Astounded by the sexist remarks she received while touring a theatre production with an all-female crew, Sarah Brown tries to make sense of it.

Photo of woman setting camera
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D & M Photography

While recently touring ‘Becoming Hattie’ with Proteus Theatre Company, a one-woman show about comedy actor Hattie Jacques, I have been astounded by some of the sexist comments I receive.

The show’s main focus is about the challenges faced by plus-size women in the performing arts, and the show draws parallels between the career of Hattie Jacques and Jo, a fictional modern-day actress, who is struggling to break through the typecast of larger ladies only playing cleaners or maids, and never complex character roles.

Glossy magazines and tabloid headlines chasing celebrities do not accurately represent the women I know

It’s a show that deals with a range of feminist issues and raises questions, such as why can’t larger women have a career, marriage and success.

On the road there are three of us – the actor, the theatre assistant and me – and we are all women. In community venues we have a lot to do – the get-in and set-up of the costume, props, set and the technical equipment. Here are three examples of the comments we receive:

“When are the men getting here to move the set for you?”

“Do you girls do all of this yourselves? Isn’t it really heavy?”

“That’s a big van for a young lass like you to be driving.”

We brush them off with a smile or a joke, but what has amazed us most is that the comments have come from women who have seen the show, either in the audience or working for the venue.

Explaining sexist comments

So why these comments? Here are some thoughts.

  • Expectations: It would seem that the expectation is that a touring theatre production will turn up with at least one man in tow. Even if that production is a one-woman show.
     
  • Gender stereotyping: Even now gender stereotyping is still quite prevalent. It reminds me of an experiment which asked children to draw a scientist, and an overwhelming percentage drew a man. It’s now a relatively old study but I do wonder what would happen if people were asked to draw a theatre technician.
     
  • Generation gap: We thought it might be something to do with the age of the women, who maybe thought of women as homemakers. Then we had a woman in her early thirties ask us one of the dreaded questions, so we had to chuck the age theory out of the window.
     
  • Self-doubt: Maybe these women don’t believe themselves capable of tasks such as heavy lifting and carrying, and project that on to other women.
     
  • Lack of understanding or awareness: If you don’t work in theatre, it’s a pretty strange beast. If these women only know women with desk jobs, maybe it just hasn’t occurred to them that women can make a living doing something more labour-intensive.
     
  • Geography: All these comments have been made in rural locations. Could it be that in urban areas people are more used to seeing women in a greater variety of job roles?
     
  • The media: Maybe it’s the easy thing to blame the media, but glossy magazines and tabloid headlines chasing celebrities do not accurately represent the women I know. In a world where the Kardashians are worshipped, is it really surprising that women in steel toecaps and dripping with sweat are considered the odd ones?

Or maybe these women just believe that women can’t do these jobs, and they should be left to men. I’m going to leave that one where it belongs, in the corner. Hanging its head in shame.

Sarah Brown is Production Manager at Proteus Theatre Company.
www.proteustheatre.com

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Comments

You bloody beauty! Try telling the Sheffield Lasses they couldn't do ANYTHING during WWII. Let's make it normal then there will be no incredulous looks/comments. Keep it up girls. Lots of love. Jo West

In this day and age I find it odd that comments like these still abound. I run an arts centre in Penzance and we get a nice mixture of cast and crew on tour visiting us. I would say it's about 50/50 male to female. Most administrators seem to be female, in fact I can't recall another male administrator I correspond with on a regular basis. When I started out in the early eighties I remember a first LX who was a woman, which was unusual, especially as she used to wander around in bare feet! Now, thankfully, we seem to employ on merit. Which is why it seems odd to hear comments like those mention above.

Not so! I have been subject to these kind of comments quite recently, up to the fact that I lost out on work due to the fact that "I'm a girl" and "not up to the job"despite the fact that I've been doing "the job" for some years now. I work in a male dominated industry, and I that is my choice; I have been fighting these kind of comments since the eighties. But it's sad that even today, it is the general consensus that certain jobs are gender specific; my son's friends think that his mum's job as a lx/sound technician is "cool" but "weird".