Wednesday, June 24, 2009

A Thought About Bias

In this article, as with other places I've seen, the shocker seems to be that women adminstrators are rating plays by other women more negatively. That's one thing that actually makes perfect sense to me. Chances are that woman is going to have to answer to a man, either an artistic director or a board chair or somebody, since most of those positions are held by men. And when she does, she's got to make damn sure that there's no whiff of "I chose this play because it's by a woman." In fact, choosing a play by a woman at all is pretty suspect. You have to be stringent and harsh, even cruel, because you have to protect yourself. If all you bring to your AD are plays by women, even if they are the best plays, you're not going to keep that job for long.

And there's the whole tourism aspect. Since women playwrights are often hemmed into writing plays about women and "women's issues" (whatever the hell that means), there's a good chance that another woman would be very familiar with those issues and attitudes and able to smell out false steps more easily than a man. Since a man is a tourist in the world, he takes it all in at face value, maybe even elides over some of the false steps because, in his mind, it's fresh and new and innovative.

When you're dealing with a culture rife with sexism, racism and other forms of inequality, it takes on many, many forms.


Tony Adams said...

I dunno. In my experience that also holds true in companies with a female AD, ED and Board Chair.

I think another overlooked aspect is AD's and Lit managers looking for the hot new play, not the best new play.

There's a pretty incredible body of work by women out there that's not getting produced.

I think at the heart of the issue, lack of courage and lack of leadership are more potent forces than bias.

99 said...

I don't think the push towards "hotness" over intrinsic quality fully explains the discrepancy in the ranking of the plays when the identity of the playwright was hidden. From the reports out of the meeting so far, that seems to be the shocker.

But, like I said with the whole Ruined thing, when the lack of courage seems to disproportionately affect one group over another, you have to wonder about the larger biases at work.

Tony Adams said...

I dunno. It's been, what, six years since Susan Jonas and Suzanne Bennett's report on Women and Theatre (I think it was titled "A Limited Engagement.")

By no means am I suggesting that bias doesn't exist. I think that any AD or Lit Manager who is not aware of that by now needs to be replaced.

For a long time the quick fix solution was to just call for more female AD's.
The rankings discrepancy is an issue, but I doubt if those unknown playwrights would ultimately get produced at a major theatre anyway.

Small theatres do tend to do a far better job with this, but they don't cut the same paychecks obviously.

cgeye said...

Don't forget there are also the "don't piss off the board members/ largest donors" calculations, which eliminates writing about your town's major industries, charities or professionals.

That also goes for scandalous incidents, unless they happened to suitably lower class people, not known by the Board, and the scandals are salacious or so known outside the community that Law & Order writers call about research tips.

The Venn diagram of people who could be discomfited by a play by women is larger than the diagram of people disturbed by a play by men, if said women write about the life in 'unwomanly' ways -- domestic violence, sexual assault, the sexualized media, abortion. Now men can do this too, but they usually say 'fuck' a lot and burnish their heterosexual masculine cred, somehow, so no one mistakes them for feminists or queers....

In fact, feminism is the key, here. Women playwrights probably get produced more often if they never use that word in their work -- and how skilled must writers be to discuss feminist topics, without using the word itself?

E. Hunter Spreen said...

I wasn't surprised by the finding either. But I also think that it's valuable to consider the issue in a larger context - that we live in a culture that exercises biases against both genders. We've all absorbed these biases. It affects our daily lives, so naturally it affects our art.

The study is a great conversation starter. It gives us some useful data points, but by it's very nature, only provides a narrow view of a complex issue.

Scott Walters said...

Let's not leave out our education system, which teaches people to admire plays with a male focus and structure. If you've gotten far enough to be in a position to make decisions about what plays to do, you've already drunk the Kool-Aid.

See "Top Girls" for a good example of this in action. Churchill asks us whether the feminist movement really was successful if all it did was create a group of female executives who are as big of an asshole as the male execs.