‘#WomenSupportingWomen’ is more than it seems

Laura Burland-O’Sullivan

CN: R*pe

In a week where we have been bombarded with meaningless IWD hashtags and corporate performativity, Pembroke Players’ ‘#WomenSupportingWomen’ (7th-11th March) provides a refreshing critique of the superficiality of slogan feminism. 

The play opens and we are met with Karina (Lara Ibrahim), a partner at a prestigious law firm, leading a Zoom call of hundreds of young women aspiring to follow in her legal footsteps. She reels off a torturously long list of #girlboss buzzwords with a smile plastered on her face. Already you can’t help but despise her. High-heeled corporate queen with branded rosé and a busty plant pot, you’ll think that you have her all figured out. But when she is thrown into a breakout room with Sara (Alessia Mavakala), an old colleague who knows what Karina endured to get to her position, this polished veneer is worn away. 

“#WomenSupportingWomen provides a refreshing critique of the superficiality of slogan feminism.”

What is left is a compelling back and forth between the two women that deconstructs the complex classist, gendered and racialised power dynamics in the workplace that simple slogans gloss over. The script is designed to make you cringe. The occasional awkward silences, typical of any am-dram production, only add to the audience’s profound sense of discomfort. This is a necessary discomfort, particularly here at Cambridge where the setting of a zoom call with a fancy firm, perhaps on a diversity networking day, is all too familiar. Karina’s decision to paint over her past with positivity and choose success over solidarity with the less-privileged Sara resonates with current Camfess caricatures of the sellout Sidge or West-Hub girlie and forces us to confront if girlboss feminism can ever liberate us.

The aim for the audience to account for the politics of their own life decisions was reaffirmed by the blinding white light that shone down on us as the breakout room ended. Intrusive light ruptured any remaining physical comfort and spotlighted every individual, a reminder that just like Karina, we each are vulnerable to scrutiny. This may have been even more effective if the audience had been split up across the room. Yet the proximity between the audience fostered a sense of safety and solidarity that nicely juxtaposed the tension between the characters. This felt especially necessary given that Sara’s account of her r*pe was more graphic than the booking page’s content note suggests. 

“I’m certain that the message of this play won’t leave me for a while to come.”

Despite this oversight, I have to hand it to Alessia Mavakala, the actor who played Sara, for her delicate handling of this scene. She balanced well between Sara’s intentionally unemotional description of her experience that challenges expectations for victims to perform their pain, and the need for her devastation to still come through poignantly. The only downfall was a lack of grit during Sara’s flashback to being on the witness stand. Here the chance to depict how inhumane legal professionals can be to SA survivors was in reach but not quite realised. However, I saw the performance on opening night, and imagine it has only improved since then!

The play concludes with the piercing noise of the drill that has been humming louder and louder in the background of Karina’s home since the zoom call began. I’ll let the reader take their own interpretations of this, but after the forty-minutes of quiet intense conversation I suspect they too will find this sound to be overwhelmingly haunting. I walked home with the noise of the drill echoing in the back of my mind. I’m not sure that the sound has yet left me, and I’m certain that the message of this play won’t leave me for a while to come!

So, if like myself, you are sick of the current empty jargon of #embraceequity and are searching for some hope that not everyone has succumbed to being a #bossbabe, I would definitely point you in the direction of this play. 

Image credits: #WomenSupportingWomen poster by  Isabella Jiayi Ren and Sofya Boruleva

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