Share the Guilt
A friend just mentioned a conversation with a woman who, until recently, was an artistic director at a prominent regional theater. Prompted by Emily Glassberg Sands' college thesis on female playwrights -- and consequent reports that female artistic directors and literary managers are to blame for failing to produce women's scripts -- she said she was feeling guilty.
Does she, personally, have any reason to feel guilty? I don't know. I do know that there's a good chance a lot of women in theater are feeling similarly guilty, even though Sands' research does not prove they're at fault, nor does it suggest that there is a single cause for the low number of plays by women on American stages.
Guilt can be a terrific motivator. If guilt, deserved or undeserved, prompts women in theater to take a closer look at scripts by women; to make more active efforts to seek out, commission, nurture, and produce female playwrights; and to question their own assumptions about what their audiences are hungry to see, or even willing to see, then it could be a very good thing.
But if women are the only ones feeling guilty, there's something terribly wrong with the response. That is one of the huge dangers of pointing the finger at women: In that interpretation of Sands' paper, men are off the hook. If they're not part of the problem, they don't need to trouble themselves to be part of the solution, except maybe in making sure that a guy gets the next a.d. or literary manager job that opens up. Women, after all, can't be trusted to be fair to other women, right? Wrong, but you wouldn't get that impression from the eagerness to label them as biased.
Male artistic directors and literary managers, as a group, are no less to blame than are female artistic directors and literary managers, as a group. Male artistic directors also occupy far more of the high-profile, big-budget jobs -- which means the 50-50 gender split among respondents to Sands' survey skews the results in a way that doesn't correspond to the real world. Men aren't off the hook. No one is.
If anyone is going to feel guilty about the underrepresentation of women's plays on our nation's stages, let that guilt be a motivator for positive change. And let that guilt be shared.