Gender Policies: An annoying necessity or fair and forward-thinking?

This month marks three years since the beginning of #WakingTheFeminists and the movement is still going strong. In July Irish ten theatre organisations, in collaboration with #WakingTheFeminists, launched their Gender Equality Policies. These organisations worked together to comply with individual policies that were tailored to the work they do. They have all committed to regular reviews and reporting of the results of these reviews. The organisations involved include two festivals (Cork Midsummer Festival and the Dublin Theatre Festival), three venues (the Abbey and the Gate in Dublin, and the Everyman in Cork), four production companies (Corn Exchange, Druid, Fishamble: The New Play Company and Rough Magic) and the Lir Academy. The policies were launched by the Minister of Culture Josepha Manigan in the Lir Academy on the 9th of July 2018, and the event was widely reported. This included an article from the conservative Breitbart website. I’m not going to link to it because I don’t want to give them the clicks but here’s a screenshot.

by Thomas D. Williams, P. D. `| 10 Jul 2018. Ireland’s feminist culture minister is pushing a policy to ensure that half of all plays staged in Ireland are written by women within five years as part of a broader “gender equality” campaign. Minister Josepha Madigan launched the aggressive quota drive on Monday at the Lir National Academy of Dramatic Arts at Trinity College to make sure that women are equally represented on theatre boards. She seeks an immediate commitment from theatres and arts festivals to guarantee that half of all plays commissioned will have female playwrights within five years.

This (male) journalist writes about gender equality (or “gender equality”) with breathless terror. Its an “aggressive quota driven policy” that the Minister is “pushing”. In reality, the initiative did not come from the government and as the policies are a list of aims and objectives, I’d hardly consider it aggressive. (The other thing that fascinates me is the photo they’ve chosen to illustrate the article. Are they dramatic witches? Do they equate all women with witches or just the aggressively feminist ones?) He seems to find the idea of gender quotas insulting, a step too far, almost a personal affront.

This reaction against quota-driven policies is not unusual. To be honest, they made me a little uncomfortable at first. The idea got under my skin in a way I found hard to explain. It annoys me that they’re necessary and I hate the idea that women need quotas to achieve success. I think most people react badly to the idea of needing special treatment. Nobody wants to be told or to think that we achieved something for any reason other than our own skills and abilities. We all want to succeed based on what we do, not who we are.

Then I remind myself how far the scales are tipped in favour of the men and I stop feeling bad about quotas. And that little niggling voice at the back of my mind telling me that quotas mean women aren’t good enough, that maybe there are some things that men are just naturally better at? I remind myself that that’s just the patriarchy talking and I am free to ignore it.

In order to get equal treatment, women currently need special treatment. Decades of research, not to mention my own lived experience, demonstrate that men and women are treated differently, their ideas are given different value, their work is given different worth. The research work that #WakingTheFeminists published in November 2017 demonstrated the inequalities that exist in Irish theatre. That research is available to download here.

Gender quotas aren’t giving women a leg up or tipping the scales in their favour. The scales have been weighted in men’s favour since the dawn of time and quotas are a way of trying to correct. Their aim is to make things fair for everybody. Reminding myself of this makes me less distrustful of the idea of quotas and gender policies. Reading the published policies also helps. They all list small and spectacularly sensible changes. They include things that we already accept, like equal pay for equal work. They all aim to establish a gender-balanced board, something that equally benefits men and women.

The policies are all different. The Abbey’s is a short and to-the-point one-pager, the Lir’s is 11 pages with a table of contents at the beginning. Druid’s policy starts with just acknowledging that there is a problem and it’s great to see that written down and recognised.

Among long-established companies with decades, and in some cases over a century of experience, the Lir stands out as the youngest company, less than ten years old. It also has the longest and most comprehensive policy. Their inclusion and dedication to the project it wonderful to see. Their policy goes further than the others, mentioning non-binary people and recognising the need for childcare facilities. None of the other proposals mention the challenges faced by parents. They will be responsible for teaching students how to treat people; those students will go on to create the Irish theatre of the future.

The policies make me excited about the changes we could see in the Irish theatre landscape over the next five years. I’m interested in seeing new work by female artists, and if that means we hear a little bit less from the male point of view for the next little while, I’m ok with that. The Lir also commits to looking at the female canon with “a view to championing productions of classical works by women at The Lir or on the stages of participating theatres.” which I think could be really interesting. I don’t think the policies will adversely affect the work these organisations do or the art they produce. If they do, I can live with less good art if it means the people making it are happier and healthier and feel more supported and recognised and represented.

