urgency for strong female influence to encourage rewiring in the female mind; to erase societies effect on their level of self-worth. “We will not apologize for who we are.. Our stories, our voices, our bodies” (Fa’alafi, 2016)
Overall, oppression is more controversial than ever, exposing the reality of life for many women within todays society. Productions such as Hot Brown Honey provide a strong voice for women of all backgrounds, pushing the boundaries of stereotypes and social acceptability. “The problem with stereotypes is not that they’re untrue, but they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.” (Fa’alifi, 2016) The performance gives each female character a role of strength and dignity, qualities present in everyday life however often ignored and unexpected. Although these are extremely progressive steps, and with each generation comes a new wave of equality and modernity, there is still a long way to go to establish a solid and widespread understanding of the effects of these issues, as well as eradicating discrimination towards women of sexuality and colour.
Barkadottir, Freyja Jonudottir (2016) Hope of Failure: Subverting Disgust, Shame and the Abject in Feminist Performances with Menstrual Blood. Budapest, Hungary
Creed, Barbara (1993) The Monstrous Feminine. Routledge
Fa’alafi, Lisa (2016) [Interview by Fresh TV, 21st August 2016)
megankarius [reply] (2011) MK Feminist [online blog] At: http://megankarius.com/academic-papers/abjection-cindy-sherman/ (Accessed on 29/11/16)
The New Current (2016) [online blog] At: http://www.thenewcurrent.co.uk/review–hot-brown-honey
Wolf, Naomi (1990) The Beauty Myth. Chatto & Windus
Figure 1. Hot Brown Honey (2016) [photograph] At: https://xsentertainme.wordpress.com/2015/09/20/hot-brown-honey/ Accessed on: 30/11/16
Figure 2. Hot Brown Honey (2016) [photograph] At: https://xsentertainme.wordpress.com/2015/09/20/hot-brown-honey/ Accessed on: 30/11/16