Thoughts: This Is What Happens To Pretty Girls

Heya guys!

This is my attempt to note down some thoughts after watching the play, This Is What Happens To Pretty Girls by Pangdemonium Theatre.

This is my third year holding a season ticket, and I've been enjoying it so far! I got to experience Rent in 2016 when my friend Xunlin had an extra ticket at the last minute. Thus began my experiences with Pangdemonium!

The Pillowman (My favourite, though it is morbid and dark af)
Tango (Loved this too)
Fun Home (Didn't like this as much)

The Father (This was so sad)
Dragonflies (This was interesting but also sad)
Peter and the Starcatcher (Not a fan of this)

Late Company (This was very fiery - a pressure cooker that finally explodes and gets some release at the end)
This Is What Happens To Pretty Girls
Urinetown : The Musical (upcoming)

WARNING: Some graphic details here and there.

Photos from Crispian Chan and Pangdemonium
Directed by Tracie Pang
Written by Ken Kwek

The set, as usual, does not disappoint. It is versatile and this time, provocative with huge, overarching breasts, pelvic area, and a butt as doorways. 

Captured this pic from the Circle seats!

The scene opens with a topless Adrian Pang doing pull-ups, all shiny with sweat. He plays the 'bad boy' Lester, the boss of a bike sharing company in Singapore. The audience whoops appreciatively. Little did we know that this would probably be one of the most light-hearted scenes and the next hour would start to be tense. You know the name of this show, and you feel the dread knot up in your tummy as you wait for the other shoe to drop.

Natasha and Ray

Natasha, played by Tess Pang, is a feisty firecracker who tolerates none of the sexist crap in her new IT workplace. Despite being cynical, she finds solace and friendship in her team leader, Ray, who seems pretty progressive for a male colleague. One night after a company party, Ray invites Natasha over to his place 'just for a drink'. She agrees, and later wonders if she made the wrong choice. 

They drink and make out, but things get intimate real fast. Before you know it, Ray pushes her head down and gets her to do a BJ on him since she said she wasn't ready for sex. Ray finishes and an upset Natasha leaves hastily.

They stop being friends, and at work, Ray retaliates by piling work and crazy deadlines on her. Natasha reports this and other incidents to her bosses. Both Natasha and Ray are called in for questioning.

Ray is outraged when he finds out he is being accused of harassing Natasha in the office - touching her when she clearly said no, and messaging her all day long. He explains to the bosses that they were intimate and this casts doubt on Natasha's case.

Under pressure, Natasha breaks down in the office and admits that she did do the BJ, but she didn't want to do it. 

Ray probably interpreted Natasha being willing to go to his place, have drinks, and even make out with him as an OK to do other things. But Natasha thinks otherwise. She was not ready for it and felt forced to do so. 

The play explores the consequences of miscommunication and misinterpretation of such situations. Was it consensual? Was it forced? We are not completely enlightened in this situation. How do we properly deal with a 'He said, She said' situation? Everybody stands to lose something.

Later, Ray is dropped from the company, while Natasha signs an agreement not to discuss the issue publicly or otherwise. She is also promoted to Supervisor of the team and seems rather happy with the situation. Meanwhile, Ray's hopes of becoming a PR in Singapore is dashed. 

I think this last scene makes Natasha look real bad as she is magically absolved of everything, and we may even feel a little bad for Ray. In reality there are women who make up stories and accuse others to protect themselves. However, it's my personal opinion that more victims suffer in silence, than cook up fanciful stories about being assaulted. I hope we can continue fighting the good fight and not stop helping victims simply because of some attention seekers. 

Amanda and Sean

Oon Shu An plays Amanda, or Prof Lim, a literature professor. A starry-eyed student, Sean (played by Thomas Pang), falls in love with her and these are the beginnings of a teacher-student 'relationship'. She recognises the conflict of interest and they hold off meeting up and dating until he graduates. But Sean cannot wait. He pines after her, and looks for her often. One day, unable to resist himself, he forces himself on her in her office. The scene moves startling quick, just as most sexual assaults go. It's horrific really. It can happen so quickly that sometimes the victim can doubt herself and wonder if it really happened or not. 

You can feel the immediate dread and regret Amanda feels. 
  • What have I done?
  • I should never have let this relationship even happen. 
  • I should not have been alone with him in the office. I should not have opened the door.
  • I should not have gone out with him previously.
  • I should not have kissed him on other dates.
  • I should never have trusted him.
The play explores blurred lines and grey areas. The knee-jerk instinct is to blame the victim - why did she put herself in this situation?

But who the heck knows they're going to be raped by SOMEONE THEY KNOW? They're trusting somebody in the relationship, aren't they? They trust that they respect them and their bodies. Usually, no one is looking out for potential violence (with trusted people) until it actually happens. It's supposed to be a SAFE space. So stop victim blaming, please. It's 2019.

So later Sean goes home to yet another shit storm.

Becky and Charles

Becky and Charles the parents of Sean. Charles is a respected local radio DJ and one day he interviews, Lester (Adrian Pang), who is one of Natasha's bosses. 

At the end of the interview, it is revealed that Lester was assaulted by Charles when they were in Secondary school, under the name of a 'dare' by other boys. Back then, Charles was the captain of the basketball team, a star player in school, while Lester was a skinny loser, called 'monkey boy'. Lester accuses Charles of sticking his fingers up his ass, but Charles denies it. His radio station suspends him.

