The Plot Thickens

Today, I’m ready to say something a lot of people have been asking me while simultaneously hoping-and-not-hoping I would say: Based on my experience in SLAM, I think it’s more advantageous to be a man.

That, of course, is my opinion, and it’s related solely to my undertaking of resubmitting my previously-rejected work under a male pseudonym. I consider this project to be not a science experiment, but an art project—a lens through which I am examining the world. And this conclusion, that there’s a male advantage, is one I’ve been reluctant to make, having waited to say it until I felt “sure.” But I’m saying it today because what I’m seeing through my lens tells me more and more that people are kinder and more encouraging to men, and more likely to give them the benefit of the doubt. As a “man,” I have seen that my work and I come with an automatic level of authority and prowess, the type of credit that, as a woman, I have to fight to be given.

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Until recently, I had only received one differing result to Max’s work, in which Max was named a finalist and sent a kind, encouraging letter, while I’d received a template rejection for the exact same submission a few years prior. Today, I add two similar responses to the list.

The first is an opportunity that has asked Max to advance to the next stage, with the winners still to be determined. When I originally applied, I was not invited to the next stage, which involves submitting some basic additional materials, so seemingly Max’s status is something quite different.

I say “seemingly” because with Max’s successes, it’s my instinct to weigh all the factors in an attempt to assess whether there has been bias or differing treatment. And certainly that scrutiny is a part of administering this project. But at the same time if I, as Mya, applied two years in a row to the same competition, and advanced to the next stage the second year but not the first, I wouldn’t doubt whether I accomplished something or make a What If list (What if the competition opened up its second stage to a larger number of people this year? What if there were different readers? What if zombies ate the brains of this organization’s staff?)—I’d just do a little happy dance, and be excited about making the cut. And so it’s after a year of seeing all these nuanced ways in which Max fares better than me that I’m ready to just say, I think there was some bias here.

The other factor in the Bias Column is that the plays for this particular opportunity all have to fit a certain theme, which is the same now as it was when I applied. But the play that Max and I each respectively sent is a play I’ve always thought was a bit of a stretch for the theme. So for Max to still be in the running seems slightly more significant in light of that, because there are all sorts of numbers about how women will only apply to jobs if they’re 100 percent qualified, while men will give it a shot even if they’re only 60 percent qualified. But maybe there’s a degree to which a man who meets 60 percent of the criteria is still considered quite qualified, while a woman is not extended that same courtesy unless she meets 100 percent of it. And if that were true, then maybe Max fared better because his submission can speak to a portion of the theme and still remain in the running, while mine cannot.


As a “man,” I have seen that my work and I come with an automatic level of authority and prowess, the type of credit that, as a woman, I have to fight to be given.



The other recent differing result that Max got is a rejection letter that was distinct in its niceness
. This newest letter was notable because it was even more distinctly encouraging than the other encouraging rejection I mentioned previously.

I have applied to this competition twice as Mya, and both years, I received template rejection letters nearly identical to each other, following the standard three-paragraph form of most rejection letters: (1) Thanks for applying! (2) Sorry, we can’t offer you a spot! (3) It was nifty getting to know your work, so keep in touch, follow us on Twitter, and don’t be mad that we’ve automatically added you to our mailing list!

Max’s letter, however, was different. I pulled up both of my past rejections to compare them to his, and even had a close friend send me the one she got from this organization on the same day Max got his.

Unlike both of my past letters and my friend’s from this year (all three of which were identical save a word or two), Max’s letter was sprinkled with special nuggets of encouragement. Where the usual letter said, “Thank you for submitting your play,” Max’s letter said, “Thank you so much for submitting your play.” Where the usual letter said, “We can’t offer you a spot,” Max’s said, “We can’t offer you a spot because our decisions were really super extra challenging and we had to reject more people than we wanted to.” (“It’s not you, it’s me.”) Where the usual letter said, “Stay in touch,” Max’s said, “Stay closely in touch and be sure to submit again!

But above and beyond those, Max got an entirely new added paragraph whose sole purpose was to let him know how great he was. The paragraph gushed about all the enthusiasm Max’s play had inspired and let him know earnestly about the passionate dialogue the play created among the readers. He had truly enlightened them and hit on something special with his meaningful work, and it was important to them—really important—to let him know it.


