Is There Gender Bias on Broadway?

The XX Factor
What Women Really Think
June 24 2009 4:30 PM

Is There Gender Bias on Broadway?

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It’s a catchy, catty angle, that’s for sure: An article in today’s New York Times about a recent study of potential gender bias in Broadway theater opens by suggesting that women playwrights do indeed have more trouble getting their work produced than men do-and that female artistic directors, producers, and literary managers "are the ones to blame." That’s the conclusion purportedly arrived at by a precocious female Princeton undergrad, who undertook the study for her senior thesis in economics, and who recently gave a presentation to a mostly-female audience of playwrights and producers.

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If you read further, and check out the thesis itself , it’s clear Emily Glassberg Sands says no such thing. First, she found that in fact male playwrights are more numerous and more prolific than female playwrights; the rate at which each gender’s work is produced is the same. Second, her own cleverly designed survey-she distributed the same script under a male and a female name, accompanied by an array of questions about its audience appeal, economic prospects etc.-didn’t uncover gender discrimination among women directors, producers, and managers. Rather, she found that female respondents worry about gender bias in others -a worry evidently not shared by male directors, producers, and managers.

Sands didn’t explore how such apprehensions affect the actual process of vetting scripts (unencumbered by questionnaires like hers). She did find-using limited data-that plays by women seem to earn more than plays by men. Is that an indication that women playwrights have to meet a higher bar to begin with? Or that fears of anti-female bias, in Broadway audiences at any rate, are misplaced? (Women, I learned in another article , constitute 61 percent of Broadway theater-goers.) Fresh from two excellent, and much lauded, plays by women-Yasmina Reza’s 2009 Tony Winner, God of Carnage , and Lynn Nottage’s 2009 Pulitzer Prize-winning Ruined -I’d say skip the worrying and go buy tickets.

Photograph of Yasmina Reza by Tom Maelsa/AFP/Getty Images.