As the discussion about gender parity and diversity has continued to unfold in the wake of #TheSummit, Isaac Butler (among others) has been consistent in calling for a clear definition of what success might look like. What exactly are those of us calling for a new emphasis on inclusion in the American theater actually looking for? How can we set universally-accepted goals against which we can measure ourselves? (As you probably know, I’m a big proponent of measurement on the subject of diversity and gender parity.) If we can’t articulate an ideal end state, we can’t mark progress. And if we can’t establish a positive position—if we can’t lay out something to strive for—we’ll always be railing wildly against everything else. Nobody likes a complainer; everyone rallies around people who are taking charge and leading toward a goal.
So I decided to try to define what for me would constitute success. Please note the emphasis there: this is my own interpretation, and the reason I’m sharing it is that I’m interested in others’ perspectives. I’m starting with gender parity because a) diversity’s much more complicated, the way I see it, and b) I haven’t made up my own mind yet about what success might look like on that front. Also: my definition is US-centric, but it could very well be applied anywhere and in any country. And finally: I’m beginning with the assumption that the population of the United States is approximately 49.85% male, 49.85% female, and .3% transgender; those statistics may be incorrect, though they are not un-researched, and I am open to correction.
With all of that in mind, I define gender parity as follows:
In any given year, the percentages of male, female, and transgender playwrights whose work is produced across the entire United States will not differ more than 3% from those of the general population. In any given five-year period, the difference will drop to 1%; in any given ten-year period, furthermore, the difference will drop to .1%.
(My intent here is to allow for normal statistical variation—a year with slightly fewer male playwrights, for example—but not ongoing patterns of discrimination. A more adept statistician than me might have a more valid way to indicate a “fair” amount of deviation; if so, I’d love to be informed.)
My definition is intended to apply to all playwrights, living and dead, whose work is produced, which means that—given the fact that more male-authored plays have survived, historically, than female-authored plays—the new play sector will be more female-and-transgender authored than the rest of the American theater to compensate. I define gender parity in this way because I believe our goal should be to make the genders of our playwrights reflective of the American population; we tell stories for them, after all, not for ourselves. I recognize that in the short run, my approach will mean a statistical disadvantage, so to speak, for male playwrights… at least as long as we continue to produce (say) Shakespeare to such a terrific extent. A few hundred years or so after we’ve achieved gender parity, however, the canon of available classics will have balanced itself out enough that this will no longer be the case. Until then? We men need to deal with it. We’ve had it great for long enough.
My definition is also intended to apply to all levels of the American theater individually. In other words, the percentages I’ve identified above should be true for (say) just TCG member theaters, or just LORT theaters, or just small independent theaters. My intent is to ensure that we don’t “make our numbers” by lavishing great resources on plays authored by men and relegating all the female- and transgender-authored plays to our second stages and black boxes.
Two explicit clarifications:
Technically, the above definition could be satisfied by 4,850 different plays by men, one play by a woman produced 4,850 times, and one play by a transgender playwright produced 300 times. Therefore, I’m adding the following caveat: that the ratio of plays to playwrights within each gender category should not deviate more than 3% in any given year. In addition, that deviation should drop to 1% over a five-year period and .1% over a decade, as outlined above.
In addition, I want to note as explicitly as possible that my definition is not intended to apply to any individual theater. In establishing criteria for success, I believe we need to avoid putting any sort of mandated restrictions on artistic directors, who are (and should be) responsible for selecting plays that are responsive to the unique needs of their theaters’ missions and audiences. While we can ask (say) Shakespeare-centric theaters to look for female-authored classic plays to fill their annual non-Shakespeare slots, we can’t and shouldn’t ask them to revise their missions entirely, nor should we ask theaters devoted to female voices to revise their missions as well.
(This is, to my mind, the central challenge of achieving gender parity and diversity: what we want is a global result, but the actions that need to be taken to get us there are individual actions. This is why I believe that artistic directors ought to be trained to look not at the national record of gender parity during season planning, but to the other theaters in their communities. If they seem to be surrounded by theaters producing lots of playwrights of one particular gender, they should shift in a different direction: the way birds flying in flocks alter course not by examining the flock as a whole but by responding to the actions of the birds flying closest to them. But I digress.)
Finally: gender parity isn’t only for playwrights; I’ve merely used playwrights to formulate what I believe should be a generally-held goal for all artists working in the theater: ADs, directors, designers, and performers, of course, but also members of boards of directors, marketing staff, and so on. Achieving broad gender parity of that nature may feel like a tall order, and of course it is. According to the Department of Labor, while 70.2% of all men participate in the workforce, the number is only 57.7% for women. (No transgender data were available, sadly.) So we are clearly—as we all realize—working against not only our own biases within the theater, but immense social constructs that will be difficult to steer around.
Still: if we don’t set a course somewhere, we won’t get anywhere. This is where I (as a cisgender male) think we ought to be headed. What about you?
I’ve been thinking and reading quite a bit since I shared this blog post, and I’m finding more than a little bit of cisgender naivete (or privilege?) in it. Thanks to conversations I’ve had with several people, I now think that the three “gender categories” I used as the foundation of this post were… inaccurate? Unfortunate? I don’t know the right word. Maybe just wrong.
I now believe that instead of male, female, and transgender, those categories should be male, female, and non-binary gender. In addition, I should have been explicit in saying that the male and female categories include trans artists who identify as male and female, respectively: that those are, explicitly, not cisgender-only categories.
I hope that’s a useful clarification. I remain open to (and eager for) any additional input or responses. And I thank you all for reading.