Well I went to see it, I went to see Alan Bissett‘s one man show “Ban this filth!”, there had been some suggestions from some radical feminists to picket it as it was an insult to Andrea Dworkin. Allan Bissett “plays” Andrea Dworkin in his show. I’m a radical feminist, I love Andrea Dworkin and I really like Alan Bissett and the Storytelling Centre is in my street so I felt I needed to go, I wanted to go, I had to go and see it. I hoped for the best, because Alan Bissett is clever, he writes well, he’s a good storyteller, but in reality I feared the worse. At best it would be a man mansplaining about how porn is bad, at worst it would mock Dworkin and her work. I didn’t know what he was going to do with Dworkin, a very maligned and misunderstood woman as it is. Her work is trashed and lied about, she is taken out of context, she is hated. Would he hate and humiliate her too?
However it was good. There I have said it – it was great actually. Even in the days of postmodernism and liberalism, radical feminism is powerful, it inspires, it invokes anger, it enchants as it speaks the truth about violence against women, it tells the world about what men’s domination and the constant demand for access to women’s bodies. It reminds us that women can never be equal to men whilst women are oppressed. Feminism that is not based on wanting the boys to like you, it’s not about equality (equal to what and to whom?), it’s about naming the problem – men’s domination of women.
Alan Bissett’s show is brave, funny and powerful. His juxtapositioning of masculinity in Scotland, growing up a wee boy in Falkirk playing violent games, watching violent films and not being “feminine”, with the words of Andrea Dworkin spoken in a soft New Jersey voice from a podium – works! It actually worked. It was enthralling to hear her words.
I also laughed out loud at the ridiculousness of masculinity, Ban This Filth! is a funny show but the contrast with Dworkin’s voice is startling, it is respectful and somber as Bissett reads from Pornography – Men Possessing Women, (Dworkin’s hard hitten, beautifully written 1981 book). Bissett explores his childhood, indeed his whole life being loved, looked after and cared for by women, he recounts time told childhood stories of the Kays catalogue, watching Tom Cruise in Risky Business,his first kiss, buying his first “dirty magazine”, going to a lap dancing club, being seduced by an older woman. Bissett takes us into his journey with sex and pornography, and his conclusion is ……… pornography is violence against women.
In his excitement of realising a truth, he tweets “pornography is violence against women” and gets enmeshed with sex-positive “sex workers” about their feminism, their sense of agency, their liberation, he’s confused and uses Dworkin to argue back but gives in, as he becomes overwhelmed and confused. He wants to be the good guy. The opposing views of feminists are a battleground for him, he avoids the question of the show – should we ban this filth? Does he agree with Dworkin?. I think he does.
However on thinking about the show – which I liked – it dawned on me that he got to do and say what he did and said, because he was a man! A woman doing something similar would be seen as man-hating and whingeing, Dworkin’s voice would be just another radical feminist telling us “all sex is rape”. It would need a “trigger warning” to tell stories where girls and women are introduced to sex and pornography, it would be darker – less funny, less comfortable, less engaging because it would be sore, painful and exposing. Bissett’s privilege as a man, even as a working class Scottish man from Falkirk, is still privilege, he uses his privilege for good and avoids mansplaining, he’s a good story teller, he’s sensitive to Dworkin. Being a man allowed him to say what many many women have said before him over and over and over again, but have been ignored, vilified and projected on. We’ve been told to shut up when we speak out!
There are men in the world who are speaking out against pornography, against prostitution, against violence against women, against domestic abuse – Patrick Stewart, Jackson Katz, Evan Stark, Lundy Bankcroft – they are listened too, they are “powerful”. When men speak out about men’s violence towards women they are not seen as whinging or men hating or pathetic. If it is part of the movement against men’s violence against women I am all for it, but it troubles me that when women speak we are ignored, silenced and vilified but when men speak out “it is powerful“!
What I will say is, “Ban this filth!” has inspired me to re-read Pornography (I recently read Intercourse – wow that is powerful stuff). I hope others who go to see Ban this filth! read Pornography – Men Possessing Women. Sadly, Dworkin died in 2005 but other great radical feminists carry on the work – Catherine MacKinnon, Gail Dines, Melissa Farley, Julie Bindel, so many others – sisters speaking about the lies pornography tells about women and the truth it tells about men – that pornography and prostitution is violence against women.
Ban This Filth! is on at the Scottish Storytelling Centre until 11th August. Book tickets at edfringe.com or buy them at the Storytelling Centre.