Are Female Playwrights Being Discriminated Against?

An article in the New York Times seems to think so, reporting a study by a Princeton academic called Sands. Quick summary:

*there are twice as many male playwrights as female ones, and men tend to be more prolific, turning out more plays

*the work of men and women is produced at the same rate

*Sands sent identical scripts to artistic directors and literary managers around the country, half of which named a man as the writer (for example, Michael Walker), and half named a woman (i.e., Mary Walker). The result: Mary’s scripts received significantly worse ratings in terms of quality, economic prospects and audience response than Michael’s.

*“These results are driven exclusively by the responses of female artistic directors and literary managers,” said Sands; “Men rate men and women playwrights exactly the same.”

* At the same time, plays and musicals by women sold 16 percent more tickets a week and were 18 percent more profitable over all…Yet even though shows written by women earned more money, producers did not keep them running any longer than less profitable shows that were written by men.

* Ms. Sands also found plays that feature women — which are more commonly written by women — are also less likely to be produced.

What do you think? I’d like to hear the opinion of our own esteemed Daniella Rebellato, for instance. [AR]

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “Are Female Playwrights Being Discriminated Against?

  1. Dan Rebellato

    A lady of letters writes…

    This doesn’t seem all that surprising to me. I’m sure there are widespread prejudices about the sort of plays women might be likely to write and a corresponding reluctance to take their work seriously. A lot of the language of dramaturgy (which is more strongly rooted in the US than in the UK) has a pervasive masculine bias – the general terminology that sees a good play as being ‘muscular’, ‘visceral’, ‘gutsy’, ‘driven’, ‘linear’, ‘strong’, ‘focused’, ‘bold’ and ‘ballsy’ draws on values that are generally somewhat more associated with men than women (wrong though that attribution is, I hasten to add). I think there is still – despite the extraordinary counter-example of Caryl Churchill – a vague belief that a woman’s play is going to be sentimental, soft-centred, domestic, possibly autobiographical, flabbily constructed and old-fashioned. Now, most plays are complicated things, with aspects that are innovative and aspects that are not, aspects that are well-constructed and aspects that are flawed. I guess these literary managers reading a play apparently by a woman unconsciously looked for the flaws, and those reading a play apparently by a man unconsciously expected the strengths.

    This report’s pretty slender though. It would be interesting to know if that script was actually by a woman or a man. It would be interesting to know the size of the sample. It would also be interesting to know how they turned these responses into ‘ratings’ under the three headings mentioned.

  2. “Now, most plays are complicated things …”

    Not the sort I write.

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