Michele A'Court, Author at Michele A'Court
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Author: Michele A'Court

18 Jul Benefits

It’s Election time, which means it’s Beneficiary-Bashing Season. Here’s a little thing I wrote last time round, which seems worth saying again right now. Particularly the bit about how people imagine living on a benefit might be just like your life is now without the bother of going to work.  It was originally published in the Press on 9 April 2014.

 

I have nothing against people who live on money provided by taxpayers doing a bit of overseas travel. By which I mean I’m not totally against this visit from William, Kate and George.

 

That doesn’t mean I’ll be out waving a flag any time soon, and I can think of a bunch of other things I’d rather we spent the estimated $1million on. But it’s nice to see new mothers getting out of the house, and for families to share experiences.

 

I’m even more enthusiastic about other beneficiaries travelling. Like my friend, a single parent who took her son to Melbourne during school holidays to visit his 87 year old grandfather. Not something she could afford herself – the wider family paid the airfare – and she continued to job-seek via the internet while she was away.

 

It still took her six months to recover financially from the other costs. And despite having notified WINZ prior to the trip, her benefit was stopped and there was a lag –and frantic phone calls – before it was restarted.

 

But making sure her son knows his family and sees something of the world is, she believes, part of being a good parent.

 

That’s probably not the scenario we are supposed to imagine. Fair enough. You come home from work, your feet hurt, the guy in the next cubicle has been a dick and your boss is a fool, and there’s Paula Bennett on the news saying everyone on the dole is off to the Gold Coast.

 

We can be quick to get all hot and fizzy, imagining the delights of life on the dole. “Getting paid to do nothing.” Your life as it is now but without the bother of going to work. An endless annual leave.

 

Because we confuse “unemployment” with our “I don’t have to go to work” fantasy. You picture yourself in your home as it is now, with all your stuff, hanging out with your friends. A bit of a lie in and some time to yourself. Maybe you’d have to tighten your belt but, crikey, you’d finally have time to put in that garden and grow your own groceries, and get really get serious about doing your own renovations.

 

What we don’t factor in is the hopelessness of real poverty. The humiliation of not having a job title. Knowing that every advertisement on TV is not aimed at you. Getting cross with the kids because you live in daily terror that what you do have will get broken, or lost, or worn out, or used up and you can’t see a time when they – the plates or the raincoat or the peanut butter – can be replaced.

 

Being scared of winter because you worry about how much keeping warm will take out of what you have for food. And not even being able to imagine a time when things will be better.

 

At which point the idea of the cousins chipping in for a cheap airfare sounds like the kind of gift you’re no longer too proud to turn down. Please, enjoy your flight.

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23 May “Here, let me help. Start by imagining your penis is bleeding…”

Published by the Spinoff, 27 April 2017

Following that Waikato Times column about blokes suffering from women’s periods (comprehensively rebutted here) Michele A’Court generously proffers some empathy advice for men.

 

Hey Tom O’Connor, I think you’re doing “empathy” wrong. You’re doing that thing where, instead of imagining what it is like to experience something, you just describe what it is like for you to know someone who experiences that thing.

And yes, that’s a convoluted sentence (you might need to read it twice) but that’s because what you are doing is unnecessarily convoluted. Men do this a lot with lady stuff. Like when a woman is treated badly, you ask each other to imagine how you would feel if she was your daughter, or your wife, or your sister, and how that would make you feel. When really, the most powerful way to empathise is to imagine if the thing – the rape, or the harassment or whatever – actually happened to you. “How would you feel if a team of rugby players at a social event touched your genitals without your consent, Tom?” Feel the difference there, buddy?

You say you experience menstrual pain because you live with people who experience menstrual pain, and their pain affects you – that whole 23-days-a-kitten, 5-days-a-tiger scenario you have to deal with. (To be honest, based on this, I’m not entirely sure you’ve met a woman, but let’s not get stuck on that or any of the other batshit-crazy ideas you managed to pound quite hard into a few column inches.)

