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April 30, 2012 | by  | in Arts Theatre |
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Rape: Not Our Future

The perceptive reader may have noticed that the lofty organ of student journalism you are currently fondling is loosely themed. The even more perceptive reader may have noticed that said theme has, until now, not invaded the sacrosanct space of the theatre section. Oh no, gentle readers all, it is just that I couldn’t be bothered aligning our weekly missive with the theme. Theatre lecturers constantly spouted a mantra at their fledgling practitioners: “break the routine.” Good advice. And when the theme of justice coincides with a new work about rape, one of the most destructive crimes? Well, that is just an apposition too perfect to be let go without at least a gesture of indulging it.

A couple of weeks ago, Lucrece—a dramatisation of Shakespeare’s narrative poem, The Rape of Lucrece, premiered.
This production—conceived and directed by VUW Masters student Fiona McNamara—staged an abbreviated version of the first third of the poem. And what a challenging abbreviation it is! My intention here is not to review the production (this is available online), but to consider gender, power, and rape.

After the production there was a forum so the audience and creatives could interrogate issues arising from the evening. My companion commented afterwards that “the play was good but the discussion was positively terrible.” I disagree. One interesting point that arose is the prevailing belief that only women are raped and all men are rapists. This view reached its apotheosis when one of the audience members suggested that all young men grow up to be rapists if they do not learn to control their desires for the female body. Here is not the place to unravel such a comment completely, but it does illustrate how one of the purposes of rape is to police gender codes. In a way, it also reduces the subject positions available to women who, in this conception, are only the vulnerable, powerless, subjects at the mercy of the active, violent, objects that are men. Why is it that a female rapist just doesn’t occur to the general public? Is it because a women in such a position is too abhorrent to even contemplate? Thankfully, this is not a question Lucrece tries to provide a neat, succinct answer to.

McNamara writes in the “Director’s Note” that she was interested in investigating “what happens to a performance and to
an audience when the female body is present and the male body is absent.” She could have gone further to say, “what happens when the female body stands in for a male one?” The ravisher is at once the ‘female’ body, the ‘male’ character, and the ‘female’ actor. What she makes clear throughout Lucrece is not only that females can be survivors of female-on- female rape, but also that anyone is able to take that one step too far and take what someone else is not willing to give; the act of stopping upon hearing that “no” is at once one of the easiest and one of the hardest things to do. As one of the audience members succinctly summarised the issue: rape is about entitlement. That is, we become rapists when we feel we are entitled to something that we are, actually, not. Thinking in these terms, we leave behind the constraining conceptions of the aggressive male and victimised female. Instead, we have a personalised understanding of just how easily our desire turns dark.

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