I am tired of the sound of my own voice

Presentation at Federation of Scottish Theatre Meeting, Edinburgh,7 December 2016

I am tired of the sound of my own voice.

I am tired of having to point out that women make up 52% of the population and are therefore not a minority.

I am tired of saying what I have been saying since the days of the Labour Party’s campaign, Women in the Arts in 1980s: this is not only about jobs and equality but also about how who we are and how we see ourselves. It’s about feminism.

I am tired of being told that the fight is over when we see one woman being appointed in a key leadership role. Like everyone else I welcome Jackie Wylie’s appointment on many levels, but it is still the case that women lead only a minority of our theatres.

I am tired of hearing about the first second, third and even fourth waves of feminism. I have frequently used the aphorism, ‘feminism is like housework: you have to re-visit it every 10 years’. But it is not true. Coming as I do from a long line of Lanarkshire housewives, I know that housework is a daily task – as is feminism.

I am tired of being told that the issue is not about gender – so ‘last millennium’ – but the issue of the day is ethnic diversity, or it’s about disability or age – as if there is some kind of hierarchy of protected characteristics and black women, old women or women with disabilities can be ignored because of their gender.

I am tired of being talked to about gay rights when what is meant is male gay rights. As a lesbian I find this a tad patronising.

I am tired of being reminded that gender is not a binary concept when what this actually means is that women, not men, can be ignored again because we now rightly acknowledge that gender is more complex than previously understood.

I am tired of seeing shows which are not only written by men with a majority male cast – common in ‘classics from the canon’ – but are directed by men and the whole creative team is male (director, designer, lighting designer, composer, sound designer etc). I am so tired of this that I have resolved not to go to any more productions that do not include women in the creative team – even if the tickets are free. You know who you are.

I am tired of being told that ‘we only want the best talent for the job’. I acknowledge there is always a need for support for development programmes across the arts, but please don’t tell me that we have a problem for women in theatre. There is plenty of talent out there.

I am tired of being lectured to about the irrelevance of data when what is implied is a fear of data that might tell a critical story. In the report on creative roles in theatre Where are the Women we made it very clear that data are a starting point – not the whole story. Here’s what the data tell us:

In 2014/15, in 24 Scottish publically funded theatres covering 1,698 roles:

  • 39% of creative roles across all categories went to women.
  • 38% of theatre companies had women in artistic leadership roles.
  • 4 out of 24 theatre companies were artistically led solely by women.
  • Women were cast in 46% of the 811 roles.
  • Women made up 47% of directors of shows.
  • Women wrote 39% of the plays.
  • 29% of set and costume designers and 6% of lighting designers were women.
  • Women made up 11% of composers, musical directors and sound designers.

It tells us that in some roles – acting, directing and writing the % of women is around 40% and suggests it would not take much to push to 50:50 – and that is down to you — theatre companies themselves. It tells us that, in contrast, in set and costume design, music and sound the figures are dire and – here’s just one suggestion- perhaps we need a programme of development with colleges and universities or a series of funded apprenticeships.

What is does not tells us is if 2014/15 was an unusual year – we only get that through a regular gathering of data.

Nor does it tell us who got the bigger acting roles – men or women; if the assistant directors included in the director category were truly there to assist in the directing or just make the tea. This research does not tell us how big the commissions were for women – although I can tell from other research that the longer the show and ergo the bigger the commission, the more likely it is to go to a man.

I am tired of asserting that data are an important starting point. Don’t take my word for it:

‘If our aim is to reflect the country we live in, we do need numbers in order to measure our progress against that. But it has to be an absolutely robust and authentic part of everything we do.’ Rufus Norris

The report also does not tell us which theatre companies achieved or were close to achieving gender balance. But I will tell you now that the Traverse, Dundee Rep, A Play, A Pie and A Pint and of course Stellar Quines were amongst some of the top performers in achieving gender balance- all run solely or jointly by a woman that year.

I am tired of the suggestion that programming a diversity of work across a season somehow removes the creativity required to run a theatre company and reduces it to tick box. I have talked to artistic directors who have been clear how a process of looking at balance across the season opens up possibilities. But here is Rufus Norris again on the record.

‘We are changing the way we programme at the NT so that diversity is actively considered at the start of the creative process. And in that case it can be helpful to look at, say, the number of female writers – it gives you the lay of the land, the shape of a season, in quite a stark way. But this isn’t about trying to make everyone aspire to a certain kind of work or checkboxes; it is about enabling those from all different disciplines, backgrounds and experiences to tell the stories they want to tell.’

I tired of pointing out how research into women in theatre was done voluntarily by those working in theatre who were keen to help. Imagine a young playwright in front of the fire wearing her Christmas pyjamas counting (and checking) figures from 6 plays produced by one of our funded theatre – that’s what this project was about and if she can do it- so can you. How hard is it?

Time to move from warm words to action; time to move from being told what to do and to take up a leadership role.

Collect data, analyze, contextualize, publish and work on making it all better.

Because I am tired of sitting in meetings where I am told that you won’t cooperate with data gathering when I know that is not true. What you resent is gathering data and other impact information, doing fine reports only to have this work at best ignored and at worst not even read.

You are also tired, as I am, filling in pointless feedback forms or surveys which tell us nothing or worse still are used to concoct an overblown claim for the arts which fits just nicely into this post-truth world.

I am so tired of going through these arguments in my head and asking again and again is what I am suggesting so outlandish?

I am tired of being nice when I want to be the young woman in Julia Taudivin’s Blow Off, stuff my bra full of dynamite, strut up, say, Princes Street and blow myself up from the top floor of a glass fronted building in the middle of the night. Not an act of terrorism but a howl of anguish and despair at patriarchy and our acceptance of the unacceptable.

I am tired of being told I am obsessive, or eccentric when what I am is fucking angry.

I am tired of the sound of my own voice.