Oh Yes Oh No Programme Booklet
Conceived, written and performed by Louise Orwin
Produced by Jen Smethurst
Dramaturgical Support – Gemma Paintin
Sound Design – Alicia Turner
Lighting Design – Alex Fernandes
Video Support – Joshua Pharo
Set Design – Kat Heath
PR – Steve Forster
With thanks to:
All the brave, fierce, wonderful women I spoke to along my journey
Rochelle Siviter, Alice Stride, Ira Brand, Andy Field, Mary Osborn, Phoebe Patey-Ferguson and Sian Baxter
Oh Yes Oh No was made possible thanks to Arts Council England, Jerwood Charitable Foundation, Camden People’s Theatre, Live Art Development Agency and Live Art Bistro
A Note on Oh Yes Oh No
Some thoughts on the process and the journey…
Sometimes shows have a way of revealing themselves to you before you even know what they’re about. 18 months ago I decided I wanted to make a show about female desire: how often it is misconceived, misappropriated, underestimated. I called it ‘Oh Yes Oh No’. At the time, I was unaware how the title of the show pointed so directly to my unconscious understanding of my own desire and sexuality: how bound up it was in navigating my positive and negative experiences, and the confusion that lay therein.
I wanted to make a show about embracing female desire, but I found myself time and time again coming back to the ‘R’ word, to my own experience of rape, and to this niggling feeling that I wasn’t entirely in control of my own desire. At the source of it, I felt a deep shame about my sexuality, and the kinds of things that turned me on, things that I assumed were at odds with my politics. I wanted to know if I was truly the owner of my desire, I wanted to know where my impulses and ideas came from, I wanted to know if I could begin to untangle it from the narrow narrative of desire that we are spoonfed by dominant heteronormative culture. I wondered if other women felt similarly.
As I began the research process for the show, and began conducting interviews with women around their experiences of sex and desire, I found that this question came up time and time again, the idea of ‘OH-YES’ and OH-NO’ being in tandem. This of course, is not to say that all the women I spoke to had rape fantasies, but many had aspects of their sexuality that they weren’t entirely comfortable with. Starting with my own experience of shame and difficulty, I began to think about whether it mattered if you had sexual fantasies that were at odds with your politics, or ethics. I wondered whether these things (your sexual life and your political life) could or should ever be separate.
Why would a woman who has been raped later fantasise about being raped? Is this desire a clever form of reclamation, or a symptom of trauma? Can it be both? How can you reclaim sexual desire from the prism of past sexual abuse?
Fantasies are not created in a vacuum. According to many studies, somewhere between half to a third of all women have rape fantasies. And many women who have these fantasies find them troubling. Let’s be clear, rape is always a criminal act. Women who have rape fantasies, do not ever want to be raped. But somewhere within the fantasy lies a wish to be dominated, to be objectified, or for an idea of non-consent to be played with.
When I began looking into where these fantasies came from I was disturbed to find studies from male academics or thinkers who suggested that these sorts of desires were inherent to women. I found these sorts of arguments not only very dangerous in their narrow view of gender, but also in the assumption that all women must necessarily want to be passive and submissive- and let’s be honest, we probably don’t need more material out there to support these kinds of ideas in society.
However, let’s take a brief glance at the view of sexuality that we are sold by press and pop culture: ‘default’ porn with its punish-fucking of women and emphasis on male pleasure over female pain at all odds, the kind of abusive relationships sold to us by Disney (Beauty and the Beast as a prime example), the frivolous murder of sex workers in video games such as Grand Theft Auto, 50 Shades of Grey with its murky consent, Robin Thicke’s Blurred Lines etc. etc. etc. ad nauseam… Re-considering the idea of rape fantasy, or a woman’s desire to be submissive within this context left me with many questions. What if these desires are not only symptomatic of the kind of lessons we are taught by mainstream culture, but are also a necessary defence or coping strategy for living in a world which offers so few choices for women?
Alongside this I felt very strongly that I, and we as women, have a duty to claim our sexuality for ourselves, especially those who have had experiences of sexual assault or rape, and especially when we live in a world that seems to prize a heteronormayive, male view of sexuality above our own. And perhaps this meant that as long as we were practicing our sexuality in a safe, consensual way, then whatever we do in the bedroom should be up to us, and should be ours for the taking. However, many of the women I spoke to worried about the consequences of these sorts of sexual practices.
Whilst I am not saying that rape fantasies directly support rape as a criminal act, I wonder whether it can possibly act as a reinforcement of behaviours that are not socially acceptable, but are coded as secretly desirable; especially when there is such a lack of information and education on real, safe sex in porn, education, and wider society . How can we ever know that our actions aren’t supporting a system which perpetuates toxic gender stereotypes, or worse, supports a culture in which violence towards women is further normalized? If I believe I should behave in accordance to my beliefs and politics in my everyday life, why would I put this moral compass on hold in the bedroom? Do we, as a society, have a responsibility to deny our most extreme desires in order to limit the damage those ideas can do to both victims and potential victimisers?
These questions arose over and over throughout the interviews and workshops I held: we discussed, we argued, we justified, we worried. It became clear that if I was looking for an easy solution to these questions, which caused anxiety, shame and guilt in myself as well as many of the women I spoke to, then I was kidding myself. However, one thing I began to suspect was that all this worrying and agonizing about the ins and outs (excuse the crude accidental pun) and implications of our sexual practices might further support the idea that my sexuality isn’t for me, that it is for other people, and that my personal desires and happiness should be policed or compromised for the sake of the ‘greater good’. Throughout all this, I was beginning to sense that there was something awesomely powerful in the act of women simply verbalising what they want, and staking a claim to their own sexuality. This is something I’ll return to later on.
