How should women be looked at? It’s a question that is constantly debated but never really gets anywhere. No wonder. It’s a weird question. Yet there’s no denying it’s also fundamental. For some, the answer is that women simply should not be looked at.
The solution is the burqa, or the veil. Muslim feminists can be persuasive when they insist it’s a liberation for women, the hiding of their faces and bodies. They will point to the mass of highly sexualised images in the western media, and ask if that’s really such a wonderful thing.
Lucy Kirkwood, in her Royal Court play NSFW, explores that territory, too. The first half of the play is set in an office where the work consists of creating images that are Not Suitable for Work. Doghouse is a fictional version of Nuts or Zoo, a magazine whose raison d’etre is publishing photographs of their readers’ topless girlfriends. No one who works there bothers to hide their contempt for the readers or the girlfriends. But it’s a free country, and if men want to ogle and women want to be ogled, why should they not facilitate the activity? It pays the rent, while these ambitious yet rudderless young people wait for better jobs in better publications to come along.
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