Acting on gender equality

You’d think that in 2016 – a time when marriage equality and equal pay legislation are cropping up in the western world – that the pay gay between men and women would be non-existent. Gender gaps not only dominate the corporate world, but are heavily prevailing in the entertainment business also.

Waking the Feminists, a campaign that emerged here in Ireland last November, denounced the lack of plays written and directed by women in the 2016 Abbey Theatre programme and called for more gender-diverse productions. The campaign led to an important gathering in front of the Abbey Theatre on 12 November made up of hundreds of actresses, directors, playwrights, and other women working in the performing arts.

The City went to a theatre school in Dublin last week to talk to a 25-year-old aspiring director (who asked to remain anonymous) on her experience and fears for her future.

“Yes of course this world is completely different for men and women. But I didn’t want to believe it when I first started.”

“So when we started putting up plays at first I thought that the reason I wasn’t chosen as main director is because the others were more talented. But as the years went by and we got to put up more and more plays, I realised that the only time I would get chosen was when the subject was a ‘sensitive female matter’.”

As we have seen in many productions, female roles only seem to get attention when there is a typical female matter involved. It is only in recent times that the roles have reversed, and that female characters have gone from being the damsel in distress to bold heroines – mainly from adaptations of books. But its seems this evolution has yet to be felt in Irish theatre. “In other words I would only get to do my job if the play was about female abuse or childbirth,” she went on to say.

These feelings appear to be echoed in Hollywood as well. Big names such as Eva Longoria recently shared their experience with the New York Times. The Latin actress and director said she knew she was – and still is – entering a male universe when directing. “As a director I definitely feel this all-boys club. There’s still that, ‘She can’t possibly know what she’s talking about’, ” she said. “It’s meant as a compliment, but […] you just go ‘Do you say to the dude directors, ‘I’m pleasantly surprised you knew what you were doing’?“

However, our interviewee has persevered against the lack of opportunity for female directors in the Irish theatre scene.

“It made me think a lot harder about whether or not I would be able to keep going in an industry where a woman is not expected to do the job as well as a man. But I kept going because it is what I love and I can’t imagine myself doing any other job.”

And the Waking The Feminists campaign has given our director-to-be a lot of hope:

“When I first saw #WakingTheFeminists on Twitter, I was so happy to see that not only many other women shared the same experience as me in the business, but that it was finally becoming a subject we talked about openly and that got a lot of attention from the public. It gave me hope that at some point the situation would change and that maybe one day I’ll be treated just like my fellow male directors.”

In the film industry, the issue of wage gaps was brought to the public’s attention in 2014, when the Sony hack made salaries open to the public. But Hollywood has started opening up about it after Patricia Arquette’s acceptance speech at the 87th Academy Awards, when she said: “It’s our time to have wage equality once and for all and equal rights for women in the United States of America.”


While her statement was applauded by various actors such as Meryl Streep and Jennifer Lopez, it also cost her some opportunities in the industry. At the ‘Dinner for Equality’ she hosted last month in Los Angeles, Arquette told US news organisation Variety that she had lost two acting jobs, but that she was okay with it.

At the dinner, guest Jennifer Lawrence also opened up about the reaction she got for her online essay on the issue, saying: “It’s weird being a public figure talking about all of this stuff because you put a target on your nose. When I wrote that essay I got a lot of support – but I also have a Republican family in Kentucky who told me my career was effectively over.”

Though women in Hollywood still have to fight to be given the same opportunities as men, the issue of gender imbalance is more and more recognised not only in the film industry but in other performing arts as well.

“I already feel like the situation has changed a bit when talking to various theatres, and I can just be the best director I can be and believe in the change.”

(Photo by: Anna Huguet)



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