Thursday, 28 June 2012

Inequality Control

So Equity has finally spoken out and they’ve started handing out some knuckle-raps to some very naughty theatres. And rightly so. Because these theatres are guilty of trying to pretend us ladies don’t exist and have been putting as few of them as possible on stage.  I’m pleased they’ve decided to do this because it is a genuine problem. Despite not being a minority, women are wildly unrepresented. But the problem is by no means exclusive to the theatre world. It’s a problem that is present in all forms of media.

I feel sorry for the Hampstead Theatre who appear to have been singled out in this story. I understand that the figures don’t look great with productions such as Chariots of Fire which in a cast of 21 only featured 3 women but other theatres are equally guilty. Shakespeare’s Globe announced a few months ago that they would be putting on plays as part of their ‘Original Practices’ season. This means that they will be putting on all-male productions so that audiences can see how plays would’ve been performed in Shakespeare’s time. I apppreciate the gesture guys, but we all saw Gwyneth Paltrow bandaging down her lady lumps in Shakespeare In Love and that was more than enough, thanks. We all know how they did things before women were invented and isn’t that enough? Do theatres really have to do this antiquated method of casting just so they can justify having the wonderful Mark Rylance playing Viola? Shakespeare wrote precious few roles for women as it is so to have them then taken away and given to the boys is a kick in the teeth that I can't afford dentistry for.

But as I said earlier, this problem is certainly not just a theatre issue. Women are terribly misrepresented by television and cinema too. Look at the BAFTA Rising Star award that went out a few months ago. Yes, ladies made into the longlist but when it was released to the public to allow them to vote, the three women were left out and the five men made it into the shortlist. What a horrible result. But we can’t blame the viewing public. They’re the ones that are constantly fed so many leading men that it would make a cannibal blush and while I don’t want the industry to pander to women and give them leading roles as some sort of charity scheme, a bit of equality wouldn’t go amiss. Two of the highest grossing films this year have been The Avengers and Men In Black 3, both very male-heavy films which mainly seem to say that women really have very little place in blockbuster-type films. I realise every time someone makes this argument, someone will rather ironically say the word ‘Bridesmaids.’ Because yes, women have become the bridesmaids while men, yet again, get to play the bride.

And sadly it feels like a sensible solution is very far off. While everyone worries about ticket sales and viewing figures, they continue to make things that they think the public want to see and that will usually inevitably mean a lot of leading men and a few scantily clad women in the background. I don’t want the answer to be theatres putting on all-female seasons because that would feel horribly like knee-jerk charity.  I think we’d all just appreciate it if theatres and television programmes and films would finally admit that women exist and they deserve to be equally represented. Too much to ask? Apparently so.  


  1. If I may sidetrack into genre for a moment, one of the nice things about Star Trek Voyager was that because of the nature of their positions on the ship, important scenes could quite often feature three women (Janeway, Torres and Seven of Nine) working to solve a problem. However, Star Trek is unlikely ever to take the next step and feature a ship with female Captain and First Officer, which happened with men in their first two series. And the gender balance was still off, even in Voyager (6-3 in favour of men) and got worse in Enterprise.

    Apologies if I've said this before, but there was parody of the Avengers poster going around with the men in ridiculous 'sexy' positions; I understood the point, but what really bother me about thatp oster was that there was only one woman and she was stood at the back. (Black Widow's pose was actually more or less a mirror of Hawkeye's, andn ot particularly exploitative.)

    I have just watched Ides of March, a very good film, but it bother me (mild spoiler alert!) that the woman in it (well, there were two, but Marisa Tomei was rather on the fringe of things) seemed to exist mostly as a satellite of the men, who made all the big decisions and effectively controlled her life, leaving her not much to do but exit dramatically to cast a shadow over the lives and careers of the blokes...

    Films for and starring women tend to be lighter in tone and centre on romance and family (for which you generally need men, of course, which means the storyline still effectively foregrounds the necessity of a male presence), which is a real shame. A nice biopic of someone like Vera Brittain (or Wangari Maathai or Radclyffe Hall or Mrs Pankhurst) might go a little way towards redressing the balance. But only a little.

    Female characters tend to be beautiful rather than serious, and almost never both...I mean, how would that be possible??

  2. Check out the updated Bechdel Test video for the Oscars 2011

    And now weep........