When it Comes to Protecting Girls Online, We're Still in 'Virgin Territory'

This dance-theater piece interrogates the sexualization of women on the internet.

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Nov 12 2016, 12:35pm

A scene from Virgin Territory. All photos by Bosie Vincent, courtesy Vincent Dance Theatre

The internet’s influence on young women is put center stage in Virgin Territory, a metaphoric performance piece that examines the sexualization of young girls, set against a backdrop of cyberbullying, online predators, and selfies. Director and choreographer Charlotte Vincent places her cast of eight—four adults and four children—into various scenarios highlighting how kids construct gendered identities by observing the behavior of grownups.

Female equality remains dubious, and when women are portrayed as sexual objects in the media or at home, children are socialized to accept and follow gender stereotypes that may or may not be healthy. The advent of the online age and prevalence of digital devices makes sexualized images even more accessible and prevalent. “I’m not trying to answer any questions about sexualization, but rather present some of the things that we absorb digitally on a daily basis, in order to see what that’s like. I don’t have any magic solution to the problems. It’s more of a provocation,” Vincent tells The Creators Project.

She formed Vincent Dance Theatre in 1994 to explore issues of gender equality, believing that the hypersexualization of women through imagery creates a toxic culture, potentially leading to problems concerning sexual consent and rape. Her most recent piece, Motherland, detailed the pressures facing women to have children and balance a career and examined how those tensions trickle down to a younger generation.

The company also holds workshops for girls to engage with ideas surrounding self-image and sex, using art-based activities to drive conversation. Virgin Territory presents interviews that Vincent conducted with several girls as part of its soundtrack, revealing the extent of sexual abuse regularly faced by young women.

“The workshops have thrown up things we already know,” Vincent says. “What’s been surprising and a bit sad, for me, is the number of disclosures that have happened in some of the groups that I’ve led. Not openly, but some of the tasks have triggered people to really tell their stories.” With the vast diversity of content available online, it can be difficult to assess how detrimental the internet is in terms of sexualizing young women.

Though it highlights the influence of the internet, Virgin Territory is hardly a campaign against technology. “I think sex will always be there. Men abusing women will always be there. Teenagers being interested in drinking and sex will always be there, but in digital culture, everything is captured and distributed, and I think that dissection of bodies is becoming more prevalent, because you can capture a bit of your body and send it around in a way that, in my youth, you couldn’t do,” Vincent says.

“You’d either engage physically or emotionally with someone, or you wouldn’t,” she continues. “Now, you engage in many different ways, and you’re liked, followed, and pursued in different ways, some of which can be healthy. I’m not totally down on the digital world, it’s more what are we using it for. I think it’s very destructive to be living a double reality all the time.”

Karl Smith-Hashim, the father of 14-year-old Millie, who performs in Virgin Territory, agrees. “I never grew up with the social media world,” he says. “You get cyberbullying now, whereas when I was at school, you might get bullied at school, but your home was a safe haven. Nowadays, your home is never a safe haven, nor is anywhere you go, if you’re connected. They can never switch off.  I don’t know where their safe haven is, but I think that has to come from us, as parents.”

Virgin Territory was performed at The Place in London from November 2–5. To learn more about Vincent Dance Theatre, click here.

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