November 18 2015

#WakingTheFeminists, Rekindling the Flame

Picture in front of the Abbey Theatre in Dublin with a large number of women, #WakingTheFeminists

#WakingTheFeminists, Dublin, Ireland 2015

I’m inspired, incited, and wowed by the movement that is underway in Irish theatre right now, #WakingTheFeminists. What gets me especially jazzed up about this movement as opposed to similar movements in the States (that I am also in support of, by the way) is that in Ireland change actually seems possible. The country is large, yes, but you can reach a national platform, you can unite voices, you can assemble en masse and you CAN affect change. We felt this with the YesEquality vote earlier this year.

Not everyone feels a feminist spark in their gut, I totally understand. But I do, I have for a very long time. For the most part I shove it down, ignore it and try to redirect that energy, making my point by putting my head down and working bloody hard. I’m not sure where that feminist drive came from, but I can feel it in my very fiber, it must be somewhere in my DNA. Though growing up I wouldn’t have considered myself one and neither of my parents are outspoken feminists, in fact I’m not sure that they are feminists at all (however, having a mother who filed for divorce and raised you as a single parent certainly sends some strong signals of female empowerment).

I remember feeling and seeing the injustice of gender inequality early on, and I remember being ridiculed the first time I spoke out. I was a freshman in high school and we were doing current affairs or persuasion speeches in English class. My speech was about women in the workforce and I ended it with “Watch out men, here we come.” Maybe a little threatening looking back on it, but even at that young age it incited fear and backlash in some of my male counterparts. They mocked me, laughed at me and tried to make me feel small. I ended up in tears. I don’t think their reaction was malicious, though it certainly felt that way, I think it was part of some sort of instinctual, in-bred, systematic, cultural fear and belief that is ego-based and primal. And this is what we are up against, a primal sense of justice and equality versus others’ primal drive for superiority and survival.

A friend said earlier this week that what is most infuriating is how much the dynamic changes from the bottom of the pyramid (i.e. those of us who are cobbling together a living in the arts), where equality has a much better chance of existing, compared to the top, where equality is less likely to play a part in the decision-making. So, how do we engage those at the top of the pyramid? How do we encourage them to experience people and work outside of their own circle with an open mind? How do we expose them to other voices in an inviting and unthreatening way? The systematic part of the problem is that theatre and entertainment, like many other industries, is about relationships. You hire people you know and trust. If you are not exposed to, if you are not aware of, the talented female playwrights and directors out there, you are less likely to hire them. So again how do we address this imbalance?

The new plays festival I co-produce, NEWvember, has a blind submission process which certainly helps – one year the writers chosen may be five men and one woman, then the next year it is five women and one man. Over time it equalizes out because the equal opportunity is there. But this is just one small scale example and is not a viable solution for programming a National Theatre.

The truth is that I don’t know how to make the necessary changes, but this movement is raising awareness of the issues, bringing these problems of inequality into the light, into the collective consciousness, and that is certainly a good place to start. We must stand together. We must not give up. We must keep talking about it. We must wake the nation, wake the world.

For more on the movement visit: https://wakingthefeminists.wordpress.com/
For an inspirational documentary about second wave feminism in the USA, that I am proud to have played a part in, check out: She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry by Mary Dore

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Copyright 2015 Anna Nugent