An apology to Jenny

18 April 2019

Sophie Wright questions the violence towards women in Yen

I think it was unfair of me to go into Yen knowing how it ended. In my defence, I went into it forgetting how angry it makes me. 

The context is unfamiliar. The language is unforgiving. The characters are difficult to sympathise with. And yet, Jenny’s presence in the boys’ feral lives transforms them. She is like a mother to them, a master, a pretty thing that feeds them chips. The boys’ real mother treats her like a threat. Jenny talks of her own mother needing her daughter as an emotional crutch. She is used, used, used.

The entirety of the show posits kindness against fury, neglect and violence. Jenny offers compassion and suffers brutally. It is a simplistic attitude to take that the boy who raped Jenny is unforgivable, that his brother who scared her is unlovable. And yet, Jenny is a teenage girl who decided to try and use her love for good, and yet her rape is used purely as a plot device, and yet she is used as an object in the service of her attackers’ rehabilitation, and yet she joins a long list of fictional women that suffer physical and sexual violence to further narratives and metaphors and plots, and yet. 

Last year I read an article online by Eve Leigh, who had seen a show depicting violence against women, and her subsequent decision to avoid consuming media that benefited from it. Something that stuck with me: if the huge ugly edifice of capitalist heteropatriarchy isn’t blocking the entire view/what might we do with all that empty sky?

What could have Anna Jordan written? What else could have won the Bruntwood Prize? Why do we have a show in NSDF that asks festival goers to sympathise with rapists? Why is there more money made from the story of a teenage girl suffering awful pain? There are plenty of other shows out there that offer just as amazing an acting exercise or lease of creative freedom as Yen. There are ways to show Jenny’s attacker as both a boy and a criminal, without using her pain in its service. There must be.

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Photo credit: Beatrice Debney