Director Olorunfemi Fagunwa was rejected as a candidate for directing theatre through the Kenneth Branagh New Writing Award at Windsor Fringe Festival because “the committee & the play’s director have agreed that a male director would be better for this play (Eyes to the Wind)”, according to the email she received in response to her application. Fagunwa responded to this astonishingly backward, condescending message with an energetic and empowering open letter published on her Facebook page, closing with the eloquent reproach that “Without a doubt your willingness to make a decision based on my organs and hormones serves as a reflection of your incompetence.”
Although Fangunwa has shown herself as more than competent in dealing with such examples of systematic sexism, the prejudice she is contending with is one that no fresh talent should face when trying to make their break in the arts industry. In recent years, the aesthetic constraints placed upon actresses in Hollywood have garnered awareness and received plentiful challenges on grounds of poor representation and idealising weights and shapes which are not healthily achievable for many women. However, there is a danger that focussing on the misogynistic repression of women whose bodies are a necessary part of their art leads to cases such as Fangunwa’s being overlooked.
Women are being routinely oppressed purely because of their organs and hormones
Last year, American author Catherine Nichols revealed in her cannily titled essay “Homme de Plume” for Jezebel that when she sent her manuscript out to 50 agents under her own name, she received just two requests for further material. However, after setting up a male nom de plume and sending a further 50 copies of her novel’s opening and cover letter, an astounding 17 of her test group responded, wanting to read more.
The Architectural Review magazine recently received results from a survey, finding that 61% of female responders had faced gender discrimination in the work place, with four out of ten declaring their employer the perpetrator of this active sexism.
it’s time for our industry to earn its liberal social tag
The East London Fawcett group, dedicated campaigners for gender equality, released research of 134 commercial galleries in London (representing an enormous 3,163 artists) which declared only 31% of the artists were female and 78% of the galleries showcased more male artists’ work than females.
Women in seemingly every branch of our industry are being routinely and systematically oppressed purely because of their organs and hormones, as Fagunwa incredulously puts it in her open letter. This has to change if the arts are to become as progressive as they are purported to be; it’s time for our industry to earn its liberal social tag by properly challenging the dual issues of discrimination and representation at every level and in every field. We must acknowledge that misogyny,through aesthetic prejudices, does not only affect artists whose bodies are necessarily part of their work, such as dancers and actors. We must work to tackle this with a more conscientious and considerate ethic.