Let’s do what you didn’t do and see if we can find a way that a man might actually be able to empathise with a woman who menstruates. The very best way would be to imagine yourself a woman, but I appreciate we might want to take baby-steps with this.

So… imagine that you are you, Tom. All good? And that for a few days every month, you bleed out of your penis. Sometimes a little bit, sometimes a lot. And your testicles (which would have turned into ovaries if you’d been born a lady) are painful. They cramp up like they’re being squeezed in a vice. Not the whole time – it comes in waves. In extreme cases, it hurts so much that you vomit. For a day or two, or more, you might feel feverish and achy all over. You’re not actually ill, but you know… your balls hurt and your penis is bleeding, so…

Of course, it’s different for everyone. For some people, once your penis starts bleeding, it means the worst bit is actually over. There’s the blood to deal with, sure, but hormonal fluctuations that happen in the days beforehand make you feel all kinds of things. Sad, angry, frustrated, confused. And you will try to pinpoint the cause of each of those emotions but you will be unable to – they’re not caused by thoughts or events, they’re caused by your body doing its job.

Over the years (all this starts when you’re about 12-years-old and goes on till you’re about 50) you get good at managing it. You probably suck up about 90 percent of the complex emotional stuff and only express a tiny bit of what’s actually going on for you. You take paracetamol and ibuprofen to deal with the pain in your balls, and experiment with putting wheat bags on them and drinking herbal teas which might help – it’s hard to tell when you’re doubled over and sweating with nausea.

At some point, you might even come to appreciate and embrace the emotional rollercoaster. It’s good to feel things, and to express those emotions. That doesn’t mean you’re crazy – it’s what makes you a man.

And you do your best to be tidy with all the blood coming out of your penis. People don’t like to see the blood on your clothes so you wear special penis-wraps to soak it up. Though on heavy days (and you don’t know when they’ll be – surprise!) you might bleed a bit into your trousers, so you carry a hoodie or jumper even on a hot day just in case you need to tie it round your waist and hide the bloodstain. Your closest mates are really kind about letting you know if you’ve bled through – that’s what mates are for.

Back in your dad’s day, he made his own special penis-wraps out of old sacks in the garage and attached them to a hidden belt with twine. And at the end of each menstrual cycle, your dad would take the bits of old sack down to the river and bang them against the rocks to clean them for the next month. He and Granddad often reminisce about what a bonding experience this was for them – the women would be off doing whatever it was they did, and the men would be swapping yarns and getting that sacking all clean and soft, and they’d talk about the Moon and how He was both kind and cruel, making them bleed so often but then also making it possible for them to become fathers one day and what a joy that is.

But men don’t have time for all this riverside folk-telling now because they have jobs and stuff. And to be honest, no one’s too sad about that because the homemade sack-wrappings were bulky and they chafed and could be a bit smelly and sometimes caused penis infections, and stopped you doing things you wanted to do like ride a bike without wincing or play rugby. You can’t hunker down in a scrum when you’re on the sack.

Happily, times have moved on. Everyone buys disposable penis-wraps at the supermarket in a special section just for men and their sons. Well, almost everyone. They’re pretty pricey and there is real actual evidence of young boys not going to school when their penis is bleeding because they can’t afford the penis-wraps. And other reports of lower-socio-economic men improvising with bits of sack (they’ve heard the old stories) and ending up with inflamed, infected penises and bladder infections that make it painful when they wee, or walk, or sit down.

Even for people who aren’t poor, it can be a bit of a stretch. Imagine being the father of three sons – you’d be spending as much on penis-wraps as you do on petrol! And the penis-wraps aren’t nearly as much fun as going for a long drive. Still, you’ve got no choice.

Bleeding out of your penis isn’t an illness (though it does make you feel very sick on occasion and is recognised by “sick leave” when necessary) but you could argue that not being able to leave the house for five days every month because there’s blood running down your legs is something of a “disability”, yeah?

I’d be really happy for some of my tax dollars to go towards providing penis-wraps to men like you, Tom. It’s not like anyone would abuse the system – they’re not much good for anything else. Sure, some wag at a party might use five to make a whacky glove but that sort of shit is only funny once.

