The Male Gaze is turned on its head and it is cathartic as all hell.
When Candy Bowers messaged me on social media asking for my phone number I was excited. Nobody asks for my phone number these days. I gave it willingly and then experienced mild anxiety at the thought of receiving a phone call and having to actually speak over the phone.
I have been lucky enough to be on a panel with Candy about girl representation on Television. I have taken part in one of her writing for performance workshops where a young white man had the audacity to ask Candy, a seasoned and brilliant performer, writer and singer, what her credentials were.
It turned out Candy was working on a night of live performance art with her collaborator Victoria Chiu and thought I would be perfect to play a game show host type role for a subversive beauty pageant made up of white heterosexual men. The premise sounded brilliant and I agreed with gusto. Me? help facilitate a performance that puts men in the shoes of women for a small moment in time? A chance to treat some men the way men have been treating women since the dawn of time? Yes please.
The men who would be in the beauty pageant all had to be volunteers. They all had to be straight. They all had to be able to look serious and not goofy. They were not to look like they were having fun. This was not your American style beauty pageant. This short piece of live performance art would have a kareoke part. The men would have to take turns singing a part of a Justin Bieber song called Baby. A song that starts nice and takes a dark turn if you listen to the lyrics. Before that part the men would come on stage and do a short cohesive dance where they would end up standing in a row on stage after taking turns taking of theIr jackets. I would introduce each male contestant and share a couple of made up facts about each male contestant. Candy and Victoria said I had free creative agency for that. The only guideline was that the names for the men had to be hyper masculine: Hard, Rock and so on.
It can feel like every time I leave the house I enter some sort of twisted pagent without even signing a release or permission for pervs to openly share thier views on my looks and body. If your a woman you cannot even go to order a burger without some dude feeling entitled to comment on your order or your legs. If I had a dollar for everytime a man looked me up and down and said something to my face that made me feel worthless I would have a lot of dollars. Men treat the entire world as of it is a beauty pageant and they are the judge. If you are a black woman you get over sexualized and if you are a woman with a disability you can be infantilised. That is why this performance was so exciting to me. It put me and the two woman who would be the judges, into the position of power usually reserved for white men.
Victoria Chiu got the inspiration for the show while on a trip to Singapore. She stubled across something that really affected her. She managed to take some sneaky photos to take back and show Candy. The photos were not shared on social media out of respect for the women in the photos.
In a room with a stage and the audience of suited men sitting in the dark, Victoria watched as a collection of 10 or so women stood on stage wearing white wedding dresses. The dresses were very virginal and modest. Each woman held some red fans and did an awkward dance with the fans in their hands. They held tight smiles in place as they danced. They looked like they were there because they needed the money. Surely money was involved? The women finished the dance and then they did kareoke. When each woman had completed their song they stood in a line on stage and men took turns placing a sash with a money amount on it, over the head of the woman they had chosen. The chosen woman would then step off stage and leave with the man who had chosen them. These women were not doing this ritual on stage for fun. There was no sense of frivolity in that room. It was sex trafficking for the already wealthy men who wanted it done with a sense of refinement and class.
Candy and Victoria managed to get enough white straight male volunteers and we practised about three times leading up to the show. The point of the show was to make people laugh and enjoy themselves. Candy would not explain the rather dark inspiration behind the show until after it was completed. We laughed a lot as the men learned the words to the Justin Bieber song. That song is still tattooed into my music memory.
Back stage on the night we all gathered around as Candy helped the men get into character. You are doing this because you need the money so your kids don’t starve. Candy tells them. You are not doing this for fun, its a eat or don’t eat situation.
I think that this was the most nervous about a performance I had ever been. I did not want to let Candy and Victoria down. I wanted to be brilliant. Anything less is unacceptable to me.
I walk on stage to applause after Candy introduces me. The stage lights hot and the microphone in my hand. I walk to the centre of the stage and stare out at the crowd of enthusiastic Fringe Festival participants and punters.
I take a deep breath and begin with some banter and jokes about how all white men look the same to me. I have slept with many men and received pleasure from some of them. I dead pan. Tonight’s festivities involve the judgement of 12 attractive and affable objects of desireWe have three judges who will chose the object they deem most desirable. These lucky objects will be given a sash and five whole dollars. And now it is my pleasure to introduce you to our Objects Of Desire.
The men enter the stage one at a time and do their choreographed dance. When they are all standing on stage I introduce them one at a time. Each object steps forward as I introduce them and then goes back to their original place in the line of Objects of desire.
HARD PACK: Hard cannot remember how he got his name. He loves playing Bandminton and has very fluid wrist action. He dislikes injustice.
STEEL: is a landscape gardener. His fav flower is the simple Daisy. He dislikes spiders.
MERCURY: Likes to read. But, don’t you worry. He is no know it all. He likes housework even more. He dislikes bees.
BRAZEN: Loves sunny afternoon walks in nature. He is a mad keen rock climber. He dislikes that he cannot take his pet blue tongue lizard, Mercutio on his rock climbing adventures.
SILVER: Enjoys baking cakes. Dislikes the clean up.
QUARTZE: Loves chocolate. Dislikes calories.
REVOLVER: Loves his mother. They are very close. Dislikes animal cruelty.
SPIKE: Enjoys fixing up vintage dirt bikes. Dislikes mud.
IRON: likes doing puzzles. Scared of moths.
ODEN: Enjoys getting facials. Is the proud father of three cats. Dislikes it when his cat babies get unwell.
ROCK: Not THE Rock, but, still bloody good looking. Am I right? He enjoys lifting weights and taking his pet pug, Paul for a walk. He dislikes peas.
METAL: Likes running marathons. Dislikes climate change.
After the introductions the sing along portion began. Each object of desire took turns coming up to the one microphone and singing their portion of Baby by Justin Bieber.
Once the winners were announced and all the hooting and whistling and deafening applause had died down, Candy explained briefly what had inspired the live art performance. Then it was a brief intermission before the second part of the show. I was buzzing as I went to get my free drink. The rest of the show was fantastic and i was able to enjoy it whole heartedly.