Robin Thicke meets women's lib: Playwright Nick Payne on his new play Blurred Lines

Playwright Nick Payne describes how the women's movement became the inspiration for Blurred Lines, his new play at the National Theatre

In 2012, I had a meeting with the National Theatre's Sebastian Born and Ben Power. They talked about the National's plans to erect a temporary, "pop-up" theatre while the Cottesloe theatre is closed for refurbishment. They were after work that might somehow be different; work that might be made in a different way, perhaps. It was an open invitation of sorts. They asked me to go away, have a think and come back to them with perhaps an idea or two.

Up until this point, I had more or less worked in the same way. I would write a play, submit it to a theatre and, if they liked it, they would programme it, and then I would work with a director to make it better. But I wondered if working in the Shed might be an opportunity not only to work with a director in a different way, but also to generate the content of a show in a completely different way.

As I continued to mull, there were two ideas that I couldn't shake off. The first was that I'd love to work again with the director Carrie Cracknell. The second was that I'd love to try to somehow find a way to explore and dramatise some of the material discussed in Kat Banyard's brilliant The Equality Illusion.

National Theatre to tackle sexism in new play 'Blurred Lines' named after Robin Thicke's hit

I had read Kat's book when it was first published, and was moved and appalled in equal measure, but simply had no idea how to go about exploring the material in a fictional context. Indeed, I had no idea whether, as a man, I had a right to explore this particular material. Among other things, Kat's book is a startlingly concise, piercingly clear wake-up call-cum-rallying cry to both men and women about the punishing ills of gender inequality.

I felt intimidated and daunted by the scale and the scope of the material. I worried that I wouldn't be good enough; that I wouldn't be able to do it justice. But after a series of conversations with Carrie, we committed to the idea that this was the show we wanted to make. We felt very strongly that we wanted an all-female cast and, when and where possible, an all-female creative team. We also knew that we wanted to generate the content of the show through a series of exercises and improvisations involving our frankly brilliant all-female company.

Set designer Bunny Christie and Nick Payne Set designer Bunny Christie and Nick Payne So that's what we've done. And it has been one of the most extraordinary working experiences I have ever had. The company have been constantly and unashamedly bold and imaginative, and continually honest and open. At times, I have felt like an imposter. At other times, I have been completely bowled over by the breadth and depth of their experiences. The eight women who I have spent the past four weeks working with have a grace and a wisdom and a brevity that is well beyond the likes of me.

Working on this show has also made me consider very carefully my place, as it were, within feminism. If indeed there is a place for me. I have worried and agonised over whether I have a right to call myself a feminist. In her excellent book Feminism is for Everybody, author and campaigner bell hooks eloquently and concisely defines feminism as "a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation and oppression". Hooks goes on to say: "I love this definition... because it so clearly states that the movement is not about being anti-male. It makes it clear that the problem is sexism. And that clarity helps us remember that all of us, female and male, have been socialised from birth on to accept sexist thought and action."

When I have wobbled over whether or not I have a right to call myself a feminist I have returned not only to bell's book (among others) but also to a single, painfully simple question: do I believe men and women are equal? Bluntly, if you are a man and you have a sister, or a grandmother, or a wife, or a girlfriend, or a daughter, or a mother, I don't know how you can ever possibly answer "no" to this question. It is a wholly illogical response to a simple but staggeringly important question.

And yet, gender inequality persists. In researching Blurred Lines I have spoken to a number of individuals and a number of organisations on a variety of topics. But one of the most unshakeably persistent issues that has, and continues to, haunt and sadden me is that of violence against women. I have found the scale and the constancy with which men attack, both verbally and physically, and rape the women closest to them deeply, deeply troubling.

One the most persistently harmful myths regarding rape is that rapists are strangers, unknown assailants who attack and sexually assault their victims apparently at random. This is a gross distortion of the facts. Last year, 85,000 women in England and Wales were raped. Of these, a staggering 90 per cent knew their perpetrators. Globally, 30 per cent of women who have been in a relationship report that they have experienced some form of physical or sexual violence by their partner.

Men are not born or primed to rape. The intensely saddening truth is that vast numbers of fathers and husbands and boyfriends are choosing to rape; they are choosing to inflict these cruel acts upon the women closest to them. Is it possible to comprehend why these men are choosing to be violent? And, perhaps more importantly, to comprehend how we might go about stopping them?