It seems weird, right, that one half of the population has to spend a significant amount of money on a basic need – which, to be fair, benefits all of us in terms of hygiene and health. I’d like us as a community to contribute to that, to level the playing field a bit. I can’t take away the pain in your balls, Tom, or stop the blood pouring out of your penis, but I can ease the financial burden for you and your brothers, and make your life – in this sense at least – a little more like mine.

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27 Feb On Grief…

First published in “Your Weekend” 11.2.17

 

Last summer, I heard a man walking in our local bush reserve having a chat with himself. Not in a “railing against an invisible enemy” kind of way – just one of those times when you’re thinking deeply about something so big you forget the rules and unwittingly start speaking your thoughts out loud.

 

He looked stricken when he saw me – embarrassment draped over something sadder. I said soothing things about how we all think out loud sometimes, and what a lovely place this was for it, and then both of us scrambled off in our different directions. I’ve wondered since what it was he was trying to process. What his story was.

 

My father died and we had his funeral on Waitangi weekend. Right now, I could get caught talking to myself in the bush. I have certainly been caught not being able to remember the names of people I know well. And reaching for nouns. I am unable to imagine maps in my head – I can’t drive from one suburb to another without advice. It’s hard to make decisions. Which is unfortunate, because it’s a time when a lot of decisions need to be made.

 

I feel like I need to apologise to anyone who has lost a parent, for only showing them an ordinary amount of sympathy. I thought I understood grief, but this is different. I’ve lost close friends, grandparents, and other significant people. I grieved for a year for a 21 year old cat.

 

But I don’t know how to be in the world without my Dad. I’m sure I’ll find a way but this is new territory. I’ve never had to deal with this before. Almost all of us will.

 

Being a child is our first role, the first person we are in the world. While your parents are there – even when you’ve reached the place where you’re feeding them ice cream on a spoon – you can still escape to being their child, and rest your head on their shoulder.

 

At my father’s funeral, my brother and I found stories that made us children again. The ones I know from when he was a young man make me happy. My brother told a story from our childhood I had forgotten for more than 40 years. It made me laugh harder than you possibly should at a funeral. It was glorious.

 

There is a recording of the service. They do that automatically in case you want it. I couldn’t bear to hear it again. But I will replay it all in my head, and tell the story of all those stories to anyone who wants to hear them. And, for a while at least, possibly mutter to myself during peaceful walks in the bush.

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10 Dec John Key & A Rampaging Goat

Written in the hours after John Key resigns on Monday 5 December 2016, and in honour of a rampaging goat. (First published in YourWeekend 10.12.16)

There’s the odd news story that makes you pull over to the side of the road and gasp.

Four days before John Key resigned as Prime Minister, there was a story about a rampaging goat tasered by police in Oamaru. John Campbell introduced the story at the end of Radio NZ’s Checkpoint with faux breaking news gravitas. After a day of Pike River, Kaikoura and child sexual abuse survivors, for all of us a rampaging goat was almost a cat up a tree.

The interview with local motelier, Paula, was Kiwi storytelling at its best. She sounded like the kind of chick you’d want to have a beer with at a barbecue. Pretty relaxed about it. Painted a vivid picture of a “big hairy goat with big giant horns” initially appearing dead in some flax until Animal Control arrived and chucked it some bread, whereupon it “just bolted” and tore up the neighbourhood and SH 1.

“It was just chaos from then on,” she explained calmly. She managed briefly to lock it in someone’s yard. “I thought, all good, all good” but the goat escaped again. Police arrived and “they were running all over the place and chasing it through the yard”. At some point, Paul says the goat scaled a 6 foot fence. Imagine it! Paula didn’t hang about. “I thought I’d better get back. We’ve got a motel to run.” The pragmatism of a responsible small business owner.

Why did the goat run? We can only speculate. Possibly a wild goat finding itself in metropolitan Oamaru was driven mad by the traffic. Found himself somewhere he didn’t like. Paula says it was a male goat “so he was smelly, he was in breeding season so obviously something pulled him into town…” She and the interviewer laughed gently about the sexual mores of goats. It was a sweet moment.

