NIKI SETH-SMITH - On girls, performance and the internet

Meet Catherine Bennett: an alternative, positive role model for girls. Created as an antidote to the flood of sexual and misogynistic representations of women that surround girls today, Bennett is a testament to the emancipating power of digital performance

“Women perform themselves everyday,” says Kimmings. "You have to show strong female characters, tell strong female stories… An autobiographical performance can have a massively activist, social change-based agenda". The role of personal story in empowering girls and women has a long history, or perhaps I should say her-story... The internet has hugely expanded these horizons.
It all started when live artist Bryony Kimmings decided to conduct an experiment. She was wondering what her niece Taylor could access online. Imagining she was nine years old, Kimmings simply opened a laptop and browsed the net.
What she saw in the easily accessible, hyper-sexualised, violent and misogynistic bowels of the internet made her apoplectic. It enraged her to think of Taylor, her “fawnlike” young niece, confronting this world of gyrating identikit pop stars and “women shitting into each-other’s mouths”, as she – with typical bluntness - describes it.
At this point Kimmings could have helped campaign for an automatic online porn filter or joined the fevered debate over pop princess Miley Cyrus twerking at the MTV awards. But she is an award-winning performance artist. Instead, she decided to team up with her niece to create an alternative, positive role model for girls.
Let me introduce you. Her name is Catherine Bennett. She is 29, she likes singing, riding bikes, Taekwondo and tuna pasta. When she’s not making music videos she works in a museum with dinosaurs. She is nine-year-old Taylor’s creation, performed by Bryony Kimmings. She has been invited to Parliament, appeared on Woman’s Hour, and her pop songs have been played on Radio One. Her short video above gives you a flavor of the character and a music video for her track ‘Animal Kingdom’. The song is based on Taylor’s ideas about what makes a good pop single.
What really shot Catherine Bennett to fame is an hour-long show, performed by Kimmings and Taylor, in which aunt and niece act out the year-long journey they took together to create the character. Credible Likeable Superstar Role Model received rapturous reviews at the Edinburgh festival and just played a sold-out run at the Soho Theatre. It shows the genesis of Catherine Bennett, in some ways straightforward (Taylor loves dinosaurs; tuna pasta is her favourite food) but also problematic (how can Kimmings know that her niece isn’t just telling her what she wants to hear?) It’s a fascinating story on its own merits. It also offers a profound insight into the dangers and freedoms confronted by a new generation of girls growing up in the digital age... read more:

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