It’s A Girl ! ?

It’s A Girl ! ?

In a post last week (“Sexism in the Industry“), I put up some quotes from Marsha Norman’s recent article in American Theatre on gender inequality in the industry.

One particular line by Norman has gotten stuck in my head:

“There’s no so such thing as a girl play.”

It is not uncommon for writers to use reproductive words such as birth, conception, and gestation to describe the writing process, but do the literary “babies” that we produce have a sex and gender?

How Norman would answer this question cannot necessarily be gleaned from the comment above because she is speaking to something specific: biases against female authors–that is, the impact of a mere name on a cover–the plays themselves are a whole other matter.  Norman’s use of the word “girl” rather than “woman” in the above quote speaks to the stereotype and misconception that women write fledgling, pubescent–ie. inferior– plays; whereas, the opposite sex writes fully-developed “man” plays, not “boy” plays.

She goes on to say that, “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.”

Here is one of Norman’s proposed solutions to the matter of attaching gender labels to plays:

“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.’”

Norman also proposes more blind readings of play submissions.  Her comments make us pause and compel us to think more about the way an author’s sex, gender, and also sexual orientation and race can and do influence people’s perception of a work before it’s even read or seen.

Films, on the other hand, seem to be assigned a gender after the fact, in accordance with their audience demographic, hence “chick flick,” for one.  I wonder just how many of the screenplays that our culture groups into this category were written by women…

What do you think, reader?

There are all kinds of authors–male, female, masculine, feminine, gay, straight, black, white, brown, etc. etc. etc.–but is there such a thing as a “girl play,” “man play,” a “gay play,” a “black play”?

And more importantly, what are the criteria for such a classification?

  • The author’s genitals (ooh I HATE that word), the author’s presentation of gender, the author’s sexual orientation, the author’s skin color?
  • The sex, gender, sexual orientation, or race of the central character?
  • The plot and themes?
  • Violence, profanity, sexual explicitness?
  • The “style” of the writing?  Are there elements of style that we associate with a particular gender, etc.?

4 Responses to “It’s A Girl ! ?”
  1. Josh says:

    Ha! I was JUST saying to the boyfriend that I didn’t like Mamet plays because they were “boy plays.”

    I’m super on board with the whole “let’s produce more minority theater” thing, but I’m also a marketer.

    At the risk of being politically incorrect, there are absolutely girl plays (and boy plays and black plays and gay plays and so on.) It’s okay for different groups to have different interests and tastes, no?

    The problem is that they aren’t being produced, not that they exist.

  2. nstodard says:

    I strongly believe American stages should feature a broader range of plays that more equally and accurately represent the diversity that exists here and elsewhere in the world.

    But what is it about Mamet’s plays that makes you classify them as “boy plays”? I’m guessing not just his maleness, so then what?

    And I also wonder if we can apply this labeling to much older plays, if it works, ya know? Are Wilde’s plays “gay plays” because he was gay, even though they don’t deal explicitly with homosexuality? (“Queer plays” seems more appropriate, in my opinion, for his work.) What about something like Hamlet, does “boy play” work?

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