“What does it mean to be a woman in the 21st Century?”
This is the question posed in Sirens, by six female performers from the Belgian theatre company Ontroerend Goed.
It’s answered through a sequence of acts, which show diverse areas of women’s experiences.
In one section, the actors reel off beauty products, at once consumers and salespeople. In another, they list all the famous women they “hate”. Later, they recount personal experiences of sexism. In each case, the list goes on for an uncomfortably long time.
Artistic Director Alexander Devriendt told London is Fem he was “trying to find a different language to talk about these issues”.
“Because much of what’s being said is not new… beautiful projects like everydaysexism exist and many others of course, [and] the Sirens wanted to address the subject in their own way.”
The performance shows the confusions and contradictions that are often an inherent part of being a woman today. One performer expresses how she wants to live up to the stereotype of the ‘perfect woman’ for her male partner, but gradually goes on to voice her conflicting desires for autonomy, self-reliance, and liberation.
Alexander says that people are often complacent about gender inequality. “It’s too easily said that we’ve already come a long way… Or that it’s much worse in other countries…”
As one spotlit performer tells an endless list of sexist jokes, the Sirens leave the audience in doubt as to why we need feminism.
The Artistic Director wonders that “there are almost no men who publicly call themselves feminist”. For him, “it’s absurd that there still isn’t a real fair balance. And we men should fight for that, and women shouldn’t apologise for addressing the subject. On the contrary”.
Sirens addresses sexism in a fresh way, trying to shake a balance that, as Alexander puts it, is justified by history.
Image Credit: Odysseus and the Sirens. 1891 painting by John William Waterhouse [Public Domain].