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Melissa Bubnic on sexism in the City

Ahead of the opening night of Boys Will Be Boys, writer Melissa Bubnic talks about why she chose to tackle sexism in the city

Kirsty Bushell (Astrid), Emily Barber (Harrison), Ellora Torchia (Priya) and Helen Schlesinger (Arthur)
© Helen Murray

In 2011, Sydney Theatre Company asked for my take on recent scandals in the Royal Australian Navy. A cadet who had complained to the police about being filmed during intercourse without her consent was made to apologise to her year level for bringing the Navy into disrepute. Another cadet didn't realise she had been raped until she was told by colleagues of the explicit footage her rapist had taken during the act. We've heard about the Stanford rapist, and the assault on American teenager, Jada, and other all too common assaults on women — both physically and across social media. What is clear is that violence against women does not just happen in male domains, but everywhere.

I chose to explore the theme of women navigating a man's world in the context of the City. I figured that life in the armed services seems foreign to many of us, but life in an office building is familiar. There's also something about money and empowerment that I find fascinating. In a capitalist culture, your earning power is everything. Who cares if you have to do unsavoury things to earn that money? Squeamishness is for pussies. Real men and women do whatever it takes to win big.

Some interviewees didn't believe sexism even existed in finance

I spoke to men and women who work in the City. Some interviewees didn't believe sexism even existed in finance, and the legendary stories of excess cash used for prostitutes and strippers are the stuff of outdated fantasies. Other people I spoke to had direct experience of such antics and other sexist behaviour. One woman was told she could go home early to look after her sick child if she exposed her breasts - she did. Another discovered a male colleague masturbating over her shoulder. Yet another was told that she was no dolly bird, so if she wanted to succeed, she better know how to drink hard and tell jokes.

Playwright Melissa Bubnic
© Chris Renton 2011

The play integrates the form of cabaret throughout, featuring song and dance numbers. A big theme in the play is the idea of performance. We perform our gender, choosing to act more feminine or masculine as the situation dictates. And the cabaret numbers really bring this home - we're always performing. I was obsessed with the idea of old school raconteurs. I couldn't get the image out of my head of Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and the rest of the Rat Pack, drinking whiskey and smoking cigarettes in a Vegas nightclub. They were men being men, swaggering on stage, completely comfortable in their skin. A very important influence on me is Sandra Bernhard's Without You, I'm Nothing. In that film, Bernhard sings and dazzles an audience with compelling, hilarious, and sometimes utterly bizarre stories about femininity, identity, and sexuality. It's a tour de force, and I imagined my lead character, Astrid, in the same mould - utterly fearless.

Boys Will Be Boys runs at Bush Hall from 29 to 30 July.