To finally get some affirmation, after almost a decade, that I wasn’t totally wrong in feeling like I’d written something special was a real heartbreak. Because I only got that affirmation by being a dude.



What’s further complicated about this situation is that the woman who runs this opportunity and heads the literary department of the organization is an acquaintance of mine. In fact, I know her because she once saw my work and reached out to tell me how much she’d like it. And that’s exactly why I’ve applied to her organization a few times. What’s also interesting is that this organizationa prominent organization that is certainly a household name among theatre artistsis a public supporter of gender parity and diversity in the arts. They’ve even tweeted their support of SLAM on several occasions. And their track record supports their position of encouraging diversity—they’ve had no lack of women and minorities among their writers and artists. So to me this suggests that even those who clearly and measurably support diversity can still be subject to bias.

I’d be lying if I claimed this didn’t hurt, perhaps more than the others. This particular play of mine has always felt like “the one that got away.” It’s had some interest here and there, but it’s never been produced, and I’ve always felt that was a shame; I think it has real substance while being funny and uniquely theatrical. I wrote it almost ten years ago so I’ve mostly given up on shopping it around, but I often think back to it fondly, wondering if maybe there was someone out there who would finally see in it what I saw in it. So to finally get some affirmation, after almost a decade, that I wasn’t totally wrong in feeling like I’d written something special was a real heartbreak. Because I only got that affirmation by being a dude. And further to that, this experience lives alongside a lifetime of sexism: being mansplained about how to stand on a subway platform; being disparagingly called “honey” at the hardware store; being passed over for dream jobs when the all-male hiring team went with the guy. It’s yet again being treated differently because of my gender. And even if all I’ve been denied was encouraging rejection letters, those are still encouraging, and in this business we can all use all the encouragement we can get. And it seems to me that men get more of it.

The final notable thing is that between the three different results Max has received, something that stands out to me is that each of these scenarios involved a different play. So it’s not this one same play that I’ve yearned to see succeed being treated differently over and over, it’s three different plays from my body of work. Meaning it’s not that I have one single script that really shines but has been held back by Big Bad Bias; it shows me that, in fact, a variety of my work is given better consideration when someone thinks it’s been written by a man. It brings me back to a conclusion I’ve made before: It doesn’t necessarily hurt to be a woman, but it does help to be a man.

Originally published on HowlRound.

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Happy Manniversary to Me

Max, like me, is on the cusp of turning 32–but this month, he’ll also celebrate turning one. That’s because it was a year ago, in July 2015, that I first “invented” him. If you’re looking for an excuse to eat a cupcake this week, Max’s first birthday is more than valid.

In my year as a “fake man,” there are many things I’ve observed, experienced, and been asked. So far no jock itch, but maybe that’s still to come. As I’ve said many times before, I feel it’s an important part of this project that Max and I be as identical as possible, except for gender. But what I’ve learned is that despite any of it, being him—actually interacting with others online and by email as a seeming man—is most certainly a different experience than being me.

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The short of it is that I’ve found being Max to be wonderfully freeing. There is a part of it that I think has nothing to do with gender; there’s something inherently freeing about simply being someone that nobody actually knows. But above and beyond the sense of anonymity, I’ve found life as Max to be freeing because as him, I feel like I have more permission to fail—not because of being a faceless pseudonym, but because as a man, my feeling is that Max already has one foot in the door on pretty much everything he does.

At this point, I am going to make an aside to say that I am not criticizing men for having advantages; what I am criticizing is the system and history and bias that has allowed it to stay that way. And I know that not all men experience advantages across the board—there are many cases in which white women (such as myself) have more of the metaphorical foot in the door over men of color, such as equal pay. And even among just white men or straight white men, it’s not like there is a universal rule of advantage; every person is unique in their makeup and experiences. But from resumes to pen names, it’s no secret that we live in a world where there are frequently advantages to being among Max’s demographic, and that’s precisely what this project is here to examine and the very reason for the invention of Max.


I’ve found life as Max to be freeing because as him, I feel like I have more permission to fail…as a man, my feeling is that Max already has one foot in the door on pretty much everything he does.