At the end of the day, things didn’t turn out well for the goat. Tasered and ultimately – Paula put it as kindly as she could – euthanased. Not the way the goat would have wanted to go out.

I thought of the goat when John Key resigned. That Key, at least, was going out the way he wanted to, the guy people still want to have a beer with at a barbecue. Perfect timing from a currency trader who knows when to buy and when to sell. But also a politician whose show reel will feature some bizarre moments with ponytails and soap. And a prime minister who built tremendous political capital but wouldn’t spend it on hard choices like the housing crisis, or Pike River, and who takes that capital out the door with him.

And then I wondered which wild thing is coming into town next.

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02 Dec What Happens When You Tell Men to Shush on Facebook

From the Spinoff 24.11.16

Comedian and writer Michele A’Court explains why she asked men to pipe down on her Facebook page, and how her request was received. The answer may surprise you…

Two days after the election of President Trump, I tried a social media experiment on my personal Facebook page. I asked men to shut up, and give women a little space to chat.

Here’s why I did that, and what happened next.

Friday morning, November 11, I posted a link to an opinion piece I’d written for the Press about waking up in Trumpland – the nightmares I’d had on election night, my fears for the future, my hope that if “grabbing ‘em by the pussy” becomes the standard White House greeting, Michelle Obama would continue to go high when Trump goes low, meaning she would punch him in the face on inauguration day.

Then I went off to make an emergency episode of our podcast, On the Rag, in which Alex Casey, Leonie Hayden and I talked about our emotional reaction to Trump’s win – the grief and fear – and also the constructive things we can do with those emotions: acknowledge them, share our stories with each other, support the kind of people Trump threatens and other practical actions we can take to deal with all this mad shit.

By the time I got home in the afternoon and looked at my Facebook page, the comments thread below my article about President-elect Trump wasn’t about Trump. It was about someone not mentioned in it – Hillary Clinton. The usual stuff – “Liar! Criminal! Laughs at rape victims! Married to a rapist!” – you know the drill. Remember, this wasn’t a pre-election piece comparing and contrasting two candidates; this was a post-election, “Holy shit! It’s Trump! How do we all feel?” post. But the conversation had been almost instantly hijacked from a discussion about the man who’d been elected to a different one about the woman who didn’t win.

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All (and I mean all) the “But Clinton!” comments were initiated by men. They emanated a lot of heat, shed no new light, and frequently included links to the same old stories that have been circulating for months. There was a lot of detailed talk about rape (again, from men), and personal insults between commenters (both sides). Occasionally, a woman would slip in to say, “I couldn’t sleep after the election either – thanks for letting me know I’m not alone”, but you could look down the thread and see women being squeezed out of the chat. They stopped commenting – apart from one stoic FB friend who kept posting amusing memes. Other than that small highlight, it was dispiriting. Men shouting, women falling silent, and wandering away.

While mulling that over, I read a terrific piece by Guardian columnist Lindy West printed in the New York Times. “Her Loss” was a very personal and emotional reaction to the election result and what it meant for women. West confessed to spending most of the election day in tears.

I cried because I want my daughters to feel that blazing pride, that affirmation of their boundless capacity — not from their husbands, but from their world, from the atmosphere, from inviolable wells of certainty inside themselves. I cried because it’s not fair, and I’m so tired, and every woman I know is so tired. I cried because I don’t even know what it feels like to be taken seriously — not fully, not in that whole, unequivocal, confident way that’s native to handshakes between men. I cried because it does things to you to always come second.

And I wanted to share that on my Facebook page without it leading to another long bullshit thread about the first woman to run for US President allegedly laughing at victims of rape. West’s piece was specifically about how this election felt to women. I specifically wanted women to join in with their responses.

So I posted the link with this at the top: “To all the men who have posted on my page about Hillary Clinton in the last little while, I offer you this. I do not invite you to comment on it. I invite you to read it (your call) and then shut up. And take a moment to think about what the last few days and months have felt like for women like us. Actually, much longer. Because I think this describes it very well.”

