‘Naked pictures are just modern day love letters’
- Credit: Richard Davenport, The Other Richard
BRIDGET GALTON talks to Charlotte Josephine, a writer exploring where our desire to shame others with vengeful sexual images comes from in Blush at the Soho Theatre
Charlotte Josephine describes her play Blush as an “aggressive call for empathy”.
The Hackney writer performs alongside a male actor in interwoven stories of five victims and perpetrators of revenge porn.
She wrote it in response to 2015 legislation making it illegal to disclose a private sexual image without the consent of the person depicted.
But the 27-year-old felt the law didn’t begin to excavate the issues around a practice that foregrounds gender, sexuality and our changing relationship with technology.
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“I was furious that it always takes an impossibly long time to change laws that protect women and I didn’t know what to do with that anger,” she says. “Blush is an angry and honest look at where our desire to shame others comes from and how the shame we feel at not measuring up to impossible glossy images can spill out sideways into acts of violence.”
The law, she says was made by middle-aged middle-class white men “who’ve never used Snapchat or Instagram and have no understanding of how it’s affecting young people and their relationships”.
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“It’s not as black and white as saying just don’t share images. Everyone’s got the internet in their pockets and is taking photos of themselves all the time. Naked pictures are a modern day love letter for a whole generation.
“Anyone over 25 has been shocked by the show’s content, anyone under says ‘we know this’.”
In an age where someone can be publicly dumped by changing a Facebook status to ‘single’, getting back at an ex can also be swift and public.
“It’s so quick, to attack back is only a couple of clicks with your thumb,” says Josephine.
“I didn’t get the internet on my phone until 17 but young people now are growing up watching hard core violent porn from a young age and it’s affecting how they behave with each other. It’s fast forwarding all those awkward fumbles to ‘do I look like that man on the videos?’ It’s a different world and sex education hasn’t caught up. We are all stuck in this experiment that no-one signed up for.”
Josephine dislikes the term revenge porn which “suggests the victim has done something that deserves revenge, when often they have just broken up with someone”. She adds: “We live in a society where we victim blame and say ‘you shouldn’t have taken them in the first place.”
Comparing the practice to sexual assault, she prefers the term: “image based sexual abuse” but accepts the phenomenon isn’t new.
“The desire for revenge is primal, it’s attack or be ostracised it’s just the method that’s changed, sped up by the internet.”
The sites themselves make money through advertising and she found them “horrific.”
“Researching this was really dark. Reading those comments, seeing shame photographs I lost faith in humanity for a bit and men in general – because most perpetrators are male. Luckily I have lots of feminist men in my life.”
For the victim there are often “ripples of trauma”.
“It’s shared very quickly and it’s hard to get rid of. If you are applying for a job it comes up.”
But her deepest interest lies in what the practice says about gender.
“I’m interested in what are we teaching our boys that makes them feel they need to behave like this to be men and how are we teaching girls to be attractive? Men view vulnerability as weakness and when a girl leaves them they feel shamed and emasculated.”
The antidote to shame she feels, is empathy. “There is such a lack of empathy at the moment but humans are capable of extraordinary kindness and we crave community and human connection. That’s what theatre art and music offer, an opportunity to say ‘me too’ and allow a healing to take place.”
She’s also a passionate advocate of looking audiences in the face and making them “feel part of the conversation”.
“Blush sparks a debate about the internet, porn shame and gender. I don’t know the answers. I am not smart enough to solve misogyny, but I feel there’s a possibility we can culturally take responsibility for it.”
Blush runs at the Soho Theatre from May 16 to June 3.