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Gender Trouble Part I: Women in the Theater

Amanda Charney talks to female theater students about their experiences. logo

I've overheard it over and over from my female friends:

"Ugh, I wish I was a MAN."

"My life would be so much easier if I'd been born a boy."

"Why? Why am I a woman?"

No, my friends aren't anti-feminists; they're actresses lamenting the fact that in the acting world, they are a dime a dozen compared to the few numbers of men involved. It's pretty easy to see, especially in college; acting classes often have 3 or 4 men, as opposed to 12 or so women. Choruses of musicals are almost entirely female. Male actors are often involved in a multitude of shows and scenes all at once, just because of a high demand.

So what are the other issues with this kind of discrepancy? To answer this, I turned to the actors and actresses of our generation to tell their tale. This week's for the ladies, but don't worry guys! In my next column, you get the chance to share your side!

1) Sheer Numbers When it comes down to it, there are just plain too many women and not enough men. Maybe it's social standards, maybe it's a natural genetic inclination, but for one reason or another, there is never a shortage of female theater majors, while men are severely lacking. It's easy for a girl to get lost among the dozens of others all shooting for the very limited spots that exist in productions!

2) Lack of Material If you do choose to cast your show only with women, you run into the issue of finding really good plays or musicals that are female heavy. Take a look at all of the great playwrights like Arthur Miller, Samuel Beckett, and the Bard himself, of course. It's incredibly difficult to find shows that are female-heavy in order to make the best of the ratios of women to men!

Theater student Kelseigh Coombs feels this problem. "A lot of the time, I feel like there are better written roles for men. Also, I feel like there's this weird stereotype that men are funnier than women! Obviously, they're not normally going to cast a man over a woman in a female role just because they're funnier... but still, this drives me nuts!"

Dana Brown, graduating senior, makes a similar point. "The usual situation is that there are way more girls than guys, but way more male roles. I've always found it to be more competitive as a female because of this. It definitely gets frustrating, but there's really nothing that can be done about it because that's what the demographics are. You just have to do your best and fight for what roles are available."

3) Expectations "I feel like it's a lot easier for a less talented guy to succeed in the world of theater and musical theater because the ratio of male actors to male parts is so much lower than it is for females. I don't wish to disparage the talented males on stage, but from my female perspective, it seems so much easier for guys."

She has a point; with fewer potential candidates for a role, it is much easier for someone who may be less talented to still get decent roles in shows. For women who are competing against dozens of others, you have to be the absolute top of your game to even be in the running! A director choosing from this multitude of actresses can be much more picky than when looking for someone to fill a male role.

Another theater student shared her experience as a woman working behind the scenes. "Particularly in male-dominated areas, I find that they underestimate me. Especially all-male light crews assume I can't move the line sets or need help and think that I will burn myself on the light. A lot of times I feel like if I was a man, regardless of my physical strength, it would be assumed that I can do things on my own. It's interesting that outside of USC I've never seen a majority female crew assembling the set or hanging the lights like I do here. On the flip side of that, as a woman you can act as the damsel in distress. If you have a predominantly male crew you can usually get out of doing the hardest jobs such as throwing weights on the line sets; it is very easy!"

It's true that there are difficulties and challenges that come with being an actress that men don't have to deal with. But this isn't the whole story; what is it like from the other side? That's next week--we'll take a look at life as a male actor!


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