By the time you’ve read this you will most likely have seen the show, and therefore will perhaps have sensed that my own personal position remains entirely ambiguous on the matter, and this points to a sort of half-conclusion for me. I know I will never be able to solve these problems, or be able to find easy answers to the questions I’m posing, but I know unequivocally, that without discussion these ideas will continue to remain stagnant and taboo. For me, theatre can become a fantasy space, a safe space to begin to unpick these desires, these discussions and perhaps begin to open them up. There is also the possibility that these spaces can become therapeutic in helping us to re-frame, re-work and process ideas. And perhaps, here is where power can lie. To my mind, there is nothing more powerful than asking a woman what she wants, and giving her the space to answer.
A Note on the Research
Some thoughts on the research and the women…
This show wouldn’t have been possible without the voices of all the courageous and generous women I spoke to along the way. For this reason, I feel it is important that they are properly acknowledged here.
The women I worked with and spoke to came from all walks of life: in and outside London, from those in their early twenties, to women in their fifties, students, working mothers, and from a variety of working and class backgrounds.
Not all the women I interviewed had been raped or assaulted, but around 95% of them had been. Not all the women had rape fantasies, but most of them expressed some version of dominance fantasies (i.e. a wish to be sexually submissive). Not all the women I spoke to had difficulty with, or had shame surrounding their sexuality, but those who didn’t were in the minority. Not all the women I had spoken to had come to terms with their assault, or negative experiences, and many continue to struggle today. Every single person I spoke to wanted to share their story, because they believed that doing so was extremely important, and most said they felt empowered in that act.
At the beginning of this process I decided I wanted to interview women who had had similar experiences to me. I put a call out through Women’s Aid and Rape Crisis, and began interviewing rape survivors about their experience of sexuality. Interviews usually lasted 1-2hrs, and covered topics such as their experiences of assault/rape, their experience and understanding of their own desire and sexuality, and discussion around recovery and reclaiming desire. Around these interviews, I was also running sex-themed workshops for female-identifying participants, which provided safe spaces and exercises on which to reflect about sexuality and desire, to ask questions, to hear each other. Towards the end of my research, I decided that I wanted to interview a broader range of women, and thus posted call-outs for interview to women who simply wanted to speak about their sexuality (i.e. not specifically rape survivors). I was shocked to that around 90% of these women had also been raped or assaulted.
I don’t feel that there is space here to discuss in depth the feelings I had around this last revelation, but I do feel it is important. It occurred to me that it might be that its those women who have the most difficulty with their sexuality that are the ones who feel most keenly that they want to share their story, or have their voice heard. What I will say though, is that through this process of workshops and interviews in addition to this revelation, I was made keenly aware that having safe spaces to speak about sexuality felt extremely important, and I began to reflect on how few spaces I encountered in my daily life where I felt I could do that.
It is my hope that these workshops continue to tour with the show in the future.
The workshops and interviews were only made possible through the kind support of Arts Council England, Jerwood Charitable Foundation and Live Art Development Agency, Live Art Bistro
The Ending… Where do we go from here?
Thoughts on shame, and wondering if there are other options…
This was one of the hardest shows to find an ending for. From fairly early on in the process I felt that it was my duty to end the show on a note of hope, partially because of a selfish wish to find hope in my story, and also because I feel I have a duty to deliver some insight into a way forward- how are we to continue without hope?
I knew that I wanted the show to end with women’s voices, and the idea of asking for what you want. I had felt throughout the research process that the simple act of verbalising desire was one of the most powerful and healing things these spaces could provide. However, as I was making the show I found I struggled to deliver on this because personally, I was still struggling to find hope in my story. That is, as much as I tried, I wasn’t sure if I had found a way to diminish my shame, and to end the show on a positive note felt very dishonest. However, one of the central ideas in the show is ‘having options’. I began to think of my options: I can opt to ask for what I want, or I can opt to not; I can opt to begin trying to move towards reclaiming my sexuality, or I can opt not to even try; I can opt to stay in the shame, or I can opt to try and move forward. I opt for the latter. And the first step in that direction is to finally begin to ask for what I want. I hope that this final act can feel pertinent to those watching the show: from those who relate to the stories of sexual abuse, to those who can’t relate to that but might relate to struggling with fantasies that verge on the taboo, and finally to those who might have neither of these experiences, but might on some small level question or struggle with their sexuality. Perhaps it is here that we can find hope.
A selection of helpines for anyone who might have been affected by the themes presented in the show
0808 802 9999
0808 2000 247
National Domestic Violence Helpline
0808 2000 247
0808 1689 111
Sex Positivity Resources
A selection of resources to help in the promotion of and thinking around sex positivity
Louise is an award-winning writer, researcher and theatre maker. She makes research-driven theatre projects about subjects that are close to home, hard to get your head around, and need to be spoken about. She makes work about what it means to be a woman today, in a fast-moving, media-saturated world.
Her last two shows received great critical acclaim. Pretty Ugly, which delved into how teenage girls interact with the internet today, caused a bit of a media stir in 2014 and was featured widely in national and international press, on the radio (Woman’s Hour, BBCR4), TV (Fusion News, ABC, US), and broadsheet press (Daily Mail, The Telegraph, The Independent). A Girl and A Gun, her most recent show looks at women and violence on film, and has been featured in The Guardian, Vice Magazine, and on the BBC Radio. She is currently touring both shows throughout the UK and Europe.
Louise likes to make work that is provocative and brash, intimate, awkward at times, and generally filled with a heady dose of pop culture. She makes work that gets under your skin, and will stay there days after you’ve left the theatre.
‘I can’t decide if Louise Orwin is a lunatic or a genius’ (Jimmy Richards)
‘An extraordinary performer – a magnetic presence’ (Carole Woddis)
‘[Louise’s work] demands and deserves to be seen’ (Exeunt)