Women are being excluded from the stage. It’s time for quotas.

by Julia Pascal, Research Fellow, Department of English, King’s College London

It’s a century after some British women were allowed to vote, and a statue of the suffragist Millicent Fawcett has been unveiled in Parliament Square, so why is women’s presence on the English stage still unequal to men’s?

In a recent survey, the Sphinx theatre found that just a fifth of English theatres were led by women, who between them control just 13% of the total Arts Council England (ACE) theatre budget.

The feminist campaigning organisation the Fawcett Society has called for quotas to get more women into key positions, after its Sex and Power Index revealed startling gender disparities in the public arena. The situation in theatre, where I have worked all my life, is a startling gauge of the marginalisation of women.

The Conference of Women Theatre Directors and Administrators began auditing the number of females on stage in the 1980s. That we are nowhere near equality, almost 40 years later, was only too evident at the Olivier awards this year, when the prizes for best director and best new play went to men. When women do not have equal representation in theatre, it is impossible for them to have an equal chance of winning prizes. The Equal Representation for Actresses campaign group is among those pushing for change, but the male ruling elite refuses to share power.

Postwar British theatre declared itself to be the vanguard of a more equal society. From 1956, a new wave known as the ‘angry young men’ celebrated working-class playwrights, directors and actors.

Male rage was hailed as a revitalising force. Women’s rage was not. However, this working-class male movement never gave women equal opportunity. Sixty-two years later, female talent remains un-nurtured.

Michelle Fairley as Cassia (Cassius) in Julius Caesar at the Bridge theatre. ‘Even today, female playwrights and directors are atypical. Shakespearian gender-swapping has been mooted as a partial solution.’ Photograph: Manuel Harlan

Even today, female playwrights and directors are atypical. Shakespearian gender-swapping has been mooted as a partial solution. One example is Michelle Fairley playing Cassia [a gender-swapped Cassius] at London’s Bridge theatre. However, such theatrical novelty only serves to distract from the main issue – the absence of contemporary dramas reflecting the complexity of women’s lives.

Cross-gender casting fails to question the over-representation of dead and living male playwrights. It does not address the fact that half our contemporary creative world is missing.

Why aren’t more women active demonstrators against this injustice? One reason is a justifiable fear of blacklisting. Some of the privileged theatrical knights who have led our flagships, the National Theatre and the Royal Shakespeare Company, have opposed gender parity. Consequently, women, who must seek male directorial approval to be employed, have dared not speak their name.

There are structural reasons for marginalisation. Drama schools educate female graduates to expect lower employment levels than their male peers. The actors’ union, Equity, the majority of whose members are female, rejects calls for equal representation. Most important of all is the position of Arts Council England (ACE).

The term ‘diversity’ reduces women – the majority of the population – to a minority…

This unelected quango crushes female ambition by boxing women into a category called diversity. This term reduces women – the majority of the population – to a minority. This promulgates the lie that females are diverse and males are mainstream. Orwellian double-talk maintains male dominance.

The exclusion of women from equal employment at all levels flouts both civil and human rights. The theatre is a serious, international political platform. It is a parliament of the arts, a form of soft power and a cultural territory as important as any physical land mass. With this abnegation of female flair, audiences are robbed of the full human story. These audiences are 65% female. There has never been a female artistic director of the National Theatre or Royal Shakespeare Company. Sir Nicholas Hytner, artistic director of the National Theatre for 12 years, until March 2015, never directed a play by a woman during that time.

Women may occasionally appear as actors, directors and playwrights, but the English stage is devoted to worshipping male narratives. Where are the histories of our mothers, sisters and grandmothers?

In December 2017, the recently appointed chair of ACE, Sir Nicholas Serota, announced a 50-50 male-female split on its national council. What we need now is 50-50 employment for female actors, directors, playwrights and creative artists.

We may hate the concept of a quota system but decades of disenfranchisement mean that female artists and audiences have been cheated. When women’s human rights are acknowledged on the English stage, and when theatres are equally shared among expert professionals of both genders, only then can we say that our theatre is truly national and democratic.

This article was originally published on The Guardian’s ‘Comment is free’ blog. Read the original article here.

Featured image: composite of the winners and nominees for best director and best new play at the 2018 Olivier Awards.


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Blog posts on King’s English represent the views of the individual authors and not those of the English Department, nor King’s College London.

The Cosmo Davenport-Hines Poetry Prize: 2018 winners

 by Caitriona O’Reilly, lecturer in Creative Writing and Cosmo Davenport-Hines poetry prize judge

The theme for this year’s Cosmo Davenport-Hines poetry prize was ‘Reconciliation’; a prompt which promised to be both relevant and timely. Nevertheless, among the 96 entries there were – perhaps surprisingly – few on the subject of politics. Or perhaps it is not so surprising that lyric writing should focus on the preoccupations of the self?

Most entries interpreted reconciliation in the light of personal relationships, whether with significant others, siblings, or parents. Other interpretations were more abstract: politics (yes, occasionally), but also the attempt to reconcile different parts of the personality; different cultures with their conflicting claims on the self; or present realities with the imperatives of memory.

