Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Gender Bias In Theatre

Edith Evans and I headed down to Playwrights Horizons to hear Emily Sands present the conclusions of her year long study on gender bias in theatre. Entitled “Opening the Curtain on Playwright Gender: An Integrated Economic Analysis of Discrimination in American Theatre”, the 45 minute lecture was both an affirmation of what Guerrilla Girls On Tour has suspected all along and an eye opener. First of all, Emily presented evidence gathered from Doolee that there were more male playwrights than women playwrights. Doolee is a free site for playwrights in the US, UK and Canada that lists writers and their work. This stat I suspect is off. From our research via the Dramatists Guild playwrights are split 50% male and 50% female. Next Emily explained how she enlisted the help of 4 women writers (Pulitzer prize winner Lynne Nottage was one) to write spec scripts for her. She then sent these scripts out with one half bearing the by line of a man and the other of a woman. The plays that bore male names were rated higher. No surprise there. But the scripts with women’s by lines were rated lower more often by female literary managers and artistic directors. Shocker to most but when Emily revealed that fact Edith and I just looked at each other and smiled knowingly. Q: What’s the biggest obstacle to feminism? A: Other women. Guerrilla Girls On Tour has used this line for the past 7 years in our performance piece “Feminists Are Funny”, which dramatizes the disparity for women in theatre (i.e. less than 18% of all plays produced in the US are written by women). While most of the feedback we receive on our work is positive, the small percentage of hate mail comes from, you guessed it, women. Emily Sands’ findings in her year long study on gender bias in theatre reconfirms what we have suspected all along -- it's our own sisters who have been marginalizing female playwrights. We think it’s because women have to claw their way to the top in the theatre world and by the time they get there they are not only exhausted, but threatened by any other woman who may attempt to replace them. As theatre women we need use our energy to mentor each other and stop feeling jeopardized by each others successes. Read the NY Times article on Emily’s presentation here. See you in the jungle.
-Aphra Behn
© 2009