“Fighting against an unequal relationship”: Kaaitheater’s Katleen Van Langendonck on WoWmen! 2018

It’s an eventful time for feminism and women’s rights these days. As such, we get a timely hold of the Brussels-based performing arts centre Kaaitheater’s artistic programmer Katleen Van Langendonck to talk about her personal interest in this topic, the gender situation in Kaaitheater and this year’s program of WoWmen!. The third edition of this performance-centred festival is kicking off this Monday 5th, running until Saturday 10th of March, with an assortment of debates, performances, conversations, and inspiring thinkers. Dont’ sleep.

What’s your personal relation to gender and feminism?

While studying literature at the University of Leuven, I attended a course titled “Psychology and Literature”. We had one guest lecture about l’écriture feminine surrounding the writings of Luce Irigaray, Hélène Cixous and Julia Kristeva. A total moment of eureka for me: I went on to write my thesis on Julia Kristeva’s work, study women’s studies at the University of Antwerp and even got a scholarship to study with Kristeva in Paris for half a year. Afterwards, I carried out some radio shows on l’écriture feminine, and taught dance history and gender studies. When I started working as a programmer for Kaaitheater ten years ago, it was evident to me that gender and art would be a key facet of the programme. Moreover, what started off as a more philosophical hunger ended up becoming more notedly activist as I got older. In my experience as a student in Belgium, I always felt rather equal to my male comrades, but started to feel different layers of inequality once I entered the workplace, and became a mother.

How do you integrate gender issues into Kaaitheater’s programme?

What I cherish a lot is that Guy Gypens and I are both artistic directors, and that together we’re able to monitor the gender balance. In Performatik, our biennale of performance art, I sometime invite too many women, while he invites too many men – but we always manage to correct each other. I’m a strong believer in this pragmatic solution: if the workplace is mixed, the rest will follow. I’m also convinced that in order to speed up these changes, quotas are necessary – for instance in organisation boards. Something which we’ve seen create results in politics: ever since a gender quota was put in place, there’s been a significant increase in female politicians – even if I do get the impression that they (have to) resign earlier. At Kaaitheater, we enforce our structural level by making sure to have a gender-balanced board for instance. This is also my third go at organising WoWmen!, a festival on gender and art, with performances, talks and debates.

As Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie writes, “My own definition of a feminist is a man or a woman who says, ‘Yes, there’s a problem with gender as it is today and we must fix it, we must do better.’ All of us, women and men, must do better.”

Why the name WoWmen! ?

The “Wow: men !” is to make clear that feminism is not a movement against men. In fact, we need more male feminists in order to change society into a less dual one. The definition of feminism for me is “fighting against an unequal relationship between men and women.” As Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie writes in We Should All Be Feminists, “My own definition of a feminist is a man or a woman who says, ‘Yes, there’s a problem with gender as it is today and we must fix it, we must do better.’ All of us, women and men, must do better.” The name also refers to the performances in the programme in which issues such as queerness, fluidity, images of female and male bodies on stage are dealth with head-on.

What’s on the programme of this edition?

2017 was an eventful year for feminism. It began with mass demonstrations – the Women’s Marches – that one might have hoped were no longer necessary, and ended with the powerful #MeToo movement and its resulting polarisation. In the wake of #MeToo, dancer Ilse Ghekiere published the article #Wetoo: What dancers talk about when they talk about sexism. Her research into sexism in the Belgian dance sector – and the debate it instigated – developed into the anti-sexism campaign and website ENGAGEMENT. As an opening event of WoWmen!, several artist-activists involved in this movement will talk about the steps that have been taken and the artistic strategies present to tackle the abuses of power, discrimination, and inappropriate behavior. We’ve also chosen to focus on women who combine a theoretical approach with an activist one in other talks, debates and reading groups, like feminist archive RoSa’s reading lunch on Rebecca Solnit’s thoughts on mansplaining (you know, that moment when a man feels the need to explains something to you, even if you’re better versed ont he topic than he is…). Together with Waerbeke, we organise an afternoon workshop around the ideas of ecofeminist Joanna Macy concerning “inner change”. Gloria Wekker, author of White Innocence, will give a lecture on the eve of International Women’s Day. Overall, it’s crucial to view feminism at the crossroads of other identity facets: age, class, and of course race. The performances are of course less clear. They reveal a number of taboo topics such as rape within a relationship (Samira Elagoz) or the struggle to change gender (Juli Apoonen). Finally, we end the festival with a two-day ritual: the spiritual urban community The Monastery explores the links between spirituality, tantric practice and queer identity.