Immediately, the same men from my earlier post climbed in, along with several more. “Censorship!” “Sexist!” they cried. I opened a bottle of wine and stayed busy with the delete button for a couple of hours, then edited the top of my post with this: “Perhaps I haven’t been clear: for this one time, on my own personal page, I am not inviting or accepting comments from men and will delete them as soon as I see them. It is not your turn.”

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I was not trying to ban men from Facebook. Ha! As if! I was not even banning them from my page. I have a pretty open policy – most of my posts are set to “public” and I accept friend requests willy-nilly, only unfriending if someone becomes annoying, and blocking if someone becomes abusive.

With this post, I wanted any men who felt so moved to read the article as an insight into one of the “bubbles” that exist on social media. (I’m defining “bubble” here as a group of people who think differently from you.) And in my experience, you get a better insight when you read and think quietly than when you distract yourself by cutting and pasting a link to something which may or may not be related because you didn’t read the original article in the first place.

So I was offering something I thought was terrific for people to read, and then simply asking people who were not women not to comment on this one post, on this one day.

Given that, I’m buggered if I know why any men would want to get amongst it with the chat. But, man, they were keen. Delete, delete, delete.

So far, so predictable, I guess. But then some things happened. A couple of men who seemed quite cross personally messaged me to complain about my “sexism” and “censorship”. So I refilled my glass, and wrote back to each one of them, explaining that I wanted to create a space where women could do the talking about how women felt. That I was thinking of my personal Facebook page as my living room and today I was only inviting women to sit down and chat. Men could observe if they wanted – welcome! – but the conversation was for and about women.

And after the briefest of back-and-forths, each of them suddenly wrote some version of, “OK, cheers!” and we were done. It was way less adversarial than I might have expected. Personal engagement seemed to diffuse the anger quickly. I found myself feeling warmly towards someone whose middle name on their profile is “Feral”.

While hovering over the delete button, I also saw several men writing positive and encouraging comments, and taking on the angry dudes. I deleted those, too (rules are rules) and messaged each of them to explain why. One of them wrote, “Absolutely no worries… Totally respect your request.” Another man re-posted his supportive comment separately and tagged me into it, so it appeared above the original post on my page. I thanked him publicly, and so did fifty other women. If he’d been in my actual living room, I would have poured him a glass of wine, and invited him out on the deck for a chat.

So what happened on the thread? That was the really good bit. Women told personal stories: about what they’ve been saying to their sons and daughters about the election; about feeling physically sick; about their dreams for their daughters; stories about what is happening in their kids’ classrooms; experiences of sexism at work; about racism at school; and admitting to each other that they too cried real tears on election night. Plus dozens of comments about how nice it was to get to say all these things without being shouted down, and thanks. Sure, there was the odd snarly response directed at men who were angry about being silenced – usually some version of, “See how it feels, buddy?” – before I could get to the delete button. But there it was – a long, long list of women being open, and honest, and vulnerable, and kind to each other. A genuine sense of “Me, too!” and “You are not alone”. Social media that was heavy on the “social”.

Another thing I noticed: with one exception, the comments were first-person responses. At the beginning, one woman had simply posted a link to a John Pilger article about liberals being responsible for Trump’s victory. Two women immediately replied, “Yawn”. That was the only external link posted. Which meant that there were no more: “Here, let me slap you with what someone else said,” but a whole conversation consisting of, “This is how I feel, this is what I’ve experienced, this is what I think.” Which is exactly what I wanted to create a space for – a place where women’s voices and real stories were heard.

It was engaging. The post (the link to West’s piece plus my “shush” preamble) was shared 127 times. As well as all the comments, it elicited 1,013 responses. For those who like numbers that included 864 thumbs, 131 hearts, 11 laughs, 4 wows, and 3 angry faces – which I assume were directed at me rather than West’s lovely writing.

