Entertainment & Arts

Manchester International Festival: Putting women in control of the world

Protesters dressed like the G20 leaders return backstage from their appearance during a demonstration against the upcoming G20 economic summit during a protest march on July 2, 2017 in Hamburg, Germany Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Male faces dominated a line-up of protesters dressed as G20 leaders

What If Women Ruled The World? That's the title of a show bringing together actresses and experts to explore whether women can come up with better solutions to the planet's problems than men.

"I absolutely do think the world would be a better place if women ruled it."

That's Vicky Featherstone, who is the artistic director of the Royal Court, London's leading theatre for new plays.

"I absolutely do," she continues. "I think there would be different conversations."

She's directing What If Women Ruled The World?, a live performance-discussion event being staged at the Manchester International Festival.

"I think there would be a different sense of care. Definitely."

Image copyright Moviestore/REX/Shutterstock
Image caption The show reverses the gender ratio of 1964 film Dr Strangelove

We're talking during a break in rehearsals, and I've asked Featherstone for her view on the show's title, and whether she thinks the world would be a better place. She ends her answer with a question.

"Do you?"

Full disclosure - I'm a man.

I work for a major media corporation, but I'm unlikely to come close to ruling the world.

What's the correct answer? Would it be betraying my gender to say that I agree?

Or if I disagree, would I be denying thousands of years of oppression, and denying that a male-dominated society has made a bit of a pig's ear of the planet?

I thought we wanted equality, I say - not a different sort of inequality.

"I agree. For me the title isn't absolute. We want equality. I agree entirely.

Image copyright BBC/Getty Images
Image caption Director Vicky Featherstone (left) and writer Abi Morgan have helped create the show

"But your question to me was, do you think the world would be a better place if women did [rule it]?

"At the moment, it isn't equal. It is men ruling the world. And I think it would be a better place if, in place of those men, if we can't have proper equality, if women were doing that. It would be better. Definitely.

"There would be less war. There would be less arms being sold. There would be less of all those sorts of things. We'd be more nuanced and layered. Things would be able to co-exist in a more nuanced way rather than being so compartmentalised. Definitely."

'Can women think differently?'

The question will be addressed further over four nights as five actresses join five "real" women, who are leading authorities in fields ranging from immigration to the economy to nuclear weapons.

The actresses will prompt the experts to chew over the most pressing issues facing our world. There will be a live audience, and Saturday's event will be streamed on the BBC.

Writer Abi Morgan, who penned the screenplays for The Iron Lady and Suffragette, among others, has been working on the actress's scripts.

Image copyright Donald Christie
Image caption Yael Bartana created the show and will make a film about the conclusions

It was all conceived by Israeli artist Yael Bartana, who had the idea after growing exasperated at the lack of progress in the Israel-Palestine peace process.

"It came out of a clear frustration and being very emotional about the situation and thinking, what if women in both Palestine and Israel could somehow find a new way to negotiate?" she explains.

"Can women think differently about today's urgent matters? This was a question that was very urgent for me. That question became, what if women ruled the world?"

Ten women, one man

The event is also partly inspired by Peter Sellers' 1964 film Dr Strangelove Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, which ends with the world's most powerful men discussing how they are going to rebuild society after a nuclear holocaust.

In the film, Sellers' mad nuclear scientist eagerly suggests a future with 10 women to every man. There will be one man in the Manchester show - who, it has been suggested, will be a tea boy in tight pants.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Women were outnumbered at a Nato summit in May

"Really, going back 10,000 years since the agricultural revolution, there is never a moment of women in the majority of making decisions," Bartana says.

"Do we need to start all over again, to bring the apocalypse and stop the moment, to enable that? Post-apocalyptic, like in Dr Strangelove?"

She's not actually suggesting a nuclear holocaust.

She's making the point that it would take something pretty cataclysmic to change society's hierarchy.

Not just to get more women in positions of power in areas like politics, religion, business, culture, military and media - but also to reset our deep-rooted assumptions about men and women, boys and girls, and their abilities and preferences.

'Maybe there will be radical change'

She says she's been "struggling" for many years with the question of whether the world would be a better place if women were in charge.

"It's a question I can't answer. I can say I believe it will be a better world, but maybe the same problems will repeat and the issues won't be solved.

"But at the same time, I'm saying women are repressed in many places in the world. Let's give them a moment."

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Naomi Alderman's novel The Power depicts a society where women have the upper hand

She also makes the point that not all of the world's problems can be blamed on a gender imbalance.

"There are also a lot of other issues in the human condition that are creating discrimination and corruption and inequality on many different levels.

"But I want to believe that maybe if women are in more positions of power, maybe, maybe there will be radical change. I want to be optimistic."

More from the Manchester International Festival:

This balance of power is a topic that's also been considered in fiction - most recently in Naomi Alderman's novel The Power, which won the Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction last month, and which imagines women gaining the ability to deliver electric shocks.

With women suddenly physically stronger than men, the traditional power structures are turned on their head - but that leads to new discrimination and abuse. Alderman's message is - whoever has the power, some will abuse it.

Back to Vicky Featherstone, and I mention two words that prove women are in positions of power, and that they don't necessarily do things that differently: Theresa May.

"She isn't part of women ruling the world."

Well, she's ruling the country.

Power games

Yes, Featherstone replies, but the structure of society has been built by men and is still dominated by men.

"It's a hierarchical structure, a patriarchal structure that she's in, which is why she and [Margaret] Thatcher behaved in these weird ways."

Bartana agrees that although women have positions of power, there is "still a patriarchy that controls the structure".

She explains some of the ways that manifests itself: "The language, the way of thinking, the motivation, the set of preferences, priorities.

"Maybe the power games will change if women rule the world. These are the questions that I'm very interested to explore. I'm hoping we can give some answers."

What If Women Ruled The World? is at Mayfield Depot in Manchester until Saturday.

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