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
Word master: Self holds up a copy of his novel ‘Umbrella’
books
Arts and Entertainment
Hare’s a riddle: Kit Williams with the treasure linked to Masquerade
books
Arts and Entertainment
The man with the golden run: Daniel Craig as James Bond in 'Skyfall'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
'Waving Seal' by Luke Wilkinson was Highly Commended in the Portraits category

photography
Arts and Entertainment
The eyes have it: Kate Bush
music
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Art
Arts and Entertainment
Diana Beard, nicknamed by the press as 'Dirty Diana'

Bake Off
Arts and Entertainment
The X Factor 2014 judges: Simon Cowell, Cheryl Cole, Mel B and Louis Walsh

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Gregg Wallace was caught by a camera van driving 32mph over the speed limit

TV
Arts and Entertainment
books
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and the Dalek meet
tvReview: Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Arts and Entertainment
Star turns: Montacute House
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Iain reacts to his GBBO disaster

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Outlaw Pete is based on an eight-minute ballad from Springsteen’s 2009 Working on a Dream album

books
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne made her acting debut in Anna Karenina in 2012

film
Arts and Entertainment
Simon Cowell is less than impressed with the Strictly/X Factor scheduling clash

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Gothic revival: artist Dave McKean’s poster for Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination
Exhibition
Arts and Entertainment
Diana Beard has left the Great British Bake Off 2014

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Lisa Kudrow, Courtney Cox and Jennifer Anniston reunite for a mini Friends sketch on Jimmy Kimmel Live

TV
Arts and Entertainment
TVDessert week was full of the usual dramas as 'bingate' ensued
Arts and Entertainment
Clara and the twelfth Doctor embark on their first adventure together
TVThe regulator received six complaints on Saturday night
Arts and Entertainment
Vinyl demand: a factory making the old-style discs
musicManufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl
Arts and Entertainment
David Baddiel concedes his show takes its inspiration from the hit US series 'Modern Family'
comedyNew comedy festival out to show that there’s more to Jewish humour than rabbi jokes
Arts and Entertainment
Puff Daddy: One Direction may actually be able to use the outrage to boost their credibility

music
Arts and Entertainment
Suha Arraf’s film ‘Villa Touma’ (left) is set in Ramallah and all the actresses are Palestinian

film
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.

    'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

    'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

    US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
    Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

    A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

    Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
    Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

    James Frey's literary treasure hunt

    Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
    Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

    Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

    What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
    Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

    Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

    Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
    Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

    The big names to look for this fashion week

    This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
    Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
    Al Pacino wows Venice

    Al Pacino wows Venice

    Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
    Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

    Neil Lawson Baker interview

    ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
    The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

    The model for a gadget launch

    Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
    Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
    Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

    Get well soon, Joan Rivers

    She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
    Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

    A fresh take on an old foe

    Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering