I would say that this topic has already been covered to death over the past two and a half years since Emily Sands released her damning study about gender bias in the playwriting profession. A lot more has been said and written since then, by Julia Jordan, Marsha Norman, Theresa Rebeck, and many others – and some organizations have made some great strides, including the Lilly Awards, the LA Female Playwrights Initiative, and the Dramatists Guild Women’s Initiative. But by and large, the percentage of produced plays written by women has continued to hover under 20%. (Note the Guerilla Girls on Tour’s depressing girlcott list of theaters not producing a single play by women in the 2011-2012 season.) What this all means is that we need to keep talking about it, acknowledge the causes, and do something about it already. Today’s post suggests one of the underlying causes, with more to come soon.
1.It’s the patriarchy, stupid. (That’s disgusting!)
Let’s start with walking down the street. Every “hey baby” hurled at a woman is scary. If we decide to talk back to such “admirers” on the street, to stand up for ourselves, to demand respect, we face the very real possibility of physical violence. One in five women will be sexually assaulted in her lifetime, and 95% of attackers will go free. Okay, I know this stuff may seem pretty unrelated to gender bias in theater, and, frankly, more important (I agree with the latter), but stick with me for a minute. Any discussion of gender and gender imbalance needs to recognize the larger system governing our society: we are currently, and have been for most of recorded history, living in a patriarchy. Since I love quoting bell hooks any chance I get, here are some insights from Feminism is For Everyone: “Males as a group have and do benefit the most from patriarchy, from the assumption that they are superior to females and should rule over us…they find it easier to passively support male domination even when they know in their minds and hearts that it is wrong.”
I’m sure hooks would not be surprised that most men I talk to agree that gender bias and inequality are wrong – but too often that’s where the discussion ends. I want to make it clear that I am not blaming any particular men, nor claiming women are victims in every situation. Men also suffer at the hands of gendered expectations, but they also tend to benefit from the patriarchal structure, while women often bear the brunt of inequality. From threats to our physical bodies (and the right to control what may grow inside of us), to unequal representation in Congress and the boardroom, to income inequality and the feminization of poverty – I could go on – there are countless examples of our unequal world. All of these related symptoms continue because we all, to varying degrees, adhere to unquestioned beliefs and ingrained economic, social, and political practices.
If we want to address gender parity in the theater, we must recognize the effects of the patriarchy on a personal and societal level. We have to honestly acknowledge and attack subconscious beliefs held by all genders: that women are worth less than men, are less interesting, less funny and less intelligent. And that our stories and the way we tell them matter less – and are less marketable. We must acknowledge that decisions about play selection at a given theater – as well as who gets playwriting awards, fellowships, mentoring, and canonization – are influenced by these deep-seated beliefs, as much as we may reject such beliefs on a rational level. Until we can honestly and openly address patriarchal influences, we will continue to ensure that men’s voices receive more encouragement and opportunity than women’s.
Next Blog Post: Aristotle Started It.