My fellow judges and I had our own small work of reconciliation to carry out, of course: deciding which among these competing and widely differing voices would eventually emerge victorious. Thankfully – and I know judges of literary prizes almost always say this, but this time it happens to be true— a harmonious consensus was achieved with minimum discussion. Many of the poems on our personal shortlists overlapped, and the standout contenders declared themselves at an early stage in the judging. As in past years, we had the luxury of awarding not just a First Prize, but also a Second, Third, and three further Commendations, which kept all of us happy.

If the successful poems have anything in common, it is the qualities shared by all good poetry: an eye at an unexpected angle to reality; a strong sense of line; a way with metaphor; a convincing and consistent tone carrying through the poem from beginning to end; and most importantly, that quickening in language that is unmistakeable.

Continue reading The Cosmo Davenport-Hines Poetry Prize: 2018 winners

‘Gender blind’ casting, who and what goes unseen?

by Hailey Bachrach, PhD candidate researching gender in early modern history plays in collaboration with Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, @hbachrach.

 

The Globe Theatre’s opening two shows of the 2018 season (and opening shows of the tenure of new artistic director Michelle Terry) are ‘gender blind’. It’s a phrase that’s deployed freely now in discussions about casting, usually referring to women being cast in male roles, usually in plays by Shakespeare and other canonical writers. But it’s not used with much consistency: Terry and her company use it to describe their approach to casting, in which both men and women are cast in roles that do not match their own gender, but play them as written. It has also been used to describe casting women in male roles that are then played as women.

The attention paid to gender in all of these productions seems to undermine what the phrase ‘gender blind’ clearly suggests: that the actor’s gender will go unseen.

What’s less clear is whether this lack of sight is meant to apply to the artists or the audience. It’s worth noting this term has been critiqued as ableist, but as it remains a phrase used by the production and criticism industries, we should explore the implications of its suggestion that we do not simply ignore, but literally do not see gender in these productions. Continue reading ‘Gender blind’ casting, who and what goes unseen?

On the Anthropocene, and debts of gratitude and solidarity: reflections on a lecture

by Dr Adelene Buckland, Senior Lecturer in English Literature

On 21 March 2018, I gave a talk for the London Arts and Humanities Partnership (LAHP) ‘Arts and Society’ series at Senate House. As I spoke, students in the building performed a banner drop in support of the lecturers’ strike over pensions, and had the fire exits drilled shut on them by those who did not support their protest. It was an odd moment in my career, to be speaking on Darwin while unaware of political events unfolding elsewhere in the building, and it caused me some reflections on my paper.

The work was drawn from an essay forthcoming in Philological Quarterly in a special issue on ‘earth writing’, the outcome of a symposium I attended in Düsseldorf in April 2016, when I was five weeks pregnant with my third daughter and unable to drink much of the wine (and unable to tell anybody why). The essay is also poignant for me because it marks (I hope) the culmination of what I guess might be called the ‘early career’ phase of my research, on Victorian literature and geology.

‘The Holocene Extinction’, Image © http://bytesdaily.blogspot.co.uk/2015/12/the-holocene-extinction.html.

Reviews and citations of my book, Novel Science, have sometimes surprised me in coming from an ecological perspective: in all the years I worked on the book, I hadn’t really thought about it in these terms at all. Since then, I have often been asked questions about the new geological Epoch in which we are now said to be living, the Anthropocene, and its relationship to my historical research. I wasn’t happy with any of my answers.

Continue reading On the Anthropocene, and debts of gratitude and solidarity: reflections on a lecture

The long read: Medieval Women, Modern Readers

by Fran Allfrey, LAHP-AHRC PhD candidate, and Beth Whalley, Rick Trainor Scholarship and Canal & River Trust PhD candidate.

This year’s theme for International Women’s Day was ‘Press for Progress’. The campaign focused on the reality that gender parity – which the World Economic Forum’s 2017 Global Gender Gap Report projects as being over 200 years away – cannot happen without organised and inclusive collective action. The theme got us thinking about the ways that our own discipline, medieval studies, intersects with feminist activism, and the ways that medievalists might be able to participate meaningfully in these conversations. And so, on the 28th March, supported by LAHP and King’s Centre for Late Antique and Medieval Studies, we held a two-part event to celebrate medieval women and women in medieval studies.

Part 1: The Wikithon

The first part of our event was a ‘Medieval Women, Modern Readers’ Wikithon, which aimed to improve references to scholarly work by women and non-binary people in articles related to medieval studies, and to create and improve pages for women and non-binary medieval scholars and artists who study or remake medieval texts, objects, or themes.

Continue reading The long read: Medieval Women, Modern Readers

close: letter #1

By Ellie Jones (AHRC PhD researcher, Tate and English Department) and Bryony White (AHRC/ LAHP PhD researcher, English Department), co-editors of close. close is a monthly tinyletter (article sent to your inbox) exploring intimacy, intimate lives, and objects, supported by the London Arts and Humanities Partnership.

For some time, we have wanted to try and find a way to talk across our research in bodies, queer lives and intimacy. Both situated in the English Department at King’s and with desks next to one another in a small communal postgraduate research room, we have been speaking about how intimacy, its pleasures and its discontents, has long preoccupied the work of writers and artists.

In Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway, for example, intimacy is a locus of change, growth and transformation: ‘there had risen up a lovely tree in the brisk sea-salted air of their intimacy (for in some ways no one understood him, felt with him, as Clarissa did)—their exquisite intimacy’. Through intimacy, Woolf radically connects feeling to knowledge and self-understanding. However, intimacy here is also elusive. For the two former lovers, it is part of the air, atmospheric and ineffable. Continue reading close: letter #1

Lessons in global commerce (from an early East India Company employee)

Emily Soon is a PhD candidate researching how early modern writers across a range of literary genres perceived the East Indies (principally, China, India and Southeast Asia) in early modern England. This blog was originally posted on Currently @ King’s.

International trade hurts local communities. It causes economic hardship at home and destroys the environment, while the culture of consumerism it fuels is destroying our values and way of life.

Similar sentiments to these recur across the media today: this so-called backlash against globalisation is said to have contributed to Brexit and the rise of Trump, and to have transformed the shape of political movements across the world. This pent-up frustration seems to be quintessentially twenty-first century, the disillusioned rant of a world no longer charmed by the siren song of free trade and borderless commerce.

And yet, the sentiments I began with are taken not from a present-day party political tract, but from a play written almost 400 years ago. While William Mountford’s amateur dramatic effort, The Launching of the Mary: Or the Seaman’s Honest Wife (ca. 1632-3), may not be able to rival the plays of William Shakespeare or Ben Jonson – for a start, we do not know if the single handwritten text held in the British Library archives was ever performed – it does encapsulate, poignantly, the profound anxieties that have long attended the idea of international trade. Continue reading Lessons in global commerce (from an early East India Company employee)

Trumping Transparency: The Need for Government Data to be more Empowering

by Clare Birchall, Department of English

The words “Trump” and “transparency” don’t often appear together. Administrative transparency isn’t something Trump promised during his campaign, and it hasn’t been on the agenda in the last year. Yet the term has begun to turn up recently in communications from the Trump camp.

In July, referring to the Commission on Election Integrity, Trump claimed that the “voter fraud panel”, as he called it, would be a “very transparent process . . . very open for everybody to see.” The American Civil Liberties Union begs to differ. It has lodged a legal complaint stating that the commission has violated “the non-discretionary transparency and public access requirements” of the Federal Advisory Committee Act by holding “its first meeting without public notice; without making that meeting open to the public; and without timely notice in the Federal Register.” Trump also used the word “transparent” to describe his eldest son’s response to accusations that he had failed to disclose meetings with Russians during the presidential campaign.

On July 12, 2017, @RealDonaldTrump tweeted: “My son Donald did a good job last night. He was open, transparent and innocent. This is the greatest Witch Hunt in political history. Sad!”

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Configurations of Empire

by Trisha Remetir (UNC) and James Rakoczi (KCL). though this could not have been written without the contributions of Christine Okoth (KCL), Jennifer Ho (UNC) and Rafael Lubner (KCL), Dr Jane Elliot (KCL), Dr Seb Franklin (KCL).

In August 2017, six students from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill travelled to London to take part in the inaugural UNC-KCL graduate student conference: ‘Configurations of Empire’. The two-day conference allowed each participant to present a work-in-progress paper that explored critical-theoretical engagements with conditions of life, labour and belonging under contemporary formations of Empire. Empire, with a capital E, is a term coined by Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri to conceptualise the globalised—and totalised—political-economic relations that characterise the present.

Topics from the North American side of the Atlantic included twentieth-century African American literature, feminist music studies, queer studies, online streaming services’ television shows and contemporary representations of labo(u)r and migration. On the London side, topics included an experimental electronic musician’s transcendentalist critique of the post-human, the psycho-geographies of mental health service user movements in London and the insidious dynamics of the logic of recycling. The conference culminated in a keynote by Seb Franklin on the coding and forms of disposal.

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Performance/ Museums/ Practice

by Acatia Finbow,  Collaborative Doctoral Award Student, University of Exeter and Tate.

‘Performance/Museums/Practice’ is a monthly research seminar which considers the overlapping and intersecting practices around performance and museums, in all their complexity and richness. It is an interdisciplinary group, open to academics, practitioners, and those with a general interest in the topics, and seeks to stimulate discussion and debate around these areas of research.

The first session, held at King’s on December 4th 2017, considered ‘Collaborations and the Expansion of Performance’. The seminar usually involves two key texts and one case study which form the basis for the conversation during the seminar. In this first session, we looked at Simon Martin’s ‘Painting the Stage and Screen: Burra and Performance’, Robert S. Mattison’s essay on ‘Sleep for Yvonne Rainer’, and looked at the work by Robert Rauschenberg, ‘Sleep for Yvonne Rainer’, currently in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art, New York.

Robert Rauschenberg, Sleep for Yvonne Rainer, 1965, detail.
Robert Rauschenberg, Sleep for Yvonne Rainer, 1965, detail.

Continue reading Performance/ Museums/ Practice

From the Department of English at King's College London