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In the past week, the Federal Government has commissioned the University of Melbourne to develop a new strategy for organisations to create gender equality in the workplace and pledged $15 million for a new awareness campaign about domestic violence.
But this conversation isn’t just taking place in our own backyard. At the Oscars last month, Patricia Arquette used her acceptance speech to call for equal wages and equal rights for women in the America. Last year, actor and UN Women Global Goodwill Ambassador, Emma Watson, launched the He for She campaign inviting men and boys to advocate for change, and show support for equal gender rights and opportunities.
Horrifyingly, so far in 2015, an average of two Australian women have been killed per week by their partner or former partner. One in three women will be a victim of domestic violence at some point in their lives.
The salary gap between male and female full-time workers is the biggest it has been since 1994 (when the Australian Bureau of Statistics started collecting this data). This means, on average, Aussie men earn $298 per week more than their female colleagues. Imagine what you could do with an extra 300 bucks a week!
On a global scale, UN Women says there have been improvements in gender equality in the last 20 years, including a 40 per cent increase in the number of women in paid employment. But at the present rate of progress, it will take an estimated 81 years for women to achieve parity in employment. I don’t plan to work that long thanks. UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka says no country has combatted violence against women and if we continue with business as usual, we will loose the gains we have made (check out her message here).
So when it came to interviewing Laura Jackson, playwright and stage performer, I had some heavy questions prepared about her show Handle It—an original, one-woman, feminist piece that tackles sexuality, relationships, domestic violence and rape in the digital age.
Laura originally wrote the script for Handle It in 2011 as part of her Masters degree, and decided to revamp it. Says Laura, it was the right thing to do after witnessing how people reacted to the private photos of female celebrities including Jennifer Lawrence that were published online by hackers. Fuelled by her bewilderment as to how people called it ‘a leak’ and ‘a scandal’, when it was actually a sex crime, she brought Handle It to life again in 2014.
“Men in my life, good men, didn’t understand why it was a crime,” Laura says.
“Hopefully we can put the message out there that it’s not okay for these kinds of things [private photos] to be taken away from the person whose body it is.”
Handle It follows a young university student, Kelsey, after her life is turned upside down when compromising pictures of her are posted on Facebook. The play explores how Kelsey and six others involved cope with the situation.
Laura transforms from the guy accused of putting up the pictures to Kelsey’s older sister to a pro-internet sexologist, who also introduces a little comedy to the piece. Add in a transformation to a police officer, a lawyer to Kelsey’s stepsister and finally Kelsey.
Showing how all the characters ‘handle it’ is the reason for the play’s title, but the title has a multi-faceted meaning, Laura shares. It’s also about how we as a society have to deal with unacceptable things such as domestic violence.
Laura admits that the play is confronting for some audience members, but even though it’s hard, it’s time we handle the discomfort and deal with these issues head on. There’s also a third reason for the title — Handle It is also a reference to Twitter handles.
Laura uses projections throughout the play to display Facebook feeds, Tweets and other social commentary. In one scene, the audience sees parodies of all the different excuses people use for victim blaming. Something that Laura says will attract lots of laughs from the audience.
“It will also highlight my intention to give the audience greater empathy for victims of rape; people who have their choice taken away by others,” she says.
As the play progresses, the audience can see the devastation that Kelsey and the other characters experience once their ability to make choices is removed. They are left reeling in the aftermath of what happens.
Through Handle It, Laura hopes to contribute to a societal shift by encouraging people “to talk to each other at the ground level”.
“After seeing the play, [I hope] audiences will think about the impact of the events it portrays and talk about Handle It, online privacy and how they feel,” says Laura.
A sell-out at the Sydney Fringe Festival, Handle It has been a part of the 2015 Adelaide Fringe line-up, and it’s coming to Canberra courtesy of The Street Theatre.
Street Theatre Artistic Director Caroline Stacey says the currency of the subject matter was immediately appealing.
“No one wants to have compromising pictures put up on a social media platform by others but it is happening everywhere,” she says.
“I liked the concept and compelling nature of the storytelling and provocation in the work. And the deal clincher, supporting a young emerging artist making her career in regional context, in this case Wollongong [where Laura is based].”
My chat with Laura left me feeling inspired and filled with a passionate desire to re-look at the way I view the world, how I conduct myself and how I interpret the actions of others.
Until now, I was hesitant to call myself a feminist because I thought I didn’t know enough about it. But Laura put it out there—it’s about supporting women to overcome the things that hold them down and fighting for equality for everyone—and I definitely want to be a part of that.
What: Handle It
When: 7.30pm Friday 13 and 6pm Saturday 14 March
Where: Street 2, The Street Theatre, ANU
How much: $20
Tickets: Book online or phone (02) 6247 1223