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While I'm procrastinating... I saw this piece on women playwrights…

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While I'm procrastinating...

I saw this piece on women playwrights and theater about a week ago. I don't know if those without a nytimes subscription can read it, but here's an excerpt:

When more than 160 playwrights and producers, most of them female, filed into a Midtown Manhattan theater Monday night, they expected to hear some concrete evidence that women who are authors have a tougher time getting their work staged than men. And they did. But they also heard that women who are artistic directors and literary managers are the ones to blame.

I grew increasingly more grumpy as I read the story, which details a study that asked male and female artistic directors to rate identical scripts with male and female names attached. The surprising finding (at least, the one reported by the NY Times and others in the media) was that female artistic directors were the ones giving lower ratings to women.

Here's the real deal:

The questions about the likely reception of a play intend to measure customer discrimination (by the audience, in this case) and co-worker discrimination (by the actors). They are not measures of what the respondent himself or herself thinks about the play... All it means is that they believe the audience and the workers in the theater are less accepting of female playwrights than of male playwrights. Male respondents don't believe this, but then they don't have the same life experiences as the female respondents...

Suppose you come and interview me about authors, say, and ask me to tell which ones I think are really good and what their future prospects might be. And I give you some female and some male names of writers I like and regard as equally good and then tell you that the female ones have not as great prospects as the male ones. Then you go out and write that THIS PROVES I'M THE REASON FOR THEIR NOT-SO-GREAT PROSPECTS! That's pretty much how this whole thing works: To notice discrimination is to be guilty of it.

Sexism is alive and well in theater... and in journalism.
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On July 1st, 2009 08:30 pm (UTC), 365ofnew commented:

I read the original piece and thought it seemed weird. There was some stuff towards the end that made sense in my head but the fact that men didnt rate women's plays lower and women did astonished me. I know genders self police and damage themselves by it but it seemed like this was pretty extreme. Good to know the actual meaning.
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On July 2nd, 2009 03:31 am (UTC), thefieldsbeyond commented:
This is what happens when you have Theater section journalists try to be science writers. *clicks tongue*

But to be fair:

"Ms. Sands was reluctant to explain the responses in terms of discrimination, suggesting instead that artistic directors who are women perhaps possess a greater awareness of the barriers female playwrights face."

So she oversold it in the lede, but she at least let the researcher keep her voice.

I also have trouble believing that women actually look at plays written by other women and thing "Nah, this won't do well, a woman wrote it. I shouldn't back it." I understand that they'd be more likely to recognize the difficulties women playwrights face than men are, that's fine. But rating something as less likely to succeed isn't an idle question when you're a producer. It has teeth. It means some plays get produced and others don't. It might actually mean that by having a realistic assessment of the state of the world, women are failing to be advocates for each other.

(But more journalism nitpicking, because that's fun--could she have gotten a duller quote from Paxson? Geez. And the kicker is so corny!)
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On July 4th, 2009 02:12 am (UTC), a_priori commented:
There are only about 3 journalists on the planet who should be allowed to write about scientific findings. This, clearly, is not one.
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On July 4th, 2009 04:19 pm (UTC), aliterati commented:
But does poor analytic reasoning really equal sexism?

(I.e. isn't accusing the journalist of sexism for reporting her [arguably poorly-developed and incorrect, but presumably genuine] interpretations that women directors are hardest on women playwrights just another instance of labeling an observer of a phenomenon the cause of that phenomenon?)
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On July 4th, 2009 07:42 pm (UTC), greensword replied:
I'm not sure what you're arguing here. The journalist was not observing a phenomenon, she was creating a phenomenon out of whole cloth because the study she was actually researching did not jibe as well with her worldview as the (false) interpretation she created for it.
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