Clare Macnaughton – Juno Theatre – Keynote Speech
I’m here to talk about gender equality and the female voice. And already I feel like I need to apologise because already I realise that I’m not representing every other inequality within the creative industries. And that is the nature of being a female, that we just apologise all of the time.
I’m Clare Macnaughton. As a person who is married to the military I cannot even begin to tell you the amount of times that military have tried to shut me up. Because, for a start I don’t sing in a choir, I don’t like being told what to do and I don’t like serving my husband. So on the whole foundation of the military culture I am the wrong wife and everything I write they loathe and they don’t try and shut me up formally – what they do is they send little soldiers in. To the point now where the military have got an official line which is if you want to talk to me it can be about how I am and the weather. If it’s about my writing it’s on the record. So I know very much about the freedom women have, about the challenges women have to express ourselves honestly. The problem of course with honest chat is that you’re saying things people don’t want to hear. For example every time I go to the doctor to find out if I’ve got a thyroid problem he says “no you’re fat and you eat too much. You need to exercise more and eat less and you will lose weight.” It’s not my thyroid problem, that’s the truth.
So this is the problem with honest writing.
In 2012 I went to my son’s play. It was called Going For Gold and it was about the Olympics. And the Olympics were coming on and I was forced to endure one of those things, as a parent I don’t know if you’ve ever been to a child’s play? But it is quite often very excruciating and bad and very rarely do you get to go to a good one. And this one was quite enjoyable on many levels apart from the mother character. The mother character… The whole play was based around the Olympics, and there was this family central to it. There was a dad, son, the daughter – the daughter was considering going into the Olympics and they would go back to the Spartans and there were all these flashbacks and it would all go back to these land scenes where they were discussing the history of the Olympics. And the mother character stood behind a couch and throughout the whole dialogue asked if they wanted a cup of tea. Would you like a cup of tea? To which everyone would go “oh shut up mother” and they automatically became Northern obviously. And this carried on and carried on and carried on. And I was a prep school and I was the only liberal person in the whole school – everyone else was goose-stepping out for me and it was marvellous. And I was actually outraged because I felt so offended by it and took the liberty of writing to the headmaster to tell him how bad I thought it was. I thought I would share with you that letter that I wrote to him. It says:
“Dear Headmaster, first of all I want you to know…” because I have to apologise before I complain. “First of all I want you to know that I think the staff did a brilliant job putting on a fabulous and spectacular event and I have to say that I have thought long and hard about this email and I have decided that I had to raise something that troubled me but that it does not effect the performance of the work that I’m about to criticise… I know that there is a certain degree of stereotyping with regards to comic effect and devise however the role of the mother was depicted as someone who did nothing but clean and had no other contribution to make other than to offer her ungrateful family a cup of tea to the response of “Shut up”. This again made me feel uncomfortable to see a mother, the lynchpin of the home and a female role-model pictured as subservient and stupid without any respect. As a writer and a feminist this struck me as important to be considered perhaps when selecting scripts to perform in the future. But more importantly to consider the subliminal messages that are being projected to our children and reinforcing stereotypes which I’m actively trying to shed in my writing and in my life. It is important to me that boys are taught to respect girls so that when they grow into men they don’t see women as servants who are there to deliver their needs. This is difficult enough as a mother but I think schools can implement gender perceptions and so should consider this as part of the curriculum, kind regards… (APPLAUSE)
I took him out and put him in a state school. (LAUGHTER).
That was my awakening about gender perceptions in theatre. Juno Theatre came out of a female Salisbury writing group called She Writes and the ladies… ladies… anyway females, women, chicks, broads… whatever you want to refer to the female gender… They started writing and realised that actually there wasn’t much theatre for female writers to explore themselves. So two years ago they began this journey and went through the Arts Council funding and by some miracle we achieved it and we got funding and now we are faced with delivering this great opportunity which we are going to do. The companies main aim is to encourage women with little experience of writing to develop a voice in the same way Juno aims to develop the skills and confidence with women theatre practitioners that are still significantly under-represented. We really want to give women the opportunity to execute these skills. But obviously with the practitioners element of it we are still bound by the equality rules we also encourage men.