There was only one woman who said she didn’t love it. It was, she said, “male bashing” and I should “tear the tab off the toughen-up can” and she would “pity a man” for the backlash he’d get if he’d asked women to shush. To be honest, I think that is effectively what happened when men bombarded my earlier Trump post with “But Hillary!”. Importantly, it also matters that West’s opinion piece wasn’t about men at all – they didn’t get a mention, weren’t being criticised, and there were no allegations against them to defend. It was about women.

Still, this is a useful thing to consider. Here’s my position: If gay people (or people of colour, or Muslims, or any other group targeted by Trump) want to talk about their fears about Trump’s presidency without straight/white/Christian folk leaping in with their reckons, I would totally respect that.

Also, if a man put up a post detailing a man’s emotional response to a major event affecting men in a specific way and asked women to leave men to discuss their own emotional responses amongst themselves with openness and vulnerability, the sisters and I would be fucken rapt. I’d bloody love to see that, and I promise I wouldn’t make a peep in that space if they asked me not to – but I’d read the shit out of it and probably discuss it elsewhere because that would be awesome.

I’m holding onto the hope that this might happen. I had some nice chats on Messenger that seemed to get somewhere. And a few days after the post, someone put this on my page without any other explanation: “In light of Michele A’Court’s post on Saturday, I’d like to apologise to Rosemary for mansplaining her reaction to the US election for her… Still learning.” – John.

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22 Nov Everyone Leaves The Theatre With A Smile

Arts Festival of Dunedin 2016
MICHELE A’COURT in STUFF I FORGOT TO TELL MY DAUGHTER
presented by NOTORIOUS*at Playhouse Theatre, Dunedin
From 5 Oct 2016 to 8 Oct 2016
[1 hr]Reviewed by Kimberley Buchan, 5 Oct 2016

 

Michele A’Court went into a bit of a panic when her daughter left home to start her own life on her own terms. All of the things that she meant to tell her daughter but had forgotten to mention in between “eat your broccoli” and “do your homework” went pouring through her head. A’Court has decided to rectify this situation by making sure that she fills in the blanks for her daughter and for the rest of the country as well. The result of this motherly stress out is a two hour comedy show entitled Stuff I Forgot To Tell My Daughter. So I’ve decided to take my mum.

A’Court gives advice, both practical and philosophical. If you would like to know how to store ginger or stop your tights from snagging, you will leave the theatre satisfied that you have made your life more economically effective. If you would like to consider human equality and how incredibly far we have come in a really short time you will leave the theatre satisfied that you are alive in New Zealand in 2016.

That might sound a bit dry for a comedy show. I assure you it isn’t. True, there are moments where the audience get quiet and thoughtful and there is the elated “oooooooo” when everyone realises how much money they are going to save on tights now, but for the rest of the time they are rollicking with laughter. If you aren’t instantly hooked by the tights angle, then it is worth going to just for the glimpse of an early nineties sex education video.

A’Court knows how to captivate an audience and exactly how to time her anecdotes for maximum hilarity. She makes an instant connection with her audience from the first moment of her show, which is a slideshow of photos of her daughter. Every single person in the audience relates to these iconic Kiwi coming of age moments. She is a warm and inviting storyteller.

My mother says that it felt like we should have been on a couch in her living room sharing stories. It does inspire some deep and interesting conversation between us. Everyone leaves the theatre with a smile. It is the kind of show that afterwards you immediately message your friends saying “you have got to see this!”

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22 Nov Hilarious, Informative, Eye-Opening

Southland Festival of the Arts 2016
MICHELE A’COURT in STUFF I FORGOT TO TELL MY DAUGHTER
presented by NOTORIOUS*at Repertory House, 167 Esk Street, Invercargill
29 Apr 2016
[1 hr]Reviewed by Sarah McCarthy, 30 Apr 2016

 

A packed house greets Michele A’Court at Invercargill’s Repertory Theatre for Stuff I Forgot to Tell My Daughter. A one-woman stand-up show, it does the seemingly impossible, melding sweet memories, bawdy laughs and basic feminist theory.

A’Court has the audience in the palm of her hand from the get-go, which allows her to weave her way through the nearly jarring tonal shifts throughout her set without once losing traction.

