No woman can call herself free who does not control her own body. – Margaret Sanger
At a time when women’s bodies around the world are more regulated than guns, the disconnect between women and the ‘ownership’ of their bodies has never been greater. If society has so much sway on this matter, why is it any surprise that women have such an ambivalent relationship with their physical selves? Written by Bella Heesom and directed by Donnacadh O’Briain, Rejoicing At Her Wondrous Vulva The Young Woman Applauded Herself takes a comic approach to exploring female sexuality. Performed by Bella Heesom and Sara Alexander, the duo from the off explore the subliminal messages that girls assimilate from a young age.
While it is accepted that ‘boys will be boys’ in matters of sexual interest, girls are discouraged from being ‘bad’, or even ‘exploring’ themselves. And of course girls *never* think about sex… In tandem with the examination of these ‘truths’, Heesom and Alexander play the respective roles of the ‘Brain/Ego’ and the ‘Clitoris’.
Unencumbered by guilt or social conditioning, Alexander’s ‘Clitoris’ steals the early part of the show with her ‘character’s’ enthusiastic, spontaneous nature. The relationship between the ‘straight man’ (Brain) and the comedic Clitoris vividly conveys the dichotomy between what society says are ‘acceptable’ sexual urges and what are ‘not’.
If Wondrous Vulva had purely continued in this vein, it would have been a very different sort of show. Instead, it progresses imperceptibly into things that are seldom talked about – the nuanced emotions and thoughts during sex that are dwelt on fleetingly. Everyone knows about the ‘mechanics’ about sex, but what goes on in a woman’s mind after she and her ‘intended’ have at last ‘consummated’? Does the ‘goddess’ that he was chasing now seem ‘smaller’, less important? Of course these moments of self-doubt post-sex aren’t isolated to women alone, but going to back to the beginning of the show where ‘received wisdom’ is questioned, we see that one’s own feelings on sexuality and intimacy are so often sublimated by ‘the standard’.
Obliquely, this segment of the show also hints at the fact that much of what is accepted as ‘erotic’ is purely visual and what a woman looks like. The larger, holistic truth is that our other senses are involved – smell, touch, what we hear and what we taste. Before we ‘learn’ about make-up, lingerie, etc, that are used to facilitate attraction, what actually draws us to people are a million little things that we pick up on at an instinctive, primal level. Human sexuality has been celebrated for millennia before Instagram filters, perfumes or Ann Summers aids, and it will continue for centuries to come.
Speaking of ‘primal’, Elizabeth Harper’s ‘earthy’ stage set, in conjuction with the projections behind the performers captures the sense of the timelessness of sexuality as part of the human experience.
Any worthwhile ‘relationship’ has to be nurtured or it ‘atrophies’. And so it is that we find Heesom (as an ‘Everywoman’) and Alexander (as her libido/lifeforce) are ‘estranged’. Having spent so long ignoring the ‘appetite’, its near-impossible to resuscitate and things perhaps will never be as they were before. Not because it wont come back of its own accord, but because having that vitality in one’s life again would mean changing the status quo…
The second half of the evening has the audience sitting on stage with Heesom and Alexander, talking about the show’s themes and their emotional responses to it. The comments below pertain to the evening I attended. Individual comments aren’t included here, but there were some thoughts that were re-iterated in various ways.
With regards to the notions of spontaneous versus responsive desire, it’s more commonplace in scientific research to find women in the latter category. This dovetails into the importance of why foreplay is especially important to coaxing a receptive mood. Also, if one is predisposed to responsive desire, the ‘absence’ of spontaneous interest in sex can be misinterpreted as no interest in intimacy whatsover.
In terms of opening women’s eyes to the disconnect between themselves and their own bodies, it was suggested that the show would be extremely useful to show to teenagers at school, who would benefit from hearing about pragmatic truths that aren’t taught in sex education classes. However, it was also suggested that women of all ages would benefit from the show’s wisdom. A result of that might be a little ‘sadness’ that Wondrous Vulva wasn’t available years ago, but it’s never too late to find closure and acceptance with one’s body and sexuality.
© Michael Davis 2019
Rejoicing at Her Wondrous Vulva The Young Woman Applauded Herself runs at Ovalhouse until 25th May (7.30pm).
BSL interpreted performance with signer Jacqui Beckford on Wednesday 22nd May.
‘Baby Friendly’ performance for parents and carers with babies under 12 months on Saturday 25th May at 2pm.