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Stephanie Street: Women aren’t valued enough – that can’t continue any longer

Photo: Mita Stock Images/Shutterstock
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For the past 22 years I’ve been of the belief that ‘pathetic fallacy’ was just something you tried to ram ostentatiously into an English A-level essay on Wordsworth.

But last week, I realised I was living it. As a hurricane railed off the coast of the British lsles, I was proud to add my #metoo to the tide of women the world over rising up with the weight of a tsunami to batter the patriarchy.

And it wasn’t any old hurricane; this one happened to be named after Shakespeare’s best-known bullied woman, Ophelia. Life and art reflecting one another like a hall of mirrors.

The moment is apocalyptic, as Hurricane Ophelia’s dust-whipped orange sky seemed to herald. We are at the beginning of a critical new chapter.

Theatre leaders have come out this week decrying any kind of harassment and bullying in our industry.

It has finally been called out publicly that this kind of behaviour has been tacitly permitted for many years, swept under the carpet of shame. And after saying as much out loud, and in public, it’s very clear how unacceptable the behaviour is, and how unacceptable that way of working is. It’s very clear how much things have to change.

While it’s pretty clear that a huge overhaul is required to the power structures of theatre, film and television, I am interested in how the workaday abuses of power – or, to borrow a hashtag, #everydaysexism – has contributed to the kind of landscape that permits a Weinstein to go unchallenged for years.

The horrible reality is that, for a long while, women have been a cheap commodity in the live and recorded arts.

Yes, I know, we have been saying this for the longest time, but it’s still the case. And while it’s still the case, people can get away with groping, propositioning and sexually aggressive behaviour towards women in the course of a day’s work.

About 90% of the time, a woman’s employability in our industry is dictated by her appearance. There is an unrealistic set of ‘ideal’ physical attributes imposed on women, and those who deviate from that are at best derided for it and at worst entirely ignored.

For every producer or director who abuses their power, there are many others who stop women from eating too much on set. Or make the workplace unattainable for women of a certain age with caring responsibilities. Or those who programme season after season of work with hardly any significant, complex female narratives.

The uncomfortable truth behind the salacious headlines is that women are, still, significantly underemployed and undervalued in our industry.

We absolutely must stop any kind of abuses of power and, as importantly, we have to right the wider balance of power that is so heavily weighted against women.

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