To the good men and bad

Ben Atherton-Zeman during a performance

Ben Atherton-Zeman during a performance  

Performer Ben Atherton Zeman’s ‘Voices of men’, called out to men to join the voices against gender-based violence

The stage has always been a platform to talk about gender violence and sexism but Ben Atherton Zeman’s one-man play that was performed in the city last week was markedly different from anything the city has seen in the recent past.

Voices of Men, which was written by the activist – performer himself, was addressed directly to the men in the audience and dealt mainly with what role men can play in reducing gender violence.

Sharing his experience

Introducing himself to the audience, Zeman shared his experience of performing the play to people who did not necessarily accept what he was saying, or responded with defensiveness rather than acknowledgement and understanding. “It was then that I realised that I could use humour to break down the audience and make them more open to talking about this serious issue,” he explains.

The play, titled Voices of Men, looked to cinema for inspiration and the audience got to watch Zeman take on the guise of three of Hollywood’s leading men, starting with a burly Sylvester Stallone in Rocky, moving on to Sean Connery’s James Bond and ending with Mike Myers’ Austin Powers. All three characters boasted of their own brand of ‘macho’, which included their treatment of women in films.

Although Zeman had warned the audience that the play is “quintessentially American”, the fundamental issues that he spoke about did resonate with the audience because rather than talking in terms of statistics or policy, Zeman’s play dealt with dilemmas and situations that every man or woman may be faced with, irrespective of where they come from.

Using the voices of the three characters, Zeman addressed three major issues.

The first was sexual consent and the blurred lines between ‘yes’ and ‘no’. “A woman saying ‘no’ is often considered as an invitation for men to try harder but she could be really saying ‘no’ and in forcing her, you commit sexual assault,” says Zeman, explaining that it’s important to listen to the different ways in which your partner can say ‘no’. Secondly, Zeman as Bond reiterated the fact that violence need not be just physical and that sexual harassment can take many forms. Zeman also dealt with very specific situations like domestic abuse, victim blaming, date rape and jokes targeted at a person’s gender. He also spoke about the ‘tower of misogyny’, starting with jokes at the very bottom and ending with sexual assault and finally femicide.

The last segment, with Powers, dealt with objectification of women, in corporate advertising and popular culture in general, a subject that continues to be cause for concern in our films and commercials. Informal and intimate, the multimedia performance also included clips from their films, several public service advertisements talking about different aspects of the issue, albeit again targeted to an American audience.

The evening ended with the men in the audience taking a pledge to recognise and speak up against gender-based violence.

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Printable version | Mar 28, 2020 8:51:26 PM |

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