You Write Like A Girl!

By: Justine Fields / June 24, 2009

Working in a very supportive nearly all-female office I find it extremely hard to believe that women can have a gender bias against themselves. But I guess if you’re one of the lucky women who have successfully surpassed the glass ceiling, it’s possible that once inside the velvet ropes you may have a conscious or subconscious desire to keep the female success club exclusive. If this is true, the triumphant women then might make it exceptionally challenging for the rest of womankind to thrive.

I pose this thought because of a recent New York Times article titled ‘Rethinking Gender Bias in Theater’ that discusses the state of gender bias in the theater community and proves this phenomenon. It explains that female artistic directors and literary managers are two parts, of a three-part reason, as to why significantly less shows written by female playwrights are staged than plays written by males. The statistic isn’t so bad that they’re calling in the female affirmative action troops… yet.
Although there are twice as many male playwrights as female ones, the same proportion does not apply to the amount of plays that get staged. For instance, according to research conducted by Emily Glassberg Sands at Princeton University, on Broadway, women write fewer than one in eight shows. Yet it is not the number of female playwrights who are affecting this outcome. Rather, Sands believes, it is largely to be blamed on the female artistic directors and literary managers who give the go-aheads.

In her research, Sands sent identical scripts to literary managers and made one little switcheroo: the gender of the writer. Some managers were given scripts supposedly written by Michael Walker, while others were given scripts written by Mary Walker. The result: men rated Michael and Mary’s scripts exactly the same, while women gave Mary’s script significantly worse ratings on the scales of quality, economic prospect and audience response.

The higher standard women place on other women transgresses even further. The plays written by women that make it to the stage are not only as profitable as the plays written by men, but they out compare them. Plays by women sold 16 percent more tickets a week and were 18 percent more profitable over all during the last ten years. So basically, women playwrights can’t just have a great script with selling potential, they have to have the best script with the highest selling potential.

I can’t possibly imagine that this is a conscious decision coming from the female literary managers and producers. But it almost seems worse if it’s subconscious. It shows that this innate desire to be better than the other girls in your field doesn’t really end at high school. Worst of all, plays with female protagonists (which are more often written by females) are less likely to be produced. Women producers shy away from plays about women!?

Reading this article led me to imagine this absurd scenario:

Female Playwright: “What do you think of my script?”

Literary Manager: “You write like a girl.”

Could this be the inner workings of producers’ thought processes? Hopefully not. But if so, maybe writing like a girl is a good thing. I’m all for things written by women about women (Eat, Pray, Love, ‘The L-word’, ‘My Big Fat Greek Wedding’ … point proven?) So female theater yuppies, I think it’d be pretty nice if you climbed off of your high horses and embraced the woman writer (and of course, completely ignore the fact that this is written by a woman writer).