If HERSTORY makes you cringe…

… It should make you cringe, it should make you think. It did, for me. I guess I have been lucky, I thought when I saw the new play HERSTORY. NO MORE EXCUSES. NO MORE ABUSES at WERK X-Petersplatz, because I am not one of the many women who experience abuse from men on a daily basis. But then I began asking myself why this is a stroke of luck in the first place. Why should luck have anything to do with it? Is it good luck, when a woman is not beaten, raped, confronted with verbal abuse, forced into a corset of restricting rules that men do not have to follow, etc? Why indeed do I even think of myself as lucky? That in itself is indicative of the society we live in. It should be a matter of course that women are treated equally to men, that one half of humanity should have the same rights, privileges, opportunities as the other half. But despite more than 170 years of a global fight for women´s rights, this is still not so. Not in my home country Austria, not anywhere.

Musician Jana Schulz and the all female cast of HERSTORY

Sure, we are relatively privileged as women here, compared to other places (Afghanistan, Iran, etc.). But while I appreciate this very much, that is not the point. The play is really a creative way of retelling some of the sad statistcs about women´s realities, and also of making some of the less aware viewers a bit more aware. Because also in my country, emancipation and feminism continue to be ridiculed, leveled down, or ignored. This is the type of play I would like to see touring secondary schools. It needs to be seen by boys and girls, and by their parents.

The HERSTORY theater production shares real-life stories from the experiences of women from different backgrounds and generations. The stories are not fictional, but instead draw from the everyday realities of women in 2023, based on interviews and discussions with experts from politics, law, psychological care facilities, and activists fighting against violence towards women. Through the voices of six performers, the audience is invited to join a collective conversation about the challenges and injustices faced by women. The show dissects patriarchal norms, male possessiveness, and the associated fear of losing power and control. With the support of live musician Jana Schulz’s aggrepo-punk sounds, the performers express their anger about the systemic oppression of women and amplify their demands for change. They highlight that the humiliation and oppression of women takes many forms and is deeply rooted in our society.

Simonida Selimović (front) and the other cast members, back: Lara-Fabienne Karasek, Christina Kiesler,  Denise Teipel, front: Grace Marta LatigoClaudia Marold

In an entertaining format of a TV talk show and lively conversations among women, HERSTORY sheds light on the issues, while also offering some suggestions on how this could be different. The show is hard-hitting, but also sometimes humorous. In one scene the actors reverse the gender roles and show what it would be like of women catcalled to men the way some men do.

Christina Kiesler as talk show host
A little audience interaction

The stories that are told sound like individual fates, but they are also a mass phenomenon. Like every year on International Women’s Day (8 March), the news are full of sad statistics. Some of these are presented in the play. “The first month of the new year wasn’t even over yet and Austria already had three femicides to report. The reasons for this can be found in the broad social acceptance of sexualised violence and the devaluation of women,” goes the tagline.

Here are some facts from Austria (Source: Autonome Österreichische Frauenhäuser):

  • In Austria, every third woman is affected by physical and/or sexual violence within or outside of intimate relationships (experienced from the age of 15) – that is almost 35% of the female population. (Source: Statistics Austria, 2021)
  • More than one in four women has experienced some form of sexual harassment at work (26.59%).
  • More than one in five women is affected by stalking (21.88%)

I said before that I feel lucky that I have not been subjected to abuse. But yes, there has been sexual harassment in the past on the job, and there has been professional inequity. A boss making unwanted compliments about my looks, the time when I almost did not get a job I applied for because the male application reviewer assumed I did not really “need” it, since I had a husband in a good position. (Luckily the deciding boss in that case was a woman who overturned this review.) Guess where that ill informed man was from? No, not any of the countries you might probably guess. He was German. Not to mention the cringe-worthy whistles in the street, lude comments about my this or that body part, etc. To be fair, it also has to be said that many men support women in every way they can and would never dream of hurting or hindering them. But the topic of male toxicity has been much in the news lately, for good reason, and it is not something that seems to be going away.

Jana Schulz rocks the stage

WERK X-Petersplatz is dedicated to staging plays with a lot of serious social content, performances that are in your face and make you think. Here is art shouting out important messages, and I only wish the messages were heard clearly by all. Thanks to the playwrights, the many organizations, and yes, the many feminist women AND men, who keep on with the struggle.

#aufstehn

EVENT NOTE: “OURSTORY – Why sexualized violence affects everyone” (in German: – Warum sexualisierte Gewalt jede*n betrifft)
EXPERT TALK on “HERSTORY” following the performance on Saturday, March 18, 2023, 8 p.m
with Gloria Bozyiğit, Rosa Logar, Jo Schrottmeyer, Gerhard Wagner and the HERSTORY ensemble, moderated by Katharina Choe. admission free
More information here.

The play is in German, it premiered 16 March 2023.

Further performances (7:30 p.m.) 18, 19, 22, 23, 24, 25 March 2023

A documentary play by Sophie Benedikte Stocker

Production details:

Staging: Ursula Leitner
Music: Jana Schulz
Equipment, Video: Flora Valentina BesenbäckIsabela Voicu
Dramaturgy: Sophie Benedikte Stocker
Production management: Dušana Baltić
Assistant director: Lisa Carina Maier

Cast: Grace Marta LatigoClaudia MaroldSimonida SelimovićDenise TeipelChristina KieslerLara-Fabienne KarasekJana Schulz

The play is a production by handikapped unicorns in cooperation with WERK X-Petersplatz.

Unhappy news headlines

All photos © Karin Svadlenak-Gomez

P.S. I have to say it – “free advertising”, I am not getting paid by anybody to write this.

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