Women in the Arts
Some of my favorite (contemporary) women in the arts. From left to right: Sara Ruhl, Jane Espenson, Rina Mimoun, Tina Fey
Ok, so this is the blog entry I never thought I would write. I feel like I’m throwing my hat in a ring that others have thought much longer, and harder about then I have. I also, I suppose through innocence, was not really “rallied to the cause” as it were until recently. I’ve never considered myself a huge feminist, though of course I believe in equality of women, but, well, I’ll start at the beginning and go from there. I wanted to write this more as a conversation starter then as a theoretical analysis. I would really love your opinions on this topic. It’s something I really started thinking about a couple years ago but I guess the metaphorical “final straw” came a couple days ago when I was hanging out with a female friend of mine – who is brilliantly funny – and I suddenly realized that I have two, count ‘em TWO female friends who are strong comediennes. I have many wonderfully funny guy friends but, (and keep in mind, I am a professional performer, and the work I’m currently most well known for are comedies) I have only two female friends who are funny as part of what they do for a living. In addition to being a performer, I am also a professional writer – specifically playwright. I don’t have any good female friends who are playwrights. What?
Like I said, lets start at the beginning.
I was extremely blessed to be raised with the firm belief that while girls and boys may be different, they were completely equal – and both could grow up to be anything they wanted to be. I was raised by a beautiful, strong, and very intelligent mom, and had wonderful female role models growing up. My first acting teacher went on to become a head writer for the WB – and (when she was in high school and I was about eight) I remember watching her work on her scripts during rehearsal breaks and thinking how cool she was, and how cool it would be to do that myself. The theater company I grew up at was co run by a female and male artistic director. The majority of theater directors I worked with growing up were women.
When we started learning history in elementary school the thought never entered my mind that women weren’t being properly represented, or had been kept from doing things men did – I firmly believed that, well, at that time in history, statistically women just happened to be interested in other kinds of jobs then, say, being President, and the people that were elected were the best person for the job, and by coincidence, they happened to be men. Now if I ran for President, I’d take ‘em all down. ☺
There’s a line from the movie “Selena” that Abraham says to his daughter (Selena) “No female has ever made it and now you’re number one. You cracked the Tejano market wide open. You walked into Mexico and they don’t even accept Mexican-Americans and they love you…all the barriers that have stopped people before…and you went through them like they didn’t exist. Maybe for you they don’t exist.” That kind of summed up my way of thinking. They DON’T exist. Who’s to stop you? Maybe thinking they exist makes them exist.
But my thinking started to change when I started getting my first tastes of success as an adult in the entertainment industry.
I would walk into meetings with important industry professionals – producers, directors, even writers, and I would be the only woman in the room. I’d also be the youngest one in the room – but that’s another topic.
If you’ve read my blog post “The Power of Laughter” you’ll know that I didn’t grow up with huge aspirations of being funny. But somehow, I am funny, and it’s something that I enjoy using in my art. Suddenly I’m reading articles about how women aren’t funny – and realizing that I have two female friends that are professional comedians. And suddenly, I’ve become highly aware of the ratio of men to women directors, writers, producers, and comedians.
And I keep asking myself why? And I really don’t know. Was the fact that I was never aware that my being a woman might have anything to do with the job I would ultimately end up doing the lucky blessing that made me blissfully unaware of any hindrances in my path? Are women being intimidated out of these roles? Are men in power making unfair decisions when it comes to hiring? I’ve been incredibly blessed to have brilliant male mentors for whom gender differences mean nothing (in the best sense.) I know other women who have had horrible experiences working with men who didn’t think their work had value. I do think there are differences between men and women when it comes to the arts – but no more so then any two people with different life experiences might have. An African-American writer might (and I emphasize the word MIGHT – this is only for the sake of argument, not compartmentalization) be more interested in exploring the African-American experience in their work then, say, a Caucasian writer who was raised by European immigrants and wants to explore the changing European mentality in the United States. A man may default to having a male protagonist, where as a woman might default to having a female one. Someone who’s been through a divorce might be interested in exploring the ins and outs of romantic relationships, where as someone with dysfunctional parents might want to write about that. Because at the end of the day to be an artist you have to explore your personal truth, and it is different experiencing the world as a woman or as a man (I say this as a comment related to the subject matter, and general tone two different people might gravitate towards, not that women can’t write male characters, or talk about the male experience, and visa versa.)
Shouldn’t it be about the PERSON? Sometimes I wonder if we were all given numbers instead of names, and never applied for a job in person, would the demographics be the same? Is it that men feel challenged by women in a position of power? Does funny equal power? Why was it such a revelation for Tina Fey to be funny AND sexy? Some of my friends who primarily direct comedy based shows say they always feel like they’ve hit the jackpot when they find a great, funny woman – and that they’re always the most challenging to cast. Why can I practically count on one hand the number of female playwrights and directors who have been featured on Broadway in the past five years?
In essence, I’m trying to figure out what’s going on. Thoughts? What do you think accounts for this dichotomy? And how can we go about changing it?