When it comes to stopping them, we might first look to our judicial system. But even if our police forces and our judicial services were capable of rapidly and effectively dealing with these violent men (which, sadly, they aren't), that would only be solving part of the problem; it would be tackling the symptom but it would not in any way be tackling the cause. In her brutally exhaustive Rape: a history from 1860 to the present Professor Joanna Bourke asserts, "rape and sexual violence are deeply rooted in specific political, economic and cultural environments". One such environment, and one that I will now briefly focus on given that this article is appearing in a national newspaper, is the media.

Take, for instance, the recent gleeful mauling of cook and author Nigella Lawson. Our national press used the case of R v Grillo & Grillo as an opportunity to ridicule and demonise the "domestic goddess" in light of her apparent drug use. But why? In what way is this news? Why did a private dispute between Nigella Lawson and the Grillo sisters find its way on to our front pages? To be absolutely clear: I am, of course, in no way suggesting that the ritual humiliation of Nigella Lawson is directly responsible for acts of sexual violence. I am suggesting, though, that such needlessly vindictive, sexist coverage is worryingly emblematic of larger trend. As one report recently demonstrated, our national media is responsible for "providing a conducive context for violence against women to occur by condoning, tolerating and normalising the abuse of women".

But, you might say, none of this is new. Well done you (white, middle-class, twentysomething playwright) for finally waking up to the unjust world we live in. No doubt, you and all the other well-meaning, left-leaning menfolk will now put a stop to these centuries-old injustices. Even if you didn't feel the need to be quite so sarcastic, you would be right. I am a fraud, a failure and a hypocrite. I did, for instance, as a teenager, view pornography, both in print and online. But I haven't done for years and (for fear of sounding pompous or earnest) I never will again. I am ashamed and embarrassed to say that I have been part of the problem, but I repeat: I never will be again.

Sexism and misogyny are like a virus; their influence is corrupting and insidious. But unlike some viruses, the antidote is deceptively simple: men, including myself, need to take full control of the way we treat women. We need to recognise our failings, accept that we are to blame for the appalling ways in which women are being treated, and we need to stop it. Feminism isn't about so-called man-hating or any of the other nonsense that gets amateurishly slung at it, it is very simply about building and establishing a world in which men and women are treated equally, regardless of race, class or nationality. It is a simple idea with a complex goal. It will likely be fraught and frustrating to achieve, but that's okay. Because we need to do and be better. As Virginie Despentes puts it in her brilliantly blunt King Kong Theory: "Feminism is a revolution, not a rearranged marketing strategy... Feminism is a collective adventure, for women, men and everyone else... A worldview. A choice. It's not a matter of contrasting women's small advantages with men's small assets, but of sending the whole lot flying."

'Blurred Lines', National Theatre: Shed, London SE1 (nationaltheatre.org.uk) to 22 February, tickets from £12

Kat Banyard: Ban surgery ads that prey on women's fears  

Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010

GlastonburyWI to make debut appearance at Somerset festival

Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister

TV reviewIt has taken seven episodes for Game of Thrones season five to hit its stride

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Jesuthasan Antonythasan as Dheepan

FilmPalme d'Or goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head

Arts and Entertainment
Måns Zelmerlöw performing

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Graham Norton was back in the commentating seat for Eurovision 2015

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Hammond, Jeremy Clarkson and James May on stage

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The light stuff: Britt Robertson and George Clooney in ‘Tomorrowland: a World Beyond’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Radio
Arts and Entertainment

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
film
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Comics
Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
music
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
MIA perform at Lovebox 2014 in London Fields, Hackney

music
Arts and Entertainment
Finnish punk band PKN hope to enter Eurovision 2015 and raise awareness for Down's Syndrome

eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
William Shakespeare on the cover of John Gerard's The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes

books
Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones review
Arts and Entertainment
Grayson Perry dedicates his Essex home to Julie

Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treat

tv
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the original Swedish version of the sci-fi TV drama ‘Real Humans’
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Keays-Byrne plays Immortan Joe, the terrifying gang leader, in the new film
filmActor who played Toecutter returns - but as a different villain in reboot
Arts and Entertainment
Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

    The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

    How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
    Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

    Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

    'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
    Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

    Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

    How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
    Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

    Art attack

    Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
    Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

    Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

    Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
    Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

    'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

    Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
    10 best wedding gift ideas

    It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

    Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
    Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

    Paul Scholes column

    With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
    Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

    Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

    Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club dealt with this tragedy
    Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

    Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

    The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
    Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

    Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

    For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
    Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

    Fifa corruption arrests

    All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
    Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

    The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

    In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
    How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

    How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

    Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
    Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

    How Stephen Mangan got his range

    Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor