Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Sands '09: Females discriminate against females in the theater business

Are female playwrights victims of discrimination in the theater world? Emily Sands ’09 says yes – but females are doing most of the discriminating. Sands presented her research on gender bias in playwriting to an audience of more than 160 playwrights and producers in Manhattan on Monday night. The presentation earned Sands an article in The New York Times as well as amazed reactions from some members of the audience.

Sands’ lecture, based on her senior thesis, made claims that put a new twist on long-held assumptions.

First, Sands explained that women write fewer plays than do men, so producers have a smaller selection of female-written plays to choose from.

Next, Sands demonstrated that a play written by a woman is likely to be judged more harshly by artistic directors and literary managers than a play of identical quality written by a man. Sands qualified this conclusion, however, with the revelation that male reviewers judge male and female authors equally, while women are more critical of fellow women than they are of men.

Finally, Sands claimed that an analysis of Broadway shows produced over the past 10 years revealed that women do indeed need to write better plays than do men in order to get their work produced.

The first claim was based on a sample of scripts on the online database Sands found that 74 percent of the scripts on Doollee were written by men.

The next two claims were backed up by studies modeled on famous experiments. Emulating the study “Are Greg and Emily More Employable than Lakisha and Jamal,” by Marianne Bertran and Sendhil Mullainathan, Sands sent identical scripts to reviewers. Some plays bore a female penname and others bore a male penname.

Sands’ third study imitated experiments conducted in the 1960s and '70s that used batting averages to demonstrate that black players needed to be better than white players to play Major League Baseball. Sands showed that average ticket revenues from Broadway shows written by women over the past 10 years were 16 percent higher than revenues from shows written by men in the same time period.

Sands’ thesis advisors, Wilson School Dean Christina Paxson and Wilson School professor Cecilia Rouse, praised Sands' work in the Times. But the Times reported that Sands’ interest in theater manifests itself in more ways than one: Sands’ commanding stage presence contributed to an impressive performance that won her a lengthy ovation.