A New Stage for Wom*n

By Julia McNamara 

 

Entertainment has the power to unite, because it can be enjoyed by all individuals of colour, gender and social status. However, the arts industry, now and in the past, has discriminated against women both openly and insidiously.

 

2017 denied me the naivety I once had for the glitz and glam of the star-studded world. When theatre companies, like one I have been involved with, failed to protect harassed employees, I was shocked and surprisingly scared. The names of certain industry superpowers now leave me feeling eerily uncomfortable. 2017, despite my love for this industry and the power of storytelling and performance, brought about a new understanding that forced me to question my once blind faith.

 

Particularly as a woman.

 

Australia’s performing arts sector is rife with gender based inequality. Just take, for example, the fact that between 2001 and 2011 only 36% of all major performing arts companies had women in one of the two key creative leadership roles. The Australian Council for the Arts’ (ACA) Women In Theatre report also found gender-neutral representation was elusive within creative leadership as a whole. Not to mention the worrying findings of the Media Entertainment & Arts Alliance’s 2017 Sexual Harassment in Live Theatre survey which included at least 40% of respondents having experienced sexual harassment in the industry.

 

After such widespread exposure and criticism throughout 2017, change was required.

 

Enter Time’s Up. From the 1st of January 2018, the organisation has used the global platform of the arts industry to both stand in solidarity with unempowered women, and rally around change. One of their key calling points is the need for greater “representation, opportunities, benefits and pay for all women and non-binary people”. Because just as the ACA established, the current inequality of representation, not only in performative roles, but in creative and leadership positions, entrenches existing biases by denying decision-making authority.

 

However, the demands of Time’s Up aren’t new. The calls themselves aren’t revolutionary. But the use of the arts’ global platform to show solidarity for women across industries, and across the globe, is powerful.

 

It is through the visibility of the arts that a talking point can be created.

 

Similarly, in 2018, UTS will use the arts as a powerful tool for self-representation by presenting the inaugural UTS Wom*n’s Revue.

 

“On the surface it’s a comedy show created and crewed by women,” say co-directors Gabby Stapo and Annaliese Shaw, “however, we aim to create more than that.” 

 

“Our goal is to create a safe, comfortable and collaborative environment for women as an outlet for their creativity.”

 

Creating these environments to support those the arts industry has historically silenced is necessary if we want to create a more inclusive future. In February, Shonda Rhimes called out the phrases “Smart Strong Women” and “Strong Female Leads” used by the entertainment industry because: “There are no Dumb Weak Women. A smart strong woman is just a WOMAN.” In her 1971 essay ‘Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?’, Linda Nochlin determines that social constructs acting against women artists have created a “woman problem”; this has lead to the implication that “women are incapable of greatness.” Which, personally, I find really fucking annoying. And false. Damn false.

 

Furthermore, as Nochlin poignantly notes about unequal representation:

 

“The fault, dear brothers, lies not in our stars, our hormones, our menstrual cycles or our empty internal spaces, but in our institutions and our education.”

 

Having ovaries does not make a woman incapable of greatness. Being denied opportunities to learn, to succeed, and to grow compared to male counterparts is what creates discrimination; and a falsified understanding of who is capable.

 

Art is how societies represent themselves. As such, selective and unequal representation within art can be the most detrimental of all.

 

It is only through dedicated avenues of artistic representation that inequality within the status quo can be challenged. Subsequently, this ensures that the voices of women and non-binary people can be heard. Building from this, the ACA found that it is through dedicated mentorships and opportunities that change can be achieved. These values are also what drives the UTS Wom*n’s Revue.

 

“Diversity and inclusivity resonate through our intended process,” say Gabby and Annaliese. “This revue is a space for all women-identifying and non-binary people to contribute.”

 

“We intend for our final performative piece to be a nexus of intersectional creativity, as pretentious as that may sound.”

 

But part of this intersectional inclusivity is also recognising that the term “Wom*n Artist” can be limiting when applied to the work of others, instead of by the artists themselves. As artist Kelly Doley notes in ArtsHub’s article Time to stop calling ourselves women artists, “‘women’ as a gender category is multi-faceted”. Hence, for true equality to be gained, it is important not only to create opportunities for those that have been marginalised, but also to respect the work and self-representation of the artists themselves.

Representation within the arts is particularly powerful because of this widespread, accessible platform. This is why the inaugural UTS Wom*n’s Revue is so important.

 

Being a woman can sometimes be scary, but attending UTS Wom*n’s Revue is just plain fun.

 

“Let’s keep it PC, but not PG.”

 

UTS Wom*n’s Revue is playing from 21—24 March at LendLease Theatre, Darling Quarter. You can purchase tickets or find more information here: http://facebook.com/utsrevuesociety

 

For more on Time’s Up Now, visit:

http://timesupnow.com

 

Accompanying artwork by Janey Li @jane.ey