The idea for the dramachicks blog was born out of a disturbing piece of knowledge given to me by my Wilkes University mentor, playwright Juanita Rockwell. It was the weekend of my last residency at Wilkes (a one-week full-immersion course for my creative writing MFA) and Juanita had just come from a conference where it had been revealed that according to a study by Princeton’s Emily Glassberg Sands, less than 20% of the plays being produced in this country in 2008 were written by women.
Or at least, written by women who admit to being women.
What was that again? Well, I guess you never know, really. I didn’t even think about it until a blogpost crossed my path called “Why James Chartrand Wears Women’s Underpants.” Essentially, because she was being “outed” by another female writer she once trusted, the writer who blogs (and earns a living!) under the pen name James Chartrand wrote a blog post admitting that “he” was actually a “she” and had only written under a male pen name to see if it would have any effect on how was treated, how much she earned, whether or not she received jobs…and boy DID IT EVER. (Please take a moment and read her post; it’s eye-opening!)
So here we have further proof of what George Eliot (aka Mary Anne Evans) knew all along: for a writer, it pays to be male. Which has me wondering again, WHY is this true? WHAT on earth is going on? HOW can this still be an accurate assessment of our culture? And what can we DO about it?
I don’t know that I have any answers. It’s a scary world out there for writers in general; it’s hard work, sometimes thankless work, and often the kind of work that takes weeks, months, years and MAY NEVER PAY OFF. With all that going on, do we really have to worry about the name that’s on our manuscript? Ask Jo Rowling. Someone in the higher ups told her to make her name “J.K. Rowling” in order to sell her book; they didn’t think anyone would want to read fantasy literature written by a woman.
So I return to this thought: what are the chances that some of the plays — some of the excellent plays — being produced out there are being written by women with male pen names? The thought makes me happy and sad at the same time. I don’t know if it’s true…I don’t know if it’s really possible in a world that demands pictures of everyone who so much as sneezes in the direction of Broadway, Hollywood, or the entertainment industry as a whole. But my question for you, you dramachicks out there, is this: how far would you go to get your work noticed? Would you write plays under a male pen name? How would it make you feel, especially if that was the turning point to getting your work noticed? And for those of you who aren’t female playwrights; what do you think about all of this? Does anyone have an answer as to why this is still happening? Why, when we are surrounded by so many supportive people in such supportive and open-minded communities, WHY do women writers ask themselves before they send out a manuscript…
“Would it get accepted if I were a man?”