Facing the Reality of Sexism in Playwriting

When US researcher Emily Glassberg Sands sent out identical scripts to theatres in the US in 2009, half with a male name and half with a female name, she found that those believed to have been written by women were rated significantly worse by artistic directors and literary managers than those written by men. This was even the case when many of those artistic directors and literary managers were women. With my thesis approaching; a play called The Cracking Hour, written by Jahna Ferron-Smith, I found this study particularly disturbing and frustrating.  And it’s not even the sort of thing that we can just blame on complacent white men in power- women are part of the problem too. There must be some expectation deeply engrained in our society that colors our perception of female writers.

Of course, we need to keep in mind that theatres are doing classic plays like Shakespeare and others, but even then the numbers are grossly uneven; the most recent research done by Sphinx Theatre Company shows that only 17% of produced plays are by women.

So how can we counteract this?  If the idea that female playwrights are inferior is somehow woven into the fabric of our society, so much so that female and artistic directors and literary managers hold an equal bias, what is there to be done?  Several theaters have begun operating under the  rule that plays be submitted anonymously so there is no chance for gender bias.  I think this is a good start and should become expected of theatres- why the heck not?  If we know that our view is going to be colored, even subconsciously, shouldn’t we remove the chance for bias if we are able to?  It seems like an easy choice to me.


sbmeyers posted on March 1, 2012 at 12:20 am

This is ridiculous! I can’t believe it’s only 17%!!!! I’d be curious what other statistics come up for other minorities…

sbmeyers posted on March 1, 2012 at 12:23 am

I also feel that this idea of submitting pieces anonymously is a good start, but what past that?

rro posted on March 2, 2012 at 3:09 pm

When I was a reader for The O’Neill’s NPC this past semester I read all the scripts blind, because that’s their policy, and I didn’t feel that it in any way negatively impacted my experience of reading and judging the plays. I’d be curious to know what the gender breakdown was after reading this, but I guess it doesn’t really matter. I totally agree with you, though, blind readings does seem like a solution.

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