One in ten women in Scotland have experienced rape and one in five women have had someone try to have sex with them without their consent.
In many cases, the outcome has been that the victim was “asking for it” or “too drunk” instead of looking at the perpetrator and why they thought it was ok.
The term ‘Rape Culture’ is an American pro-feminist term which aims to address the societal attitudes which normalise sexual violence and brainwash people into believing that aggressive attitudes towards rape and the sexual objectification of women is ok. Today, rape culture can take forms in anything from music, jokes, tv shows, laws, social media and language which can potentially cause a sexually abusive notion towards women.
Eleanor Bishop, a director and writer from New Zealand has written an audience participatory theatre show called Jane Doe which aims to discuss the issues surrounding rape culture, sexual abuse and feminism, featuring interviews and documentaries from real people affected by these societal attitudes.
The interviews took place in colleges and universities across the US and New Zealand and will tour at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival this month. The show will feature direct audience responses to sexual abuse cases.
Eleanor found her inspiration for the show when she moved from New Zealand to the States:
“I arrived in the US in 2013, in Pittsburgh to start my MFA in directing at Carnegie Mellon. The issue of sexual assault on college campuses was blowing up all around me. The Hunting Ground had just come out, the Obama administration was pushing really hard on it. I spent hours on the internet reading rape cases and then I started talking to undergrads about sexual assault, street harassment, sex education and dating culture. I tried to make really comfortable, warm spaces to have difficult conversations, and that tone is a big part of the theatre work.”
“It stated at Carnegie Mellon but now has had life at many other US colleges, in New Zealand and now the UK.”
We asked what the performances aimed to address and what feminism means to Bishop:
“The word and identity of being a feminist makes me feel powerful because I feel the support of women throughout history behind me. Women before me lifted me up, and so I will use the power I have to lift up other women. Jane Doe is built as a show that responds to the place it is in. And I think that specificity makes it more engaging to audiences. I wanted the show to feel like something we all did together so audience members can read the trial transcript with Karin (Jane Doe) and text in their responses at various points. In the show, there are interviews with young people from the US, New Zealand and now the UK on questions such as do they feel safe in London? Have they ever felt objectified?”
“Sexual violence has been framed as a women’s issue, because women are disproportionately affected by it. But I believe, it is up to all of us to end it. For this reason, the show welcomes everyone.”
We contacted Karin McCracken who is the sole performer of Jane Doe about the show and what it means to her as a female:
“I did theatre through high school mostly because it was the most fun- I felt like the stars had aligned a little when I was offered the part. I used to be a lawyer, and I’m also a sexual violence prevention educator, so it sort of felt like no other show was more suited to my background than this one. I think the work the show is doing is important, it’s a point of solidarity for women and it feels really rare. A lot of the show requires me to make the audience feel safe. My training in sexual violence prevention definitely helps that.”
“I think it also gave me a pretty good analysis for all the issues we cover in the show, which made collaborating with Eleanor on changes easier. That background makes me feel more in control of the show, which is a good thing, because there are lots of moving parts. At first, ‘Jane Doe’ was a fictional character that was remote from me. But after I performed a few shows I realised she was me, and she was Eleanor, and she was everyone that we interviewed. She’s all of us, kind of. So now, when I’m performing, I am Jane Doe, and she’s me.”
When asked what both women felt needed to be done to change the narrative in today’s society, Eleanor and Karin both agreed the problem stemmed from education:
Eleanor: “Compulsory consent education would be huge in helping change rape culture. On an individual level, men standing up to sexism in everyday life sends a huge message and changes culture.”
Karin: “Mandatory consent education in all schools, everywhere. That would benefit everyone, not just young women. Literally everyone should have that education.”
As a successful woman in the creative industry, what advice would you give to young women everywhere?
Eleanor Bishop: “Find women you admire, write to them why you admire them, and ask to learn from them. Find female peers that support and excite you. Support other women who are awesome. This way you will always be supported by those around you and we will all go far together.”
Jane Doe will play as Assembly George Square Studios (Venue 17) from 3rd – 28th August as part of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. You can purchase tickets here.