Sexism in the Industry?

Sexism in the Industry?

In the current issue of American Theatre, Marsha Norman–playwright, co-director of the playwrighting program at Juilliard, and former vice president of the Dramatists Guild of America–probes the persisting issue of gender inequality in the theatre.  It’s a must read.  For anyone in doubt, there is still a need for a feminist movement, and the theatre is just one industry that attests to this.

Fairly recently, The Guardian theatre blog sparked a discussion of race/ism in American theatre, and blogs abounded with talk of tokenism.
1. the practice or policy of making no more than a token effort or gesture, as in offering opportunities to minorities equal to those of the majority.
2. any legislation, admissions policy, hiring practice, etc., that demonstrates only minimal compliance with rules, laws, or public pressure: Admitting one woman to the men’s club was merely tokenism.
Norman’s article compels us to rethink another type of tokenism, namely female tokenism in American theatre.
Here are some of Norman’s really compelling thoughts:
  • “Cheers to the foundations who ask how many writers of color a theatre produces. But what is this cultural agreement that more than 80 percent of plays should be written by white men, and everyone else can share the remaining 20?”
  • “There’s not so such thing as a girl play. But the girl’s name on the cover of the script leads the reader to expect a certain “soft” kind of play…The expectation of soft work from women writers comes from something way more awful in the society–the commercial romantic idea that all female stuff is soft, an advertising idea. Buy these products and you will have soft hair, soft skin, and a soft voice.  Unfortunately for writers, soft is perceived as playful and decorative and insignificant, not worthy of our time. We don’t like soft in this country–we like hard here. Hard guy stuff, like in guy plays.”
  • “This past season, theatres around the country did six plays by men for every one by a woman, and a lot of theatres did no work by women at all, and haven’t for years….Either women can’t write, or there is some serious resistance to producing the work of women on the American stage.”

(As I look at what’s playing in my own area right now–South Florida–there’s not a single play by a woman running, excepting “Naked Women            Fully Clothed” at Women’s Theatre Project in Ft. Lauderdale, which closes this Sat. 11/15)

  • “The NEA must take the lead here—its guidelines prohibit the support of theatres that discriminate against every group of writers in Americaexcept women.”
  • “I propose that we stop saying the words ‘women’s plays.’ We should, if we have to, simply say, ‘plays by women,’ or just ‘plays.'”
  • Finally, Norman points out that the Sands study, one of the two major recent studies of the state of American theatre  (the NYSCA report being the other), revealed “women have a better chance of reaching production if they write about men than if they write about themselves. Imagine if writers of color were more likely to enjoy a career if their plays were populated by white people.”

Maybe Nora didn’t slam the door hard enough.  When Ibsen’s Doll House (I know, it’s a play about a woman, by a man, but bear with me) gets staged these days, critics often gripe that the play is outdated. Harper’s critic Walter Eaton was making the same complaint back in the 40’s about the play. But guess what, as long as gender inequity exists in the theatre and on the world stage, the themes of that play and others like it will continue to be relevant.

Seriously, the situation is ….

6 Responses to “Sexism in the Industry?”
  1. Kevin Johnson says:

    Thank you for putting this entry up. The female voice whether they talk about female life or not should be heard more and not just by one local theatre company in this area.

    Incidentally, another company will be producing back to back world premieres by women playwrights soon. But as the saying goes, “We’ve come along this far, but we’ve got so far to go.”

    Here’s hoping there will be more balance in American theatre soon…..

  2. nstodard says:

    Kevin…have the play premieres you allude to been announced yet?

  3. Kevin Johnson says:

    New Theatre: 26 Miles by Quiara Alegria Hudes opening now through 12/20 and Hour of the Tiger by Sandra Riley opening January 15th.

  4. nstodard says:

    Fantastic! Thanks!

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  1. […] a post last week (“Sexism in the Industry“), I put up some quotes from Marsha Norman’s recent article in American Theatre on […]

  2. […] ‘09 issue of American Theater magazine reiterated this point (which I have written about here and here).  Like others, I was deeply bothered by all of this, and I began thinking about what […]

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