I was asked this question recently by a young woman just starting out as a Stage Director.
“If women playwrights insist on not using the terms ‘women/ Female playwrights’ – How can women address the gender bias in favour of men that exists in the theatre today, without some sort of collective identity?”
Although I’m not at all sure that all women playwrights mind being identified as a female playwright, I know a lot do find it troublesome, for some of these reasons.
In the past few decades I have noticed a real de-politicisation of people: a kind of apathy. Maybe it’s a hangover from the ‘80s – the celebration of individual over the group, combined perhaps with the strange place women got to in the ‘90s; they felt equal in certain respects, there were some high profile women in top roles and the media were focusing on a culture of ‘ladettes’ who were going out and acting like lads. Maybe it was then it started, young women didn’t feel the need to be feminists anymore – in fact the term has developed a lot of unfair negative associations (read my post on Granta’s The F Word for more discussion of this).
To me, feminism is about is being given the same opportunities and choices as men. I think we should abandon our fear of the word. All I can hope for, is that as it becomes more and more clear that this government are not about equality, that very antiquated views on women and their role in society are held at the highest level, that more people will become aware that they need to take individual responsibility and action. And I think that’s starting to happen – look at the recent action which has forced the government to ‘rethink’ some of their sillier ideas on the NHS, selling off the forests, the definition of rape… etc.
The other issue is that nobody wants to be regarded as a minority, also because of the negative connotations. People think that minorities are given a leg-up with positive discrimination. However, without positive discrimination, things will not change. Look at the Orange Prize for Fiction – that’s women only. That brings writers to the public’s attention in a big way and celebrates women’s ability as writers. Men have thousands of years on women as creators of art, just look at the reactions we saw a couple of years ago when a woman won best film Oscar for the first time in its 80 year history. Things are changing – but women still have a lot of catching up to do. It’s my view that collective action will help speed up this process.
I think there are two choices really, but they are not exclusive. As a writer, you can keep chipping away at it, keep applying for jobs and don’t give up. Or you can act collectively in as big or small a way as you feel comfortable with; share your knowledge with those coming into the profession, act as mentor, go to or lead events that promote women’s writing, put on women’s plays, put on your own plays, and make a concerted effort to go
and see plays by women.
I think women in the theatre do acknowledge there is a gender bias – but it is up to each one of us whether we choose to act to change this, individually or collectively, or at all. For
me, collective action seems like the way to push the change along – which is what I hope to achieve with 17Percent.