Women+ in the Arts

A recent project of mine focused on the culinary industry had me thinking about the way the work of women and people of color has been systematically devalued. Sometimes, it’s simply a matter of language –  the “folk art” and “crafts” of women and POC rather than “fine art” of white men, for example. Other times, it’s done by exclusion – forbidding women from the schools/places of training, or writing off the work as too “niche” or irrelevant. In theatre, it can feel like women and POC are just barely recovering from centuries of being objects and stereotypes in a white masculine narrative (if they are included at all) rather than three-dimensional characters—or creators. For gender non-conforming artists, it can be even harder. I’ll never forget an interview with a non-binary performer who said to me, “You have 100 things you could audition for, and you might not get any of them–but there are 100 things you could audition for. Instead, I might have one.” In the arts, which are so competitive and in which it is so easy to fail, it can sometimes be too easy to write off prejudice and exclusion as just “part of the industry.” (It doesn’t help that criticism is often controlled by white men, either.)

In graduate school, I worked under a brilliant man named P. Carl, who had transitioned after he had built a career in the theatre as a woman. He first wrote about the changes he noticed in the theatre world once he presented as male in an article on HowlRound:

“[Men] constantly interrupt women. They generally think their point of view is more informed and they never hesitate to jump in and speak up and let you know this. And white men specifically have no idea the ways in which navigating the world of work in the theatre is just easier for them. They don’t think they should experience obstacles and seemed shocked when things that happen to women and people of color all the time, happen to them.”

He was conscious of the power dynamics of the industry because he had experienced them himself, and was hypervigilant about making sure I felt heard and respected. But not many people in power have that kind of perspective – or the willingness to keep their power in check for the safety and comfort of those working below them. And so often, those people in power are men who have been socialized, as P. Carl goes on to say, to behave this way without a second thought.

That is why companies like DTS, which not only focus on inclusivity but actively give marginalized groups a voice, are so important. The arts world not an easy one for anybody, but there are additional hurdles and challenges for underrepresented populations. We look at many art movements as reactions against times of political upheaval and change, and now is no exception. But, as Kyra wrote in the first blog post, those reactionary voices have largely been attributed to men. In a time when the rights of women+ and POC feel under attack, we need these platforms to support and validate experiences. And in a time when the news feels so unreal that Realism falls short of containing it – Surrealism and the avant-garde seem the only way to go.

-Rebecca Curran, collaborating artist

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