I hope these changes in the theatre world will ripple outwards into the wider society. I hope that they will demonstrate that recognising gender inequality exists and setting out some steps to combat it is not difficult, that it will not adversely affect your business, that men will still exist and still have a role in society. I also hope it results in some really great art!

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Reduce the plastic mountain

The Theatre Forum-TheatreNI conference starts today in the beautiful Lyric Theatre in Belfast. The title of the conference is Intersections and there will be discussions on borders, gender equality and arts policy. There’s also a Fun Palaces workshop with Stella Duffy for community groups, after the conference ends on Thursday. I’m a big fan of Fun Palaces – I wrote about it here – and would love to see one in Dublin. You can find the full Conference Programme here.

There’s also a session on climate change, another topic close to my heart. In order to walk the walk, as well as talk the talk the organisers are working to reduce the waste produced by the conference. This means less conference materials, proper dishes used for the catering and instead of a conference bag and printed material, each delegate will get a reusable take-away glass Keep Cup. I love this idea. Waste reduction is so important, particularly plastic which does not decompose for thousands of years. The way we use plastic now – bags, take-away cups, straws, fruit in plastic trays – is learned behaviour, which means that we can unlearn it and start doing things differently. There has been a shift in attitude towards plastic waste this year with things like the Shop & Drop event in April when shoppers were encouraged to leave all their waste behind at the supermarket and the recent EU’s proposal to ban single-use plastic.

It’s not going to be easy – once you start looking, you realise plastic is everywhere – but it’s not impossible. Here are some of the things I’ve been doing to use less plastic this year.

1. I don’t have a Keep Cup because I don’t drink much takeaway coffee, but I do have a fancy glass water bottle. It’s a bit heavier than plastic but I don’t have to worry that chemicals are leaching out of the plastic and into my water! Emboldened by the Refill Project, I’ve often asked staff in bars and restaurants to refill it for me and they’ve always obliged. (These weren’t places on the Refill map, the project just made me feel more comfortable about asking for free water.)

The only place I don’t take it is the airport because I don’t think they’d let me bring glass on the plane. However I have learnt that you are allowed bring empty bottle through security and fill them up at the water fountains on the other side.

2. I switched from hand-wash to solid soap. It instantly cuts down on the amount of plastic coming into the house and ending up in the sea. Bí Urban on Manor Street in Stonybatter do a nice soap which they make using oils discarded in local food production, which is just a little bit Fight Club. It’s a real feel good soap because it’s zero waste and it’s locally made.

3. I started using a bamboo toothbrush. This will make you feel like a bit of a hippy but it’s also a very easy way to reduce plastic and you stop noticing the difference after a few days. (It does feel a bit weird at first!) I got mine in Bí Urban but they are available online as well.

4. I’ve been using more Lush products in their reuseable plastic pots. Some people are very anti-Lush. The strong smell, the bright colours and the overly enthusiastic staff are all too much for them. I have never bought a bath-bomb in my life but I love Lush for their reusable pots. For that it’s worth letting them bombard my senses for a few minutes. They take the pots back off you and reuse them again and again. If you bring back five, you can swap them for a free face mask.

5. I originally started buying stuff from Lush because you can take their solid face-wash and shampoo bars in your hand-luggage when you fly. They also have zero packaging. I love their Angels on Bare Skin face wash and I’ve used Godiva shampoo as well; the jasmine smell is really lovely. I also restarted started using a solid deodorant, I’m not sure how effective it is but it does involve zero plastic!

6. Away from the personal hygiene plastics, there’s the food plastic. I think supermarkets are slowly coming around to the idea that everything doesn’t need to be wrapped in plastic and you can get loose fruit and veg in most shops now. Just because they little plastic bags there, doesn’t mean you have to use them. You can just put six oranges and four apples and a couple of potatoes into your basket! There are also some places like Small Changes in Drumcondra and the Dublin Co-op in The Liberties that are cutting out the plastic used for things like raisins and lentils and pasta. They ask you to bring your own containers and just fill ’em up.

7. Most of these alternatives do cost a bit more than the plastic-wrapped version. I think costs will come down as it becomes more common to ditch plastic, but if you don’t have the extra cash there are still ways to cut down on your plastic just by being generally more aware of what you’re buy. Bring a bag with you, avoid straws and plastic cutlery if you can, avoid things with an excess of plastic like ready meals or salads in giant plastic bowls.