Lester was only 12 then. You hear his anguish. 

"Why did you do it? Why did you have to do it?"

It's very heartbreaking to watch. This memory probably scarred him forever, and thirty years later, as an adult, he still hurts from it, engaging in self-harm and alcoholism. 

I felt that Lester's story reminds us that the effects of assault doesn't necessarily need to be physical sometimes. The mental and emotional trauma is indeed very debilitating. You can't just ask someone to 'move on' from the incident. The pain is like a shadow that looms over their lives. For some, their bodies will be circulated on the Internet in the form of videos and photographs. How do you recover from that?

Becky and Sean

Becky is a respected lecturer/prof in school. She is Amanda's senior and Sean's mother. Imagine the horror when she finds out what her son had done. You'll probably feel like you failed as a mother.

How do you react when someone you love commits a crime? You want to protect them, but you also want to do the right thing and make amends. Becky is torn between the two. 

Maureen and Natasha

Maureen (Pam Oei) is Natasha's female superior at work. Natasha musters her courage and raises the issue of the sexism in the workplace and is told to 'suck it up' and do her best work instead. Natasha is horrified when Maureen, a woman in authority, is telling her that 'this is what happens to pretty girls', and that they need more women in the boardroom to truly effect change. So they just have to resign themselves to work doubly hard and ignore all the sexual jokes and taunts thrown at them.

Read also: this article about sexual harassment at work and how victims fear reporting the cases due to retaliation.

Can you imagine how sad it is to be told that 'things are like this, they don't change and don't bother' by a superior you respect? It seems to me that women are in a double bind here. Damned if you do, damned if you don't.

Becky, Natasha, Maureen and Amanda.

Damned if you act like feminine, damned if you act masculine. Damned if you do good work, damned if you don't do good work. Damned if you don't take care of your other female underlings, damned if you do - you'll be accused of showing favouritism. You just can't seem to win.

Natasha and Amanda

Natasha is revealed to be Amanda's little sister. When she finds out that Amanda was assaulted by force, she tells her that she must report it. But Amanda refuses to do so. She knows she was wrong when they engaged in a 'relationship' as a professor and a student. She might lose her job if she does so. 

Natasha is disgusted by her sister's response. How could she do feminist literature and all that when she cannot stand up for herself and report the incident? 

But things look bad anyway. They were alone in the office. They had made out before. Worse, Amanda also texted him and asks him out after the assault. It makes for a bad case. 

I've read about how a lady who was raped at work and went back to work the next day as she knew she didn't do anything wrong. In the end, this move legally hurt her case. I guess as a victim you should not do things that look like a non-victim? Like text them and reaching out after an assault? Hmm? 

Later we find out that Amanda had solid evidence of the assault but we never know if she used it as evidence or if she made a police report after all.

This 2h30min play is not a light-hearted one. There are many issues brought to the table, but the ending is an open ended one and we are not left with any solutions. The limelight is on all the grey areas and blurred lines.

  • What constitutes harassment? Assault? Consent?
  • Does the relationship between two parties, context or environment play a part in whether something constitutes as an assault or a rape? And should it? (Marital Rape is also a tricky issue.)
  • The police's role and the dilemma of making a report - will people believe you? And what if they don't? (Once I read a news report about a girl who recorded herself being raped so she would have evidence. How sad is it that in the moment of being assaulted, you still have to think if society would believe you and the crime against you.) (Also, I've worked on the book Even in Silence by Danyya Ateera  where she chronicles how non-supportive, insensitive and dismissive the police officers were when she made her report. She was so young when it happened too. I hope this system was change.)
  • Males as sexual victims, too
  • Women in the workplace

I just felt rather frustrated and sad after watching the show, mostly because I do not know how to help. It definitely did give me pause and to reflect.

In light of the Monica Baey incident, there have been many aggressive calls to punish Nicholas Lim more severely. There was a large furore over it.

In this play we are invited to see some perspectives from the perps' side. For example, how they have gone wrong. It could have been a misinterpretation on their side, whatever, but the action they took was probably what condemned them. Either way, we should definitely give more consideration to all sides before issuing a blanket judgement or hold up our online pitchforks. I think it's reasonable to cast doubt on all sides, but sometimes when evidence is lacking (who does surveillance for themselves anyway), what do we do? What can we do? How do we uphold the justice?

Meanwhile, in real life, more peeping toms have been caught. The good (?) news is that more victims have came forward to report their cases as they felt braver after Monica spoke out. This is what awareness is for, guys. It makes a difference. For all of you who keep saying Monica is doing this for attention, yah of course she is. All that attention is in hopes of effecting change, and to help prevent future cases.

Overall, this is one of the most hard-hitting and ambitious plays that Pangdemonium had done (that I have watched, anyway). However, I would say that this is not what happens to pretty girls. It can happen to anyone.

I'll leave you with this quote.
I can't find the original thing, but I think I read it off Twitter. It goes something like this, if I recall correctly:

If appearance played a part, then why do ugly girls get raped?
If clothes played a part, then why do people wearing normal, 'non-sexy', clothes get raped?
If being drunk played a part, then why do sober people get raped?
If 'provocative' behaviour played a part, then why do young innocent children get raped?
Nobody asks for it. Stop Victim Blaming.

We can make a difference. Stay Strong.