It’s a performance that reminds us of the importance of stage presence and confidence; lessons that can only be learned though years of performance. A’Court’s persona is such that even when a punch line can be sensed miles away, the audience is on the journey with her nonetheless.

The woman is hilarious. It’s such a pleasure to be in an audience where people are actually howling with laughter – and so eager for the second act to begin that they stay, for the most part, in their seats during interval.

Now on the last leg of her Arts on Tour NZ season, there is a beautiful rhythm to her performance that keeps the connection with the audience alive, especially during a tough second act where the laughs aren’t as plentiful. A’Court plunges into the ‘herstory’ of the Feminist movement and manages to throw some serious shade at the patriarchy while remaining amusing. An informative and eye-opening reflection on women’s rights is an unexpected detour, yet one that shores up the way she talks about her daughter and her own experiences in other parts of her performance.

And it’s in that confidence again that her genius lies. She isn’t afraid to slow down her show and tonally change direction, because, as only a seasoned performer knows, her audience is with her all the way.

A genuinely wonderful night out with one of New Zealand’s best.

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22 Nov Stuff To Tell Our Sons As Well?

MICHELE A’COURT in STUFF I FORGOT TO TELL MY DAUGHTER
presented by NOTORIOUS*at The Famous Spiegeltent, Havelock North Domain, Havelock North
4 Oct 2015
[1 hr]

Reviewed by Karen Beaumont, 5 Nov 2015

 

Comedian, author and social commentator, Michele A’Court’s solo show, Stuff I forgot to tell my Daughter, is a laugh out loud, wipe away the tears look at mother and daughter relationships, feminism and life.

A’Court manages to balance that fine line between comic and serious, encouraging the men to laugh at themselves and leaving mothers with further explaining to do. The audience is responsive, calling out replies, applauding in agreement; they are comfortable in their vocalness.

The factual recount about the beginning of feminism provides short sharp reminders of what women have had to contend with, and an eye-opening take on the state of some countries in the world today. As a serious break from the comical banter this section has the potential to run dry but A’Court manages to read her audience well; she maintains a fast pace and her barbed stance on current politics and old breaks those tensions with wry charm.

The cyclic use of slides to mark the beginning and end of the show, from daughter to granddaughter, draws a range of comments and neatly takes us back to the start. The audience is left with the thought that it is not only what we tell our daughters but our sons that will make change for the feminists of the future.

As for ‘Molly’, tonight’s younger target, it may have felt a bit hard at times, and there may have been somethings she wasn’t ready to understand yet, but one day, when she has daughters of her own she may remember tonight and how to defrost bread without electricity.

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22 Nov Informative, Spirited, Lots of Laughs

Nelson Arts Festival 2015
MICHELE A’COURT in STUFF I FORGOT TO TELL MY DAUGHTER
presented by NOTORIOUS*at Nelson Musical Theatre, 95 Atawhai Dr, The Wood, Nelson
23 Oct 2015
[1 hr]

Reviewed by Ro Cambridge, 24 Oct 2015

 

 Michele A’Court has a talent to amuse. This much is clear from her long career in the media and in comedy.  But who knew she also had a talent to instruct? The Nelson Arts Festival crowd who fill the quaint Nelson Musical Theatre to see her hour-long, one-woman show are happily amused and instructed in equal measure.

Stuff I Forgot to Tell My Daughter is framed as a light-hearted look at the life-skills you should pass on to your daughter before she leaves home. You learn for example what stops your tights snagging and what not to do if you’ve been chopping chillies.

However, the show actually turns out to be a lecture on feminism sandwiched between two slices of stand-up comedy. This makes the whole thing sound more seriously polemical than hilarious and it’s a risky gambit: feminists have a reputation for humourlessness. However A’Court leavens what could have been a leaden loaf by spicing it with a sharp wit and a shrewd though compassionate eye for human foibles.

A’Court turns the stereotype on its tired head to lead a responsive audience on a merry dance with acerbic asides about the Act Party and Paul Henry, wise cracks, ‘dick jokes'; through the first, second and third waves of feminism; into a spirited attack on the inequalities which women still face.

