What created my awareness of prevailing gender bias in the arts in a most invidious form?
It happened in a flash in the 1990s. I was walking down a corridor in an arts building. A puppet show was being staged in a room nearby. The marionette company had existed for several years, hired by arts groups to perform children’s theater.
Giggling and guffawing poured from the room. I stepped into the theater to see what antics the marionette show was producing. Immediately in front of the stage were young children, their faces looking confused and uncomfortable, and their little bodies wiggling as they giggled with embarrassment. At the rear, a cluster of grown men, presumably fathers, sat. They could barely contain their belly laughs. Mid-stage, the marionettes moved in full performance, their strings manipulated by the puppeteers hidden in the rigging above them. Attached to the strings were the extremities of both male and female puppets, AND to the breasts of the female puppets. Up and down, up and down the puppeteers maneuvered the breasts.
Only the female bodies of the puppets were being ridiculed, objectified and demeaned. In a flash, I became aware of gender bias in the arts as it presented itself to me, never to be forgotten.
No such strings were attached to the particularly male appendages of the human body, the penis, and no movement of the male organs up and down. The little girls sat there embarrassed, if not ashamed of their future bodies. How belittling, demeaning for them! And the little boys, negative images forced upon the future men of our society, shaping their attitudes about the treatment of the genders.
I was astounded at the inappropriateness of the show intended for young children. This wasn’t the proper setting for the likes of go-go dancers. Only the female bodies of the puppets were being ridiculed, objectified and demeaned. Catching my breath, I became aware of gender bias in the arts as it presented itself to me, never to be forgotten.
After the shock and dismay of seeing what the young girls were being subjected to, sanctioned by an arts organization, I wrote a letter of protest to the puppeteer company. (I realize all these years later that I should have also directed a letter to the arts organization.) Shortly, without a written response or acknowledgment of my complaint, the puppets were redesigned and the sexist movements eliminated from the performances. The company still exists, chastened, and continues to market itself to the public.
What inspired me to advocate for gender equality in the arts?
After the smutty marionette show, I repeatedly witnessed gender bias across the wide spectrum of the arts, even as I continued my professional career outside the arts. I remember thinking, “Someone needs to address this pervasive discrimination and belittlement of women through art.” It didn’t occur to me that I might be that person until I retired.
Someone needs to address this pervasive discrimination and belittlement of women through art.
After years of soul-searching, researching, and focused viewing of a range of arts, I decided this was a worthy expenditure of the rest of my life’s energy. Nothing could be more worthwhile and gratifying than promoting fairness and increased esteem for 50 percent of the earth’s population.