mon 22/07/2019

First Person: Boys Will Be Boys | reviews, news & interviews

First Person: Boys Will Be Boys

First Person: Boys Will Be Boys

Melissa Bubnic introduces her new play about women working in a man’s world

In a man's world? The cast of 'Boys Will Be Boys'

In the opening scene of Boys Will Be Boys, the lead character, Astrid, talks about how there’s a boys’ world and a girls’ world. Boys’ world is where you want to be. That’s where power is, that’s where fun is. Boys get to be boys and that means holding all the cards, and doing whatever the fuck you want. How do women get into boys’ world when they’ve got a vagina?

This play is about how women navigate life in a man’s world. The play is set in the macho world of fictional trading and broking firm, the very respectable Peterson Jones & Walker. Our characters embrace the work-hard-play-hard culture of extravagance, sucking the marrow out of all that the life offers: £2,000 bottles of wine, cocaine-fuelled nights, six-hour lunches, days out yachting, Chanel handbags. It’s not necessarily a play about finance, just as Glengarry Glen Ross is not really a play about real estate agents. It uses the world to illustrate larger points about how sexism operates in the modern workplace, and the impossible task faced by women who have to do everything Fred Astaire can do, but backwards and in heels.

This is not to say that there aren’t women doing well in the workplace, just that there is still a boys’ world that is somewhat off limits to women. In conversation with an Equality and Diversity Manager at Goldman Sachs, I was told that most women will move into the more “feminine” departments of financing and contracts rather than mergers and acquisitions, not because they can’t do the work but because the aggressive macho culture of the big money directorates is impossible to crack. (Pictured below: playwright Melissa Bubnic)

The play questions what power looks like for women. Some argue that going to strip clubs, watching porn, and generally objectifying women is OK because the women who work in those industries choose to do that work. They get paid. Some are even paid well. Women can sell their labour however they want, and it’s patronising to suggest that they are being demeaned or exploited. And some would argue that catering to male sexual desire is inherently problematic. It’s impossible to claim you are powerful when you are on all fours, being spoofed in the face by several large dicks – no matter how much you’re being paid. The play doesn’t come down clearly on either side but suggests that some women can feel powerful and in control of their body and their labour some of the time, but never all of the time.

Whatever your position, there is increasing pressure on women in particular to embrace the Brazilian wax, the pole-dancing classes, and pose for the mobile phone porn shots less one be labelled uptight or a prude. The idea of what is “normal” (as problematic as that term is) sexual behaviour is increasingly skewed by representations of sex and sexuality in pornography. It’s not just men who objectify women; women are encouraged to objectify themselves: to dress up as prostitutes for “pimps n hos” parties and to engage in girl-on-girl action for a male audience.

Just as the salesmen of Glengarry Glen Ross are only as good as their last sale, the characters of Boys Will Be Boys have no intrinsic value as human beings, but are how much money they make. Ex bond broker, Venetia Thompson, recalls taking a female client out for an expensive dinner where the bill came to over £500. She describes the delicious power she felt when she tipped the Cristal champagne down her throat and casually dropped her gold Amex on the table. For Thompson, this was empowerment, this was the first time she understood feminism.

For the characters in Boys Will Be Boys, money is useful only in so far as it gives you power, and every character is fighting to be on top. The play asks the question, can women ever win in boys’ world when the rules have been set up to ensure they fail?

There is increasing pressure on women in particular to embrace the Brazilian wax, the pole-dancing classes, and pose for the mobile phone porn shots

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