Before A’Court appears on stage – glossy-haired in black tights, embroidered cardigan and a sparkly green skirt – we watch a slide-show of her daughter Molly’s life from chubby-faced baby to teenager trying out the props and costumes of womanhood, and the birth of her own daughter. The effect could have been cloying but it isn’t. The images are personal and yet Molly is also EveryDaughter and Michele is EveryMum.

The slide show continues as a prop throughout the show. Wielding the remote control like the entertaining high school teacher you never had, A’Court flicks through slides which highlight her topics – Sex, Body Image, Youth, Drugs and Alcohol – or illustrates her romp through feminism beginning with the bluestockings of the 18th century.

Along the way we get to watch a film clip of a much younger, bob-haired A’Court in a teen sex education video, rolling a condom onto a very large wooden phallus with nary a flicker of post-modern irony.

A’Court than drags us laughing – via Emily Pankhurst, Germaine Greer and Gloria Steinem – into the 21st century by pointing out how even now, women are paid 12% less than men in equivalent work. She’s also got some novel suggestions for righting this wrong very quickly. If you’re a woman and you work a 40 hour week she suggests that all you need to do is … [spoiler averted].

I only wish I’d seen the show before my daughter left home.  Then I would have had a convincing argument for the validity of my maternal advice and admonishment.  A’Court explains it this way: “I have been you, but you haven’t been me. Yet. Therefore, I know things you don’t know. This means you should listen to me.”

Try this reasoning on your wilfully deaf teenage daughter. If it doesn’t work, take her along to Stuff I Forgot to Tell My Daughter instead. Michele A’Court will convince her, and give you both a lot of laughs on the way.

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22 Nov Taking It To The Streets

First published in Your Weekend 19 November 2016

There is a t-shirt in one of my drawers which says simply, “I’m Against It”. I bought it during a particularly busy period – the invasion of Iraq, a cricket tour to Zimbabwe, and the imprisonment of Ahmed Zaoui for starters. For a while there, I could barely get it laundered between outings.

 

When I got the t-shirt, I remembered thinking I would have liked to have had it during the early weeks of Springbok tour protests in 1981 before we took to wearing body protection (I fashioned carpet tiles together with bailing twine). In recent years it stayed in the drawer because during the Marriage Equality campaign it would have put me on the wrong side.

 

If I was in America right now, that t-shirt would be getting another turn. Not, as some suggest, because protesters gathering daily on city streets are being paid to turn up (would that be a flat fee or by the hour, and do you get bonuses for placards and/or chanting?) but because the idea of peacefully walking the streets with strangers who share your ideas and anxieties is, quite simply, bloody lovely.

 

You wouldn’t find me damaging private property or throwing a punch, and I’m as nervous as the next person about any escalation to violence. But so far, the thousands protesting in America are exercising their 1st Amendment right without any recourse to the 2nd Amendment. The guy with the gun was a pro-Trump supporter in Portland.

 

Importantly, these protesters are not suggesting the ballot was rigged – they lost, and they know it. But majority rule doesn’t mean minority silence. It was swathes of people feeling they’d been made silent that got America to where it is right now. A long walk, some fresh air and real-world political engagement is possibly just what’s needed.

 

I appreciate those calling for a “wait and see” approach to Trump’s presidency. Perhaps building the wall is a metaphor rather than a construction project, and the mass deportation of millions of undocumented immigrants is another. But the rise in bullying and threatening of Muslims, Latinos, African-Americans, Jews and gays, meanwhile, hasn’t waited till inauguration day.

 

One of the points of protesting is to temper what your government does next. Here’s another metaphor: If someone is coming for you, one of the things a potential victim is supposed to do (something she will be judged on later) is shout “no”. And sound like you mean it.

 

So it seems appropriate that many people in America, afraid of what is coming next, are shouting “no”. Or, as they’ve been chanting in cities throughout America in old-school call-and-response style: “Show me what democracy looks like / This is what democracy looks like.”

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