Tonight I went to see the play “Foreign Body”, which is a one woman play about sexual violence written by the amazing Imogen Butler-Cole. The story of her assault, and the stories from other women, is told through dance and voice overs. The play was followed by a Q&A with Imogen herself and Anita Bhardwaj (a consultant on sexual violence). I found this play to be deeply moving, and so many words and sentiments from the play and the Q&A deeply resonated with me.
The play followed the journey through the stages of coming to terms with sexual violence. From the denial, to the realisation, to the anger and hatred, to the acceptance and finally to the forgiveness.
The voice overs themselves were deeply powerful, especially as they were the actual voices and not actors’ voice overs. Imogen had also included one of her assailant’s story in the play, which was a beautiful addition. She spoke in the Q&A about passing on the responsibility to him once she opened up to her assailant, and how speaking to him actually helped relieve a lot of the guilt and shame. During the Q&A, a male audience member said he was surprised at how normal the guy sounded. Speaking afterwards with friends, we were interested by his comment as we’re subliminally taught that rapists are monsters in the bushes, when in actual fact they are more likely to be friends, partners or family members. And how this idea is damaging to the healing journey, as the victim’s story is not taken seriously if the perpetrator is a close friend or relative.
The stories themselves brought with them their own power, and how these women had taken steps to forgiving themselves and, in some cases, their assailant. Their bravery and strength in the way they forgave themselves and undertook their journey through the trauma was inspiring. During the Q&A, Imogen spoke about the levels of healing and how long it has taken her to feel herself again. The stories showed how sexual violence is something that is so violating and traumatising, yet so stigmatised that victims are almost brainwashed into thinking it was their fault that they don’t see a need to get help or heal themselves. These journeys were beautiful because you could feel that they were still ongoing, and the power behind these women’s voices to move on and up.
A resounding sentiment was the universal feeling of isolation and shame shared amongst the stories. This feeling that it was my fault for not saying no, my fault for letting this happen to me. In our society, so much of the blame is placed on the victim. What was she wearing? Was she drinking? Sexual violence is traumatising within itself, and reinforcing these feelings of shame and guilt deny the person a chance to heal. This play brought to light how much the dialogue needs to open up, as we need to remove the blame on the victim in order for this person to come to terms with an act which is so invasive.
What I took from this evening was how universal sexual assault and sexual violence is amongst women. Yes it happens to men too, but I don’t know one woman who hasn’t experienced sexual assault. There is something deeply unnerving about this sentiment. There is something within our society, be it through characters in movies or porn, which reinstates this feeling of male entitlement over women’s bodies. And this sense from women of the need to please men reinforces this entitlement. In order for sexual violence to really be stopped, we need to tackle these underlying issues and this play really opens up the dialogue.
To me the words ‘Foreign Body’ meant not just the act itself, but that feeling within yourself that your own body feels foreign because it has been violated. This play was an incredible performance, and I highly recommend you see it when it comes to your area.
Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/foreignbodyplay/
Indiego page: https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/foreign-body-a-new-play#/