Commentary: Gender inequality, on and off stage

Polly Teale, writing in The Evening Standard [UK], 11/15/11

My company Shared Experience is currently touring a new play based on the true story of black identical twin sisters who refused to talk, their only relationship being an intense and turbulent bond with each other. Speechless has had excellent reviews and won awards, and yet it is to be the last show funded through Arts Council England. Shared Experience is a company led by two women that creates plays and productions which explore the female experience in all its complexity. I am particularly worried about what our funding cut will mean for the future of our company at a time when it seems to me to be more important than ever for women's voices to be heard. Despite a few startling exceptions, it remains the case that fewer than one in four theatre directors is female, although lists of aspiring young theatre directors are dominated by women. 75% of applicants to drama schools are women and yet the profession continues to employ far more men both on and off stage. This is partly because it has ever been thus. The canon of plays favours men over women. Look at any Shakespeare and it has four times as many parts for men as women. His plays were, of course, originally performed entirely by men. They reflected the times in which they were written; in many great plays women are wives, mothers, lovers, maids, but rarely the centre of the story. In a world where little girls are increasingly encouraged to wear pink and dream of becoming princesses, isn't it more important than ever to encourage work that is deeply probing, challenging women's (and men's) assumptions about who they are, and more importantly, who they could be?


Study: Gender inequality persists for women working on top US films

George Szalai, The Hollywood Reporter, 11/22/11

A survey of the top 100 grossing movies of 2009 showed that male speaking roles continued to clearly outweigh female roles and that females showed more skin on-screen, the LA Times reported. Providing latest evidence that gender inequality persists in Hollywood, the study by USC's Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism found that only 32.8% of the 4,342 speaking characters in those movies were female, a percentage unchanged compared with the top-grossing movies of 2008. In films directed by women, 47.7% of on-screen characters were female, while male directors featured fewer than a third of female characters. When it came to behind-the-camera jobs, only 3.6% of the directors and 13.5% of the writers of the analyzed movies were female. "We see remarkably stable trends," USC Annenberg associate professor Stacy Smith said. "This reveals an industry formula for gender that may be outside of people's conscious awareness." The inequality persisted even though women bought more than 50% of movie tickets sold in the US in 2009. When it comes to on-screen clothing, the study found women continued to be much more likely than men to wear sexy outfits. Instances of actresses shown in swimwear and unbuttoned shirts (25.8%, compared with 4.7% for men) or showing exposed skin (23% vs 7.4%) showed the imbalance. Revealing clothing and partial nudity was just as prevalent among 13- to 20-year-old female characters as among women 21 to 29, highlighting that women are sexualized on-screen at young ages.


Commentary: A woman of color addresses the white, male "default setting"

Kartina Richardson,, 12/2/11 [h/t to Scott Myers]

This is not a blog about race, and it is not a blog about gender. It is a blog about film. But because I am a woman, and because I am a woman of color, it will of course be about those things in the same way that a white male writing about a film, whether he knows it or not, cannot divorce his experience as a white male from any essay. Since "white male" is the world's (and Hollywood's) default setting, he believes that he moves through life race-less and gender-less, and so quite naturally, many of his reviews will not include mentions of gender or race. So deeply rooted is the white-male default viewpoint, even I find it hard to escape this thinking. When I think about script ideas, very often times I realize that the character I've been imagining is unconsciously a white man. From the moment he is born the way a white male sees the world, the way he forms sentences, the angles that catch his eye, will be different from a woman's or a person of color's.


Study: Gender inequality continues to characterize the world of pop music

Tom Jacobs,, 12/14/11

In 1997, Rolling Stone magazine famously celebrated the rise of the female pop star, boldly declaring that "Women are ruling the roost." It took less than a decade for that dominance to decisively shift back to men. That's the key finding of a newly published study, which analyzed the top 40 songs of each year from 1997 to 2007 and concludes that "gender inequality continues to characterize the world of popular music." The research team reports male artists continue to dominate the Top 40 sales charts, and the gender gap is even wider in terms of airplay. In terms of sales, male artists had 238 hit songs (54.1%) and female artists had 182 (41.4%). But in terms of airplay, male artists had 271 hit songs (61.6%) and female artists had only 151 (34.3%). Female pop stars can claim one distinction: Women chart less often than men, but when they do chart, they chart closer to the #1 rank. The researchers call that finding intriguing, in that it suggests "women occupy the charts in ways that are not only quantitatively but qualitatively different from men... the female artists who do well on the charts are an increasingly important part of the celebrity tabloid culture -- a culture that, as we know, scrutinizes and sensationalized many aspects of their brand both on and off the stage." (Indeed, a study published earlier this year, looking at Rolling Stone covers, concluded female pop stars are increasingly sexualized and presented as sex objects.)


Commentary: "Ballet is a sexist art... [but] its sexism is to a woman's advantage"

Kate Lydon interviews NY Times chief dance critic Alastair Macaulay,, 12/1/11

QUESTION: What do you like about ballet?

MACAULAY: I don't love ballet any more than I do several other dance forms. But it has particular qualities of amplitude and virtuosity that can make it singularly eventful....When a woman steps onto pointe in arabesque, she can at once become something other than a woman: She can become a work of ideal geometry. That's thrilling, and I've loved it ever since I first saw ballet. But this is something about which -- living in a world that has been reshaped by the struggle for gender equality -- we should also all feel a certain ambiguity. Ballet is a sexist art. In fact, I often say that it is the sexist art -- the one and only art that's based upon the dichotomy between male and female. He is not permitted to step on pointe (except occasionally as a comic or character effect). She is not permitted to promenade him or support him in pirouettes. I must admit that I love ballet as an art of chivalry, and I enjoy the fact that its sexism is to the woman's advantage rather than the man's.

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