by Aisha Josiah

Recently, I’ve heard an interesting refrain from male friends who have seen the newly released Wonder Woman film. It sounds something like: “After watching those fight scenes, I kinda wish I was a girl.”

To be clear, they aren’t saying, “I wish I was a bad-ass Amazonian demi-goddess”, nor, “I wish I was a ridiculously attractive actor like Gal Gadot”. No, these men are openly expressing a (presumably temporary) desire to become members of the ‘fairer sex’.

To put it more bluntly: they wish they had pussies. Such is the power of a well-crafted character.

As a storyteller, I’m constantly experimenting with that subtle alchemy – distilling the perfect blend of originality and likability into a compelling plot is no mean feat. And while Hollywood has given us a plethora of quality male protagonists, such roles for women are relatively few and far between.

Many would say it’s not for lack of trying. While I’m not in that camp – the numbers are clear, female writers are outrageously underrepresented in film and theatre – I’m also not in the camp that believes only women can write convincing women, and men, convincing men.

I place a little more faith in the human imagination – after all, we figured out how to fly; I reckon we can crack a decent female character that doesn’t subscribe to outdated mother-or-hooker tropes.

The question is how?

“What would a woman do?” a friend of mine asked once, looking for plot advice.

I don’t know, I thought. That generic female hive mind you’re trying to tap into doesn’t exist.

Instead, I said, “If you need to ask that, the situation isn’t bad enough. Destroy her life a bit more, until the only options are obvious.”

Bearing in mind I’m something of a nihilist, I think this advice might work more generally. Judging from popular entertainment, our society seems adverse to watching women struggle – really struggle – onstage or screen.

By struggle, I don’t mean the generic blonde screaming before she’s kidnapped/raped/murdered/eaten by a cookie cutter serial killer.  I also don’t mean the single mum who’s trying-oh-so-hard that her perfect hair and makeup now look almost imperfect. Nor do I mean the “superwoman” who can turn a tampon into a tourniquet, throw a man three times her size twenty feet in the air, and still be home in time for dinner, sporting a tasteful blowout.

By struggle, I mean let’s allow women goals. The dramatic kind. The ones that force them to give up everyone and everything in their pursuit. The ones that test their humanity, allow them to change and in the process, let an audience experience a hint of catharsis.

In 1949, the American dramatist Arthur Miller sought to revolutionise our concept of tragedy by claiming that the common man was “as apt a subject for tragedy in its highest sense as kings.” In 2017, I think it’s time for us to realise that women are as apt a subject for drama as their male counterparts, and I believe the only way to achieve exciting and memorable roles, is to let women struggle.

I try hard to follow my own advice. At this year’s Edinburgh Fringe festival, I’ll be premiering my play “Dickless”, in which Saff, a young woman living in the north of England, evolves from a liar into a thief and then a murderer, while attempting to solve a problem that is entirely of her own making.

In my opinion, a strong female character doesn’t need to be noble. She can cry. She can be promiscuous. More importantly, she can fuck up, over and over again. The ultimate freedom is the liberty to make mistakes. Make a mess. That’s how learning, creativity and ultimately, stellar stories happen.

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Aisha Josiah is a playwright, screenwriter and graduate of Tisch School of the Arts, New York University. Her work includes Dickless (Fundamental Theater Project), Outsourced (Brick Theater), Kindling (Etcetera Theatre) and Welcome to Neverland (North London Film Fund Award). She has also worked with the Almeida Theatre, Pleasance Young Company, University of Ghana, and is a founding member of the One Trick Circus arts collective. She is currently completing a postgraduate degree in Playwriting and Dramaturgy at the University of Glasgow.


The illustrations for this article are from My Vagina Book (forthcoming, Fixi London). The publisher is still crowdsourcing images for the colouring and art book about vaginas, you can view and submit here.

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2 thoughts on “The Rise of Pussy Envy

    1. Whilst I absolutely agree that your genitals don’t determine your gender identity, I would argue that in western (and other) cultures, the vagina is definitely seen a symbol of womanhood, femininity and a host of assumptions that go along with those constructs – e.g. having/being a “pussy” is often used to demean someone for being weak, uncourageous, or otherwise “unmanly”. The idea that a “pussy” can actually be enviable, along with so-called feminine characteristics it suggests, is what I find interesting and subversive.

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