FEMME @ Girls School
Wednesday, January 29, 2020
In FEMME, creator and performer Erin Fowler dares to shine a light on female sexuality, the female body, the gender roles society conforms to (or which we can try to break), and what it means to be powerful in a largely masculine dominant culture.
Drawing on her experience as a fashion model and businesswoman, this is Fowler’s stand against the sexual conditioning that is everywhere in society, told through the metaphor of modelling on a catwalk. It follows the different stages of her life from a fresh-faced, optimistic Disney kid, to the fierce boss who stands before us today, questioning why, when it’s a woman, does it have to be boss ‘lady’ and not just boss?!
Her modelling background was a strong element of the show, pulling it all together as Fowler donned different outfits to indicate different periods of her life and the struggles and stereotypes she faced during those periods. The set featured a catwalk, with the audience seated on either side. The performance was a mix between a fashion show, where she would change inside a white tent revealing only her silhouette, and moments of complete nothingness where voiceovers from interviews filled the room. Allowing the audience to see her silhouette as she changed was powerful – when on the catwalk Fowler would be very intentional in her movement, confident and poised (unless that phase of her life demanded movement of another type), but when in the tent changing it was frantic, fast; definitely an intentional choice and pregnant with meaning around the way we present ourselves versus the way we truly are.
The way Fowler’s point hooked straight into our hearts was through the stark contrast between acting how women are expected to act, and audio clips of how women actually feel about this. She happily represented stages of being female through her outfits, like gym clothing as a teen or risqué lingerie as a woman, and many other outfits in between. With each set of interview recordings, the reality really sunk in. After she walked down the aisle as a bride, the voice clips emphasised a girl saying that men rarely get asked if they are ready to settle down or to have kids, and yet with women, it is expected.
The progression from child to woman was a wonderful journey but throughout the hour, light was shined on the fact that women can be judged more on their looks than their potential. The first few minutes of the show were confusing and focused on her child-like self wobbling awkwardly in heels and dressed in a princess dress. She sang an optimistic, Disney-type song whilst playing with two teddies. With no introduction to the show, it seemed bizarre at first, but looking back to this part after the end makes total sense. This is linear storytelling, although with movement instead of words. It didn’t take long before the show evolved with an important message that highlighted the expectation that females encounter from society during their lifetimes.
The audience was well engaged in the sense that what was being said, or displayed, was being taken in. The high-tempo of the show, where nothing stays the same for more than a few minutes, kept the audience on their toes and wondering what was to come next.
FEMME definitely puts much-needed weight on femininity, however, it is not limited to people with vaginas. The show also addresses toxic masculinity and in Fowler’s speech after the show, she mainly spoke gender neutrality, and about her desires for the future. This solo show speaks on behalf of all of us who are tired of conforming.
Photos by Chris Herzfeld