Woman for sale

By Bronwen Beechey

MELBOURNE - ``Woman for sale'' says the eye-catching headline on the leaflet. ``Tired of cooking? Cleaning? Well, look no further!'', it continues. ``She dices, slices, cuts, grates, vacuums and nurtures in seconds. Made from a high density molecular structure, with convenient carry handles, she's guaranteed to last a lifetime. You'll never need to lift a finger again!''

No, it's not our worst nightmares about genetic engineering come true, but an extract from the publicity for a series of one-woman shows by an exciting newcomer to women's comedy. Writer and performer Daska Saleeba is presenting a series of monologues at different venues throughout October. While encompassing a variety of themes, Saleeba's spoken word pieces focus on the difficulties and confusion of being a woman today, using a finely judged blend of humour and serious comment.

At the recent Green Left Weekly women's cabaret, Saleeba had the audience in stitches as she discussed the influence of women's magazines and the recent furore over Di and Fergie's carryings-on with commoners. Her observations included a suggestion that Green Left carry fashion pages with items such as ``Dreadlocks around town'' and ``Who shaved their head this month'', and a theory that Di and Fergie were actually involved in a revolutionary plot to undermine the royal family.

She then went on to make some pertinent comments about the media scrutiny of Di and Fergie, pointing out that it was typical of the way women in general are observed and judged by the media.

Saleeba is particularly concerned with the way media images are used to shape our image of ourselves, and the devastating consequences that this can have for women in such areas as sexuality, body image, eating disorders and the constant feeling that we are never good enough. One of her monologues, ``Self doubt'', she describes as being about the ``endless self- commentary that goes on in my own head'' and the things in society that reinforce our feelings of worthlessness.

In ``Masculinity and femininity'', Saleeba confesses her secret and shameful need to wear pink, and looks at the absurdity of the roles men and women are forced to play. ``Confusion'' was inspired by a trip to the supermarket in which Saleeba was confronted by the symbols of consumerism gone mad, ``like preboiled frozen white rice''.

After seeing her assured manner on stage, it is surprising to learn that 23-year-old Saleeba has been performing for only six months. ``I've been thinking about it for years'', she says, ``but I couldn't get out of bed. On my birthday this year I had a life crisis and decided I had to do it.''

Six weeks later she performed her first monologue at the Lounge nightclub. Despite her having written the piece only that day, ``so I'd have something to blame it on if it didn't work'', the response was positive. Since then she has performed at Melbourne Uni, Cafe Yartz and the Fringe Festival Women Writers in Performance night.

Saleeba claims that the monologue form comes naturally to her ``because I live alone and so I talk to myself all the time''. Her experience as a counsellor for women survivors of sexual abuse has convinced her of the importance of ``talking about stuff no-one talks about''.

She deliberately doesn't describe herself as a comedian because ``the whole industry is very male-dominated, with a lot of very macho comedy which has no relation to the sort of stuff I do''. While there are a number of female comics she admires, many still tend to fall back on ``traditional'' humour such as bemoaning their lack of attractiveness or lack of a boyfriend.

The pressure placed on us by mass culture to be part of a couple is another of Saleeba's frequent targets. Much of her material deals with the ``backlash'' portrayals of independent single women as lonely, frustrated or downright psychopathic: ``It seems that you can be heterosexual, homosexual, or bisexual but you can't be single''. She sees it as part of her mission to ``stand up for single women''.

Daska will be performing at the following dates, times and venues until October 25: Thursdays 1 p.m. at the George Paton Gallery, Union Building, Melbourne Uni; Fridays and Saturdays 8.30 p.m. at the same venue; and Sundays 6.30 p.m. at the Linden Gallery, 26 Acland St, St Kilda. Admission is free for the daytime performances and $5/$4 for the evening shows.

Daska will also be performing at Green Left Weekly's ``Taste of Thailand'' fundraising dinner on Saturday, November 7.

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