I read this article in the NY Times called “Rethinking Gender Bias In The Theater,” and I found it to be really surprising and provocative.
Quoting from the article (which was written by Patricia Cohen and ran in the paper on June 23, 2009):
“When more than 160 playwrights and producers, most of them female, filed into a Midtown Manhattan theater Monday night, they expected to hear some concrete evidence that women who are authors have a tougher time getting their work staged than men. And they did. But they also heard that women who are artistic directors and literary managers are the ones to blame.“
Read the article for more details. And then, if you’re really interested, read the comments, which are also fascinating.
I expected to feel haughty and defensive about the article, but that’s not what happened. I now feel conflicted. The writer in me feels angry. The woman in me kind of understands. I think in many ways women are more critical of other women than men are. I’m just surprised it shows up so blatantly in this research. I’ll admit, knowing I’m braving dangerous territory here, that I’m guilty, even as a female conductor, of being slightly disappointed to sit in the audience, open a program, and learn that a woman is conducting. And even if I’m ultimately impressed with her work, I definitely wait for her to prove herself.
There is a group of us female theater conductors and composers who all know each other, and I’m not talking about these women. I know their work and I am excited and proud when they are on the podium … or at the piano… or writing the score or the orchestrations. But if I’m at a performance and I’ve never heard of the conductor, one of two things happens. If it’s a man, I don’t think twice about it. If it’s a woman, I go, “Hmm. This will be interesting.”
What is that?
We have a female pastor in my church and I know she has to jump through the same kinds of hoops. The first time I heard her preach I waited for her to wow me. She did. Harvard-educated, supremely intelligent, thoughtful, liberal, provocative. And yet, had she not been female, would I have been as hesitant to grant my approval, or would I have assumed he’d be great until he proved otherwise? I’m trying to imagine and I can’t quite figure it out.
So the obvious next question is, how does this apply to my work? I recently applied for something and was encouraged to include the words “as a woman…” in the essay. I resisted, not because I have any problem with being a woman, obviously, but because I don’t need to be the Gloria Steinem of musical theater writers. Like my work or don’t, but none of it should be simply because I’m a woman.
Food for thought.