What types of women are we not seeing on stage?

Convener: Mandy Fenton

Participants: Lots…

Some facts, figures, info on survey findings - followed by the summary of D&D discussion, conclusions and/or recommendations:

  1. Gender Equality Duty: -


“The gender equality duty comes into force in April 2007 and is the biggest change in sex equality legislation in thirty years, since the introduction of the Sex Discrimination Act itself.  It has been introduced in recognition of the need for a radical new approach to equality – one which places more responsibility with service providers to think strategically about gender equality, rather than leaving it to individuals to challenge poor practice. “(Equal Opportunities Commission Chair Jenny Watson Nov 2006)


  1. Equality Bill published 2009, expected to come into force autumn 2010 containing significant clauses outlawing gender and age discrimination


  1. Some European Commission/FIA findings in survey 2008 - Research on age, gender and performer employment conducted by Dr Deborah Dean of the Warwick Business School:
  •  57% of women felt that their gender restricted employment opportunities (6% of men felt the same).
  • The number of women active in the industry declines sharply from the age of 50 – only 17.8% of women were in the older age group, 30% of men were over 50.
  • 50% of men believed that getting older was an advantage in relation to pay, 70% of women said it was a disadvantage
  • 33% of men earned more than £20,000 per year, 19.7% of women earned at the same levels.
  • 2009 Euro/FIA Project : “Engendering Change: Strategies to Combat Gender Stereotypes and Promote Equal Opportunities for Performers in Theatre, Film and Television in Europe” – To move research into action


  1. Equity Petition Feb 2009:  


“Over half the viewing public is female, yet in TV drama for every female character, there are two male characters - (35.3% female roles to 63.5% male roles).  Whilst leading parts are frequently played by male actors over 45, women in this age group start to disappear from our screens.  The message this sends to viewers is distorted and distorting. We call on all the major UK television channels to take action to correct this imbalance”.


  1. Sphinx Theatre - Vamps, Vixens and Feminists Conference 2009 - Summary Factsheet 2006 findings:

 a. Theatre: 2006: Women in Theatre Survey. 16-29 Jan 2006 inclusive.

Theatre – Writing

  • In 1983, only 20 out of 620 (3.2%) of plays were written by women, excluding Agatha Christie. In 2006, out of 140 productions sampled only 13 written by women (9%), with 22 collaborations (16%)
  • Out of 48 new writing productions, only 8 were written by women (17%) with 10 collaborations (21%)
  • Out of 9 new adaptations/translations, 5 were by men, 0 by women, with 4 collaborations
  • In 1983, 7% of playwrights were women, whilst in 2006, 17% of playwrights are women

           Theatre – Roles

  • In 1983, only approx 12% of directors were women.  In 2006, out of 140 productions sampled only 32 were directed by women (23%), with 6 collaborations (4%) and 5 unknown (4%)
  • On stage, Sphinx’s survey found that 38% of roles were for women
  • On television, Equity has found that 35.5% of roles are for women

b. Screen and Broadcast: Writer’s Guild TV Committee, 1 month of Radio Times issues

  • Out of 179 television programmes, only 50 were written by women (28%)
  • Out of 49 radio programmes, only 12 were written by women (24%)

c. UK Film Council Report – Women writing for film

  • Only 26% of women writers write for film
  • Women screenwriters are credited on less that 15% of films between 1999 – 2003
  • Films written by women screenwriters are as likely to gain a release as those written by men
  • The Box Office return for British films with a female screenwriter is $1.25 per £1 budget, compared with $1.16 for films with all-male writers. 

Summary of D&D discussion, conclusions and/or recommendations: -

In light of shocking and depressing statistics relating to women in the industry in 2009 the question ‘What types of women are we not seeing on stage?” seems a significant and good start point for convening this discussion...

There were both male and female participants in this discussion, many of the women participating did not feel adequately represented on stage, particularly around stereo-typing and age considerations. 

