Women and Men: Does Creative Gender Matter?
Nicole Flint makes a fascinating argument that instead of being worried about the representation of women in theatre (we’ve all heard about the Australia Council report and its abysmal statistics) we should focus on the representation of women in theatre, within the actual plays, regardless of whether female artists produced them or not. (There’s also an interesting suggestion that women simply don’t match up to men in their rate of application. Not sure how you would quantify this.)
“What this focus also ignores is the content of what is being written and directed. And this is the crucial, neglected question in any debate over gender imbalance in the arts: does creative gender matter?
Does it actually matter who is doing the writing and directing? Or does it matter what is being written or directed? Surely the most important consideration is how an author, playwright or director portrays their female and male characters, develops themes and what this therefore says about society. For what does a woman achieve in this regard that a man does not or vice versa?
Over the past decade two female authors have won the Miles Franklin Award, Shirley Hazzard with The Great Fire and Alexis Wright with Carpentaria. Male characters dominate both novels and women are largely relegated to the domestic, the family. In comparison, male winners Alex Miller (Journey to the Stone Country), Steven Carroll (The Time We Have Taken) and Frank Moorhouse (Dark Palace) all feature central female characters, none of whom are domestically bound. These women have jobs, diverse interests and a range of male and female friends and family.
A similar example is provided by an Australian theatre production that recently transitioned to film and played at the Cannes Film Festival (though not as part of the competition): The Sapphires.
When male playwright Tony Briggs won the 2005 Helpmann Award for Best New Australian Work and Best Play for The Sapphires (directed by Wesley Enoch for the Melbourne Theatre Company), it was described by the Australia Council as a story ”told with generosity, humour, love and music” about ”Briggs’ mother and aunts, a group of four talented Aboriginal singers who left Australia to entertain troops during the Vietnam War”. The film was adapted for the screen by Briggs and Keith Thompson and directed by Wayne Blair: a story by men, about women.
But the question these examples provoke is an important one: which matters more, creator or content? Does the name on the cover of the book, on top of the script, or on the directing credits matter?
Or does it matter what was said, how the female and male characters were portrayed and what can be learnt about the human condition and the world at large?
The debate over creative gender seems unlikely to dissipate soon, having spread from literature, to theatre and now to film. But what it serves to do, especially while unsupported by comprehensive statistics, is distract from a consideration of content and therefore from critical gender issues such as stereotypical or sexist portrayals of women and men.
For these are the gender issues that should be of primary concern to us all, whether on the screen, on the page, or on the stage.”
Read the whole article here.