“She just needs to understand that it’s not her fault, that she’s not to blame, that she’s not a slut.”
Three women and two men swim in shame.
Everyone wants revenge.
No one’s talking about it.
Five candid stories about revenge porn and all its many victims. Charlotte Josephine’s play BLUSH is a slap in the face and a call to arms; an insight into how The Arts can be an activism tool.
How did you get started?
I started writing BLUSH from a place of anger. More than anger, a place of rage. Proper belly-deep-rage. Rage at the people who commit revenge porn. Rage at the term ‘revenge porn’ which in itself is hugely problematic: suggesting the victims have done something that deserves revenge (see Dr Clare McGlynn’s work on Image Based Sexual Abuse). Rage at a legal system that is murderously slow at changing laws that might protect women. Rage at the outdated sex education we have in schools while ‘rape-porn’ becomes mainstream on our children’s phones. Rage at the embarrassment I feel at being ‘an angry woman’.
Rage is really useful when it’s focused right and I’ve learned a lot of things. I’ve learned that shame grows in secrecy and in silence, and the best antidote for shame is empathy. I’ve learned that anger is an emotional response to a perceived threat. I’ve learned that most monsters are in fact victims. I’ve learned to look deeper, and while I’ve not always liked what I’ve seen, I’ve been astonished by our capacity for empathy, forgiveness and love. I think gender imbalance is made far more complicated than it needs to be.
BLUSH is my attempt to begin that conversation; a call to arms to share the things we’re ashamed of, in the hope that by doing so we’ll re-learn that we are enough.
What is ‘revenge porn’?
Revenge pornography, or non-consensual pornography, is the posting of sexually explicit content without the consent of those depicted. The law now makes it illegal to disclose a “private sexual photograph or film” with the intent to cause them distress, without the consent of the person depicted in the content. While revenge porn was the catalyst for BLUSH, the true focus of the work is shame. Just as politics needs fear to prosper, consumerism needs shame in order to thrive. BLUSH is a fast-paced angry and honest two-hander that explores where our desire to shame others comes from.
What has the reaction been to BLUSH?
I love theatre that feels really live, happening right here in this room right now. I love theatre that acknowledges it is theatre, doesn’t hide anything, and in that openness somehow makes you feel something more honestly. I was proud to hear that audiences felt that with BLUSH. I want audiences to feel like they’re involved in the conversation, never preached at. I don’t have the answers. I hope they’ll walk out with that buzzy feeling you have when you’ve just been to a gig. I hope it sparks some new thoughts and some new conversations. BLUSH is about misogyny, and shame, and violence. It’s also about empathy, and forgiveness, and kindness. It’s about humans. I hope it feels really human.
What changes do you want to see happen?
I’m incredibly frustrated with our archaic sex education system in schools. There’s a sincere lack of discussion about consent, honest communication, pleasure, female masturbation, pornography, homosexual relationships, trans and gender non-conforming people. That lack of discussion breeds ignorance, fear and shame, and shame is a killer.
What else are you working on?
We partnered up with the brilliant arts charity Tender, who are working with young people to prevent domestic abuse and sexual violence by promoting healthy relationship built on equality and respect. I ran a writing workshop with some of their youth ambassadors based on the themes of the play. Tender staff and some of the youth board also came to watch a performance at the Soho Theatre and ran a Q+A session with the audience.
Why is this play so important?
I believe that the arts are vital to our mental health, especially in this current political climate. We need to hear stories that offer us the opportunity to empathise. There’s a powerful healing that takes place between humans when someone shines a line on shame and is met with a “me too”. Theatre can be a place to start conversations on key issues, and difficult subjects. If we’re conscious of our choices when making theatre, with a focus on diversity and equal access, we can hear stories from people who don’t usually get a voice, offering representation and changing stale narratives. My impatient bones want change quicker, but whilst we’re all learning how to navigate these new shifts, we need to listen and be kind to each other as we work it out.
Charlotte Josephine is an award-winning playwright and actress from the UK. Here she writes about her piece BLUSH, a play that focuses on sexual rights and relationships, and how theatre and the arts can be used as a tool to start conversations around key issues.