Following a 2015 run and performances at the Royal Court, Manwatching by ‘An Anonymous Woman’ is back at the Summerhall Roundabout. A different male comedian each night will be gently humiliated as they read out a monologue that discusses female masturbation and sexual fantasies. I say humiliated because I’m not sure what the point of Manwatching is unless it is to humiliate the male comedian who delivers it. Its content is not revolutionary. It’s not saying anything new. Having seen a full complement of one-woman shows at the fringe, I can say confidently that discussing female masturbation onstage is no longer original or shocking, especially not for women audience members.
This is about men, not women. In fact, it actually seems to be more directed at men than women, to inform the few that didn’t know that yes, women really do masturbate. Manwatching is an interesting thought experiment in male objectification. The bare stage of the Roundabout means that we are focused on Mitch Benn, the comedian who read Manwatching the night I saw it, and other audience members’ reactions for 50 minutes. The monologue invites us to rate whether we would fancy him or sleep with him, calling for a moderately but not too attractive actor. As we watch the man, we are invited to take glee in the performer’s intended discomfort. I found myself a bit perturbed that Mitch Benn seemed to take it all in his stride. There were no awkward pauses or embarrassed giggles. The most entertaining bit was when he ad libbed for a sentence at the end.
Manwatching is wearingly heterosexual and manages to be queerphobic. Apparently ‘no-one fantasises about giving a woman a hand-job’ due to tired wrists. I am not convinced by the feminism of this project due to its failure to be intersectional. Maybe the author chose to remain anonymous because they doubted it too.