Change of attitude. I know it sounds glib. But when you’re dealing with so much casual misogyny and professional ignorance, my choice is to go for ‘restore factory settings’ and rearrange the Irish brain into something workable, unbiased, properly democratic and [even] modern. We’ve had a distorted and grotesque culture of nepotism and auto-male-greatness for so long that it’s easy to skim the fringes hoping for change while feeling utterly powerless to do anything apart from complain privately. I also hate any sniff of ‘victim’ culture too, which is why I used to cringe at the idea of gender quotas, even when I understood their importance, but really the produce/end result of any art form should rise and sing for itself. Merit not megalomania.
What to do: Anonymous and impartial submissions processes, blind readings (just imagine what could happen…), more mentorship programmes for emerging writers, an increase in collaborative processes for established writers, an acknowledgement that women have care needs (I know several writers like myself who are caring for people full-time and the emotional/mental constraints that goes with that). Women also need encouragement. Yes, they do, sad, isn’t it that things have been so unequal for so long that we should have to pull the tortoise head out so riotously? We also need to exhume those Irish women who played an a vital role in shaping our country, starting with the women who helped found, fund and write for, The Abbey Theatre and others like it. We should lead these women back on stage, clapping loudly.
When I worked full-time in arts administration, it was often difficult to get well-known/famous women to take part in ‘big’ events’. Likewise in the writing courses I enrolled in, it would mostly be the men flinging their arms in the air like wind farms when the tutor asked for volunteers to submit work for the following week. The brash were nearly always dreadful and the coy were nearly always more talented, and this often had a gender element to it. There were patterns and pathologies that I took in but didn’t quite know what to think of. Women in turn need to get more proactive in the arts, to vow to fundamentally redress current imbalances by finishing projects, by working harder, trip-switching fears, fighting apprehension, and also committing to writing long-term, with whatever sacrifices that brings. The irony of this debacle is that some women writers I know, who didn’t have the slightest interest in playwriting, are seriously considering it now. They are angry and fed up…that kind of energy can be useful at times like this.
Finally, a fantasy. An ineffectual ignoramus walks into a cosy well-paid job at a theatre and finds it almost empty. The women who work the box office, who manage the PR, all admin staff, the behind the scenes workers, interns, stage managers, cleaners, etc., are all gone. In solidarity they have walked. Even the audience – traditionally made up of about 60% women – has now been whittled down to just a few men. It would’ve been a lot more men, but they heard through the grapevine that they were only welcome as audience members if they were personally liked and ‘admired’ by the Wizard behind the curtain, so the number of people in the theatre on this day is miniscule. “What the fuck is going on!?” the man in charge roars, but there Isn’t a woman around to mansplain. Instead two eejits eating Tayto laugh loudly, slapping their knees, shouting ‘bravo!’ ‘bravo!’ In the direction of the stage. Another is sitting in a darkened corner having a wank. There’s a note pinned to the wall. ‘Enjoy the performance, them be the breaks’.