Love Songs: The Consequences of 'Cute'
Ahead of our return to Camden People's Theatre our Artistic Director and Writer of Love Songs talks about how the word ‘cute’ shaped her behavior growing up and what it means when men use it to describe women.
Two shows in the #CCD18 line-up whose concepts particularly excite me include Vanessa Kisuule’s SEXY and Vanessa Macaulay’s Enticement Machine. Not only do they explore how female bodies are sexualised, but dig deeper into the dynamics at play when an additional factor is introduced: race.
Aside from opening an empowering dialogue about sexual assault, Love Songs similarly explores how minorities are sexualised – more specifically, East Asian women. Chinese, Japanese, Thai, Korean (to name a few)…despite their cultural differences, women from these backgrounds have long been subject to stereotypes that see them as delicate, fragile, innocent (yet somehow still secretly kinky?) with submissive and servant-like inclinations. This is creepy and NOT OKAY.
Unlike the power-house poet that is Kisuule, I’m sooo not SEXY. I’m more…CUTE. With colourful scrunchies and ridiculous round glasses, I kind of resemble a turtle-ladybird hybrid; and my Asian genes predispose me to buying kids clothes (it’s okay, they don’t charge VAT).
Growing up, I used to hate being labelled the CUTE one, when other girls at school were blessed with the crown of HOT. I longed for a deep, husky voice yet all I could produce was an annoying squeak. This no longer bothers me (first world problems much?) However, it has made me think more about the stereotypes women have to navigate each day, and how they don’t have ownership over these labels.
All labels are equally problematic. Whether it’s sexy, exotic, cool or cute – don’t all these words (applied in context) carry assumptions of how a woman will behave in the bedroom? That a girl of a certain race or body type automatically likes X or Y or will act like Z.
With hindsight, I realise that the dynamics in some of my past relationships have featured subconscious and ultimately unhealthy assumptions (from both my partner and myself) reinforced by these labels. Being naturally petite, I played this up. I acted adorable, bashful, blushing, virginial; I apologised for everything constantly. In other words, I played CUTE. It’s not that these characteristics are innately bad in themselves. It’s just important to realise that I was pretending to be a person I wasn’t.
I was only doing these things to appease and appeal to men. I consumed media, porn, and narratives that dictated girls of my physique and ethnicity should like certain things, and behave in certain ways. Without realising, I acted to reinforce the incredibly damaging view of Asian women that society expected I should attain to. And it didn’t end well.
Incredibly, it was only when I began writing Love Songs last year that I started to question the above. As I continue to develop the show for CPT and the Brighton Fringe, I have to think hard about my responsibility to subvert these stereotypes on-stage, whilst using Love Songs as a way to both laugh at and reclaim ‘cuteness’ and hyper-femininity.
I’m so excited to be involved in a festival that celebrates diverse female experiences, and I think I’ll have a lot to learn from everyone’s shows. I can only hope that I too have some theatrical food-for-thought to share.
Love Songs returns to CPT on Sunday 4th February, BOOK NOW here.