Why we need more female voices in Oxford theatre

What happens when you revamp classic films to include female voices?

In a moment of investigative prowess only marginally more official than the Cherwell’s recent “discovered suggestions of traces” cocaine story, I have conducted a survey. I asked ten of my friends what they thought a ‘crazy woman’ was, and then what they thought of a ‘crazy man’ (sometimes I switched the order for FAIRER TESTING).

The results were fascinating – crazy women are hormonal, jealous, possessive, psychotic exes: controlling and emotional. Crazy men are axe-murderers, apparently. The term ‘crazy bitch’ came up several times, and it’s clear that the understanding of a male ‘psycho’ is far more akin to Hitchcock’s definition than the female psycho – the ‘bunny boiler’ of Fatal Attraction.

The motivation behind this investigation has come from my own need to explain. When I talk about the fact I’m producing Twelve Angry Women, an all-female version of the 1957 Oscar nominated classic Twelve Angry Men, in Oxford at the Union, I constantly find myself justifying it. It’s exciting and fascinating but for some reason every time I tell someone I’m putting on a play with ‘Angry Women’ in the title, I feel the need to apologise. “It’s an experiment”, I say “We want to see how much change there has to be to re-gender the parts: it’s a fun project. It’s a great play. I don’t hate men.”

I don’t hate men, obviously, but I do hate the double standard in language – it’s hardly cutting edge stuff to point out that when used about a man the term ‘slut’ means something very different (and more positive) than a woman. Taking almost any word and gendering it provokes drastically different responses, and in most cases the female stereotype is the one that falls short.

But I’m not sure how to fix it – Twelve Angry Women is about experimenting with switching genders: it’s a court room thriller about confronting prejudice (mostly racial), and in playing it out with a female cast we’re hoping to cause people at Oxford to think about how (if at all) the female voice is different, and what our preconceptions are and how they might be challenged. Maybe you’ll come along and think it works perfectly – that men and women are equal, that you don’t think differently of a woman when she’s angry or aggressive than you do a man. I suspect not though.

The student production is a revamp of the testosterone filled original ’12 Angry Men’

Women who are angry are perceived as being too ‘emotional’ and thus irrational. While you could (and some have) write a whole book on why ‘reason’ and ‘emotion’ are not binaries, the point remains that aggression in men is seen to be more legitimised: it’s either well-founded or the result of actual mental deficiency. The word ‘hysteria’ comes from the Greek for cervix, for god’s sake. And being told they must avoid emotion isn’t exactly healthy for men either.

So, as a sometimes rational, sometimes emotional (sometimes both) and occasionally Angry Woman, I invite you to come and judge for yourself. Call me crazy, but I think you might enjoy it.

Twelve Angry Women is a production by Oxford students and runs Monday and Tuesday 3rd week at 8:30pm in the Oxford Union.