On Saturday, my partner and I went to Bluebells Cakery in Eden Terrace to share a donut. It was a salted caramel cream donut and well worth the trip. While there, a sweaty topless man in small running shorts entered the café. He stood behind me and ordered a coffee, and then lounged at a table reading the paper, sweating and topless. I felt amazed and bewildered. I muttered, “togs tog togs UNDIES,” to Bobby, and we laughed.
Imagine if I did that? I thought. What would happen? Someone would probably call the police, because a woman’s body is indecent, while a man’s is invisible. This is the premise of The Offensive Nipple Show, the issue that Jess Holly Bates and Sarah Tuck have turned into a warm, funny, hopeful piece of art.
We went to Kura for dinner before the show and I noticed, while in the bathroom, that when a light shone from a particular angle, my dress became see-through. It was concerning. Why? I didn’t realize at the time, but this was exactly the kind of moment that The Offensive Nipple Show would so cleverly unpick. It peeled away the layers of fetishisation that smother the female form with a joyous, sweet hour of cabaret, poetry and straight-talking.
I was not surprised that the show began with nudity, or that I was a little shocked by it. Puppetry of the Penis is a successful stage show that’s travelled the world, but comical vaginal conversations, though hilarious, are confronting in a different, more uncomfortable way. Once again, why? These are the questions I asked myself, in between the rolling laughs and lightning claps of profundity and cleverness. Jess Bates and Sarah Tuck were the perfect women to see on International Women’s Day. They filled me with joy and pride.
Jess and Sarah made me wonder why I felt that bringing my body out into a public place in a vaguely see-through dress was like handing a signed permission slip to the male gaze. I know, and have known for as long as I can remember, that my body in a public place is not my own. The female form is public property, universally, and we are all guilty of sometimes ignoring, or not seeing, the person within it – both men and women do that. When I was eighteen and very confused about most things, I remember writing in my journal very earnestly that I found it difficult to differentiate feeling desire from feeling desired. As a young person, I seemed to be able to experience some moments only through the perceptions of the person I was with, as if myself and my body were separate. I unconsciously understood myself to be an instrument for the use of others. The memory makes me sad, but so much about The Offensive Nipple Show made me gleeful because that old version of me felt understood, supported, heard.
There is a moment in the show, which I will try not to give away, when a visual pun transforms into a beautiful, somber, still moment. It was an answer to the argument I’ve heard so many times, that when a man compliments you on appearance, you should be flattered, not offended. I get that, but I think it depends so much on how mutual the feeling is, the appropriateness of the moment, whether it’s about attraction or simply an assertion of dominance intended to humiliate. What it comes down to is this: the female body does not exist simply to decorate the lives of others. Jess and Sarah reminded me of that last night, with their very funny, new but already award-winning show that’s clever without being opaque, abstract but not difficult to follow. I thought it was so brilliant. I grinned for hours afterward.
Please go and see it, I’m all swoony about it.
The Offensive Nipple Show is playing at The Basement until the 12th of March.
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