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.
June 26, 2009 11:43 AM | | Comments (1)


Anyone who correlates the complex issues of gender bias as presented by Ms. Sands to men being "off the hook" has oversimplified the issue to the point of being reductive. Sure, it was sort of presented that way in the NY Times, although they took a lot more care to present all the statistics than you are representing. All that was stated was that male A.D.'s, on average, seemed to be more open to women playwrights than women A.D.'s. There is no qualitative judgement about WHY that might be. Your "women can't be trusted" ruse is a canard which doesn't allow us to examine the issue in any real depth. You are the one placing a judgement on Ms. Sands and her research, Ms. Sands is placing no judgement on women, she is just presenting statistics. Statistics drawn from methods validated by some of the best economists in the world.

I don't know a single male A.D. who would knowingly deny a qualified woman a job because "women can't be trusted" to provide equal opportunity. The argument is absurd on its face. By contiuing to reduce this study to a gender war, you miss the point altogether and possibly do more harm than good.


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This page contains a single entry by Critical Difference published on June 26, 2009 11:43 AM.

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