Questions and Answers about Gender Bias in the Arts
The following dialogue originally occurred between AGBA’s director and an arts administrator totally unfamiliar with AGBA. The following questions may be helpful in discussions with staff, audiences, artists, administrators, and patrons.
Q: Who are the influencers of gender change and equity?
A: In the performing arts general directors and select directors for productions are in a position to guide directors on issues such as the presentation of violence and nudity, and inappropriate costuming for female parts. They also select the repertoire for their theaters with the agreement of the Board. They are people that are natural instigators of change.
Are you campaigning against the display of the naked female body…?
“Yes, against gratuitous use of the female body…”
Q: Aren’t these people at the mercy of the box office?
A: If audiences make it clear that they will not attend performances where women are treated violently in productions, artistic and general directors will listen. Audiences will need to stand up for what they want or do not want to see. Directors need to be sensitive to audiences’ demands.
Q: How else can the audience members make their wishes known?
A: They can volunteer their time to research and writing for AGBA. They can write blogs or op-ed pieces. They can email/write letters to the directors. They can form a picket line outside the theater.
Q: Are you campaigning against the display of the naked female body in the arts and/or the realistic depiction of abuse against women?
A: Yes, both, against gratuitous use of the female body clothed or unclothed, as a sexual object – to use in various demeaning ways, and with no equal abuse and objectifying of the male body.
Q: Do you distinguish between male and female artists/composers/novelists/playwrights etc.?
A: No, not when they both present males and females in a similar, respectful, not demeaning way, or whatever way, even-handedly. As an audience member commented upon seeing Lynn Nottage’s contemporary play “Sweat” at Arena Stage in Washington recently, “there was an equal number of men and women characters, all terrible people.” He was right in the numbers, but he failed to mention the shocking changes of the lives of today’s working class shown in the play, both genders, several races. No stereotyping. The play’s dialogue, from both genders, had vitality and power. Nottage’s plays are fine examples of gender-neutrality in characters.
Q: Is it OK for a female artist to depict her own experiences, brutal or sexually overt though these may be?
A: Yes, if they are not for sensationalism, gratuitous use of females to make a buck. Otherwise, they are no better than a pimp.
Q: Is your objective to change the way in which the arts are interpreted to children? Adults?
A: An objective, among many, if the purpose is to treat the sexes even-handedly, eliminating negative bias.
Q: How would the arts look if you achieved your objective? Are there specific art forms you want to change?
A: Theater productions like “Sweat” mentioned above. The presentation in the fall of 2015 of 50 women playwright plays in a festival in the DC theater community. The current opera, “Cold Mountain,” by a woman composer, Jennifer Higdon, presented in 2015 in Santa Fe and 2016 in Philadelphia, that included strong, well-developed women characters (who remained alive and “in charge” at the final strains of the opera), with no rapes portrayed in the entire presentation. I want to see productions for audiences where women can attend comfortably and not feel demeaned for the sake of directors’ fantasies. In art museums, I want to see terrain that is no longer macho, male dominant, but based on artistry and opportunity, not male control, etc.
Q: Are films and TV programs included in the Awareness of Gender Bias in the Arts? Children are more likely to see TV than any other medium.
A: No, AGBA will not focus on these mediums to promote awareness. Gender bias in films is being addressed actively by those who are immersed in that entertainment form; and TV’s attention to bias requires someone who knows that industry well.