So then we’re doing workshops – imagineer your play on the 28th November in Salisbury which you are all welcome to come to. Tickets available via eventbrite. A one day workshop for theatre writers and practitioners and will give you space, time and inspirations to experiment and give you some of the qualities of Disney’s imagineer concept and explore what you need to create a strong piece of drama with a digital element. And one part of this will be looking at the structure of plays, does it have to have a beginning, middle and end – is that a male narrative structure? Are we bound by these things? So if you want to come to that then obviously you are more than welcome. As long as you have a vagina.
Circling the Square. In February we will be showcasing in Salisbury Arts Centre around the themes circling the square. We are looking for fresh new plays, two-handers, three-handers, monologues that take inspiration from this title. They can be funny, poignant, daring, defiant and thought-provoking, all written by women for everyone to enjoy. So this will be our showcase where we create great performances for you all written by women.
Gender gaps in the theatre. According to the figures compiled by Tonic Theatre in 2014 of artistic directors working across the 179 theatre organisations in the Arts Council England’s national portfolio 63% are male, 37% are female. It’s quite a big gap and there is quite a broad mix here but we are still a bit girl heavy aren’t we but women are still not represented in the bigger roles.
The gender pay gap in theatre. It’s crazy that a female dominated profession and audience earning… and actually if you go into the arts performance survey, as theatre professionals become more senior that’s when the gender disparity becomes much more obvious. So within that thirty grand role it’s more even and that’s where women tend to sit in that middle tier.
Now I know I’m preaching to the choir as you wouldn’t be here if you didn’t feel very strongly about it. The Bechdel Test is very old, twenty years old and it doesn’t really look at how we create better roles, better things for theatre. Let me read it out…
So what I think one of the problems is… Socialised Misogyny – we aren’t born sexist. I think this is something that we don’t even realise that is culturally socialised into us about how we feel. Even today I was thinking what shall I wear, is my hair okay, thinking about how I look. “Woman is not born she is made. In her making her humanity is destroyed. She becomes a symbol of this, symbol of that: mother of the earth, slut of the universe; but she never becomes herself because it is forbidden for her to do so.” – Andrea Dworkin
Now I’m in this real transition because I have kids, they are seven and twelve. My twelve year old has started talking about sex and now, I was probably a bit slutty in my younger days, but now I’m a mother I must be very virginal and pure. So my children think I’ve only had sex twice to make them both. So I’m now in this conversation where I’m constantly talking about sex with my twelve year old boy and actually he was doing my head in yesterday so I just made him say vagina a lot. Just get it out there. Women also hold misogynistic ideas about themselves even though they are women. It’s involuntary because of the sexism that is present in our culture. It is taught to us through socialisation. We are not already thinking that… it is true of observing, learning and understanding society that we come to hold common attitudes and beliefs including misogynistic ones. Socialisation is part of personality formation meaning that it shapes the ways you think about yourself and others. That’s why people of certain identities and people from the same culture will often exhubarate similar personalities traits and engage with similar behaviours. This is because of how the socialisation process works. Its purpose is to shape someone’s personality to fit that of others in an identity group and culture. So really this is another element as women we have to think about. The beauty myth. Too fat, too thin, too ugly, too pretty, too loud, too quiet, not good enough. I mean you could talk about this forever and ever and ever and ever and do you know what… blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah… I’m not going to talk about it because it would take too long. I think the most important thing is to teach women and actually everybody should speak up and it doesn’t really have to apply to gender.
7 good reasons to find your voice…
We will never know how pissed off you are or how happy you are unless you speak up. This is why speaking up is important.
So writing and speaking and expressing yourself so that I can meet you.
Unless we speak we cannot be heard. That is key.
And I think this is really true. I have fought a lot. I fight a lot. I have been trolled. I have had people try to shut me up constantly and yet here I am still talking.
So only when you truly express how you genuinely feel will you begin to like feel your integral self again. And it is really hard, it’s a really hard journey. I started with blogging in 2010 and I’ve learnt a lot about self expression and also it’s quite bold being able to express yourself without someone editing you as well – knowing that you can say what you want.
And I think that’s really important. We must lead by example. Just as I did by saying the word vagina to my son and making him say it. It’s not a bad word. Why can’t we talk openly about these things? And I watched Suffragette last week, the film, and I thought it was an incredible film and okay maybe I’m not a film critic and I know that there’s been lots of blah, blah, blah about it but ultimately the problems that those women pioneered not for us to face, and I think on many levels people should watch it just for that.
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