  • Some suggestions of types of women we’re not seeing were made before the discussion broadened out to wider issues, with awareness there are many, many more to be made:-
  • 15% of single women are happier in their 50’s. Planning life in 50’s. Women in positions of responsibility with angst about time spent with children, court systems and women – women being separated from children through divorce of if child is in trouble with the law. Menopause and sex being great after menopause as less worries, older women giving advice, Family law, UK is bottom of welfare league in Europe for child welfare - ability to be a good mum in a system that doesn’t support them.
  • Why aren’t we seeing them, what is the source of the problem?
  • Women directors who have kids get wiped out. Exceptions: Thea Sharrock and Marianne Elliot. This can also occur for women in all areas of work where attendance hours are long.
  • Writer told us she has been asked to put more men in the script/women under 30
  • Commercial compromises i.e. Kidron’s first script was about Greenham Common whereas she recently directed a Bridget Jones film
  • Historically women have been on stage a shorter time so there are a large amount of existing plays for predominantly male casts
  • What kind of plays do producers/audiences want? e. participant remarks on a perceptible difference between Germany and UK and finds comparatively that here producers are predominantly thinking about selling tickets and star system.
  • Many literary managers are female but are they supporting the women in these networks? One participant mentioned a news article about a recent experiment done where plays were presented to female literary agents with some of those written by women attributed to male writers and vice versa – findings here were that when the plays were attributed to a female writer they were consistently marked lower.
  • Confidence, self-restriction, self-editing
  • Suggestions/considerations/reflections around the current situation concerning representation of women:-
  • One participant discussed the development of the strong female character in her forthcoming solo show and voiced her fears about buying into stereo-types of ‘mad hysterical woman’ . The character is quite enticing and she is worried about picking up outside, received ideas/stereotypes of women.  Discussion on this perhaps being a tendency for writers and a strong point raised for writers to reflect on when writing female characters.
  • Write more female protagonists, set out to write more female parts, put women in roles where you would ‘expect’ to see men
  • Many stories are ‘guy’s stories’ – reverse the male gaze. Theatre de Soleil given as an example in this approach.
  • ‘It’s Complicated’ – Meryl Streep’s new film.
  • Point raised about too many women being on stage talking about relationships, not enough about ambition / competitiveness / creativity / movers within the world politically.
  • Concern voiced that there has been awareness around this issue for years - i.e. memories of university essays written years ago etc – and that this situation still has not been adequately addressed despite women being 52% of the population. The need for men, as much as women, in taking responsibility to address this issue.
  • Don’t wait for other people to do it. Women work in ways they want to work now, keep doing what you do – challenge commissioning editors/producers.  Need to stop thinking of what other people are going to buy.  Make relationships happen and get them to see something they might not see.
  • Reverse casting – need to think about this when casting – sometimes have to question the reflex which may first think of a man in a role.
  • If writing a ballsy character, not to just see this in terms of a division between male and female behaviour.
  • How to write about the lived existence of a strong woman, ‘f**k’ the setting and tell the story. Would it be pushed aside because of this? Is there danger in saying women’s stuff has to be outside of these structures?
  • Now there many women are coming through in genuine positions of earned power and still negotiating their identities within this.
  • Is there any impact in the structures of the new playwriting going on?
  • Hard to get female gay relationships on stage – One participant writer said she had been asked to take the female gay relationship out of her script - male gay relationships more acceptable. Sarah Walters writes these relationships in a historical context - if its detached in this way then it seems it can be accepted more readily?
  • There is a branding issue for the big theatres – that they work with writers they want to write with. There was the positive suggestion that now perhaps they will want to work with more women writers and theatre makers as this issue could almost become ‘trendy’ ...
  • Resources such as The Bush Theatre’s Bush Green online facility for playwrights, 17percent network for women writers http://17percent.wordpress.com and http://17percent.co.uk/index.php , Clean Break, Unfinished Histories, Magdalena Project - Jill Greenhalgh Aberystwyth University etc
  • Actions suggested/ to be taken following this D&D discussion
  • Several participants expressed the wish for a continuing forum or conference. Proposal that one of D&D monthly session be themed around this issue, to deepen this discussion, exploration of subsequent insights/thoughts and suggestions of possible actions arising from this.