Sexism has been eradicated right? Females outperform males in school, are equally respected in the workplace and can compete with their male counterparts for the most prestigious roles and career routes.

Perhaps this is the case in most modern day industries and sectors, where the majority of intelligent people will treat men and women on the basis of their competence, ability and training – not just their sex. However in a report released by Girl Guides UK this week, it seems that now, in 2013, women are still feeling inferior to their male counterparts, reminding us that there is still a need to stop boxing men and women into categories and eradicate the notion of traditional roles.

The report, whilst focusing on harassment and negative gender media portrayals, heavily focused on how women feel about their employment prospects – a state of affairs that’s long been flouted in theatre.

According to an opinion piece from a board member of the League of Professional Theatre Women in the New York Times, less than 20% of plays produced are written by women with a general lean towards more roles in theatre for men, both onstage and back stage.

It isn’t just men looking more favourably on fellow male scriptwriters either, Emily Glassberg Sands, a postgraduate student at Harvard found that even women in positions of authority rated what they thought were scripts written by women as lower quality overall.

Despite the fact that there are more male playwrights out there, Glassberg Sands (2009) found that when she sent identical scripts (half under a male name, half under a female name) to literary managers all over the USA, the ones that were portrayed as being written by females received worse quality ratings. Even more surprisingly, these assumptions were displayed by female literary managers – a fact the researcher could only speculate may be due to these ‘women in power’ being aware of the female plight.

Interestingly, it was also found that even though Broadway plays written by women reap better tickets sales and profits, these shows didn’t run for any longer than less well performing shows by men. Glassberg Sands interpreted this as evidence that producers discriminated against women.

If people can play cats or work impressive equestrian puppets, what’s to stop women filling roles traditionally dominated by men (or vice versa)? This would be especially welcome in an industry where women actors feel unrepresented and shut out from male populated productions. So many of our plays currently storming the theatres are dominated by male roles, an issue some argue is long standing and coin the ‘Shakespeare problem’ (only 16% of his characters are women).

We can only hope that this situation will improve in national theatres, with Nicholas Hytner, director of the National, claiming the split of young directors and writers is much more equal, ensuring that in the future, the imbalance will even out.

In the meantime it’s vital that universities and schools harbour a culture of equality when staging performances. Don’t shoehorn males into ‘traditional’ male roles, leave them open to interpretation by both male and female actors. The same goes for ‘technical’ roles in stage lighting and sound management, assuming ‘techie male’ roles is one of the most dangerous assumptions teachers can have for their students. In theatre all onstage and backstage roles should be open to all – and this is something we should be reinforcing early on in schools and amateur dramatic groups.

We’ll keep a close eye on issues of gender equality in theatre, so keep a look out for fresh news, performances and plays written by women here on the PG Stage blog.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.