Is this going to be a little awkward? I don’t know – but let us try. I’ve been discussing the new course at the Globe quite a bit, this past week, and one of the things that turned up more than once is the diversity policy, and…
Confession: I’m never entirely comfortable with the notion of diversity policies. “Which is a little odd,” I’ve been told. “As a woman, you should know how hard it is at times.” And yes, I do know. Not because of my stage experiences, I must say: I’ve been very lucky in that, and in fact, I think I’ve worked with more women than men, both as directors and artistic directors – and not because of any diversity policy. Only once have I been told – and this during an online workshop with an American instructor – that, as a woman playwright, I should write female characters. It was slightly disconcerting, but on the whole my experience in the theatre allows me to consider that as the odd bizarre incident.
Before that, though, I ran for seven years the family business in a male-dominated field, and I’ll say it was no picnic. It took years and a lot of hard work just to convince many clients that I wasn’t the secretary or a glorified tea-girl – I was the boss… on the other hand, early on I was offered the local presidency of a professional organisation – which I turned down, being very new to the job and very busy learning the ropes. “Do think about it,” an older- and not terribly tactful – colleague insisted. “Just think how good we’d look, with a woman at the helm…”And, you see, I happened to be the only woman around – and one of the few on a national scale. Not that I’d harboured many illusions about the proposal (as I said, I was very, very green at the game) – but to be told in as many words that my gender was, more or less, my only noteworthy quality didn’t exactly fill me with jubilation.
I think that’s where I developed my sourness towards diversity policies. I don’t want to get a presidency, a job, a commission or an endorsement because I’m a woman, thank you very much. I want to earn any of those things because I’m good at what I do. As an individual, not as a specimen of an endangered species, to be either patronised or bandied about as a badge of political correctness. I don’t want to have to wonder: would they have chosen me, if I were not a woman?
Sometimes some well-meaning soul will tell me how they’ve chosen to read my book or see my play because I’m a woman… And I’m very glad when they go on to tell me how they liked it – but at times it’s a struggle not to ask: so you wouldn’t have read/seen it, had it been written by a man?
Now don’t mistake me: I’m quite happy to be a woman – but that’s not the first thing that defines me. I’m myself, thank you very much. And I’m a novelist and playwright (and occasional lighting designer) with a growing interest in directing – and that’s how I’d like to be taken or rejected. As an individual – and not as a member of a category, or a necessary quota within a diversity policy.
Davide Mana said:
The problem I think, with “diversity policy”, is not the “diversity” bit, it’s the “policy”.
“We’ll make a rule and it will all be fair” is wishful thinking of the highest order, and in the end it’s easy for the system to go pear shaped, or to get hacked by less-than-scrupulous individuals, or both.
In the end, it’s the work that should be evaluated – and everybody should have access to the means for creating a work and be subject to a fair evaluation of it.
As an aside, I am fascinated by the idea that a woman should only write women characters – and I guess men should only write about men.
True, I’d love to write a collaboration story, but apart from that option, would not the principle lead to pretty monotonous, single-gender, highly discriminatory works?
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la Clarina said:
Exactly – what you do, not what you are, regardless.
(And, to be fair, I don’t suppose that, in the instructor’s view, I should have written according to a strictly no-men rule. But, because the piece was a 10-minute play with only two characters, both of them men, he said that, he would prefer to see me write women. “Are my male characters badly written? Unrealistic?” I asked. And the answer was no, but as a woman, he expected me to write women… Still: sigh!
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