The reality of how it felt to have these new advantages did not hit me until April, when I did an interview about SLAM and was asked if I felt that Max had taken on a life of his own in any way. And as I thought over all the ways in which I was making sure Max and I were perfectly identical, it occurred to me that the one way in which we’ve become different is that I don’t worry if he shows natural flaws, which is something I try very hard not to do when it comes to myself.

I am very detail-oriented about my own professional writing endeavors, and when I prepare a script submission for myself, I usually check my spelling twice, make sure my handwriting looks nice on the envelope, and am very cautious and aware of the way it’s presented. The same goes for my website and social media presence—I’m exceedingly careful about coming across super-professional, avoiding anything that could be misunderstood or misconstrued, and having good online etiquette. It can be difficult because, as someone who primarily writes comedy, I want my style and tone to come across in everything I submit—not just scripts but also artistic statements and other such documents, but I often find myself censoring the humor for fear of not being taken seriously or looking like I don’t care.

With Max, I feel much more free, and don’t feel the need to do most (or sometimes even any) of the self-censoring or cautious checking. And it didn’t dawn on me until the April interview that the reason for that difference was my feeling and perception that people are harder on women than on menthat as a woman, I am going to be put under a microscope and judged and critiqued (conciously or otherwise) for every little “i” that’s not dotted or hashtag that isn’t hilarious. As a man, I feel less like I have to worry about these things. Again, this isn’t something measurable. I can’t “prove” that I have reason to feel this way, but when I look back at my year as Max, it’s a feeling I can’t deny. And this idea that women are more heavily judged and scrutinized and criticized than men is not something true across the board for all men and all women, but when you look at how we treat women in the public eye, it’s hard to feel otherwise.


At every corner, life as Max is easier and less intimidating than the equivalent interactions I have as myself.


So it’s interesting now, on Max’s one year “manniversary,” to realize that a huge part of this project has been living life as someone who by default gets the benefit of the doubt on almost everything. When I started SLAM, I was interested in examining how a male name might allow otherwise-rejected work to be considered in a different light. But it turns out SLAM has also been about the experience of living in a man’s shoes, even more so than I knew.

And let me tell you: It’s freeing. Not because of some trite joke about how women’s shoes are so uncomfortable, haha high heels suck, LOL emoji. But because as Max, I don’t have to worry—at least not as much—that his leadership skills will be labeled “bossiness,” or his humor will be dismissed as “silly,” or his edgy Tweet or blog post (#meta) will be met with responses that he should be bludgeoned and left in a ditch. At every corner, life as Max is easier and less intimidating than the equivalent interactions I have as myself. So for Max’s anniversirthday wish, I hope that everyone can have this kind of freedom. And not just for a day or a week or a year, or as part of a pseudonym identity, but forever and as themselves. It really shouldn’t be too much to ask.

Originally published on HowlRound.

Submitting Like A Woman

Regular readers of Submitting Like A Man (lookin’ at you, mom!) will know my oft-quoted statistic: that 51% of the population in the US is women, but only about 20% of our writers in theatre and TV are female. It’s a statistic that’s been shown by numerous data collecting initiatives (such as here, here, and here) and as something that’s fairly straightforward to calculate, the number itself is not something most people I’ve encountered are highly contesting; in fact, if anything, it’s something far too many of us accept as believable/normal.

It’s the sort of discrepancy that’s so entrenched in the workings of our industry, the story of our history, and the behaviors of our society that it can’t be pinned on one singular cause. Discrimination of any kind is a multifaceted problem, which is why it’s so damn hard to stop or change. SLAM is a project I created to examine the part of the discrepancy stemming from unintentional bias. And there are all kinds of other factors that are almost certainly weaving together and causing the discrepancy too—producers who don’t believe women’s stories will sell, awards shows that are rewarding the same white male old-guard over and over again, and so on.  

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But recently it was brought to my attention that there’s another factor in the mix when it comes to the under-representation of women writers in the entertainment industry: It seems that in some cases, fewer women writers are submitting work, with some instances showing as few as 25% of submissions from women.

It’s the sort of problem that at first glance seems to imply we, lady playwrights, are somehow at fault for this large, looming problem. And if the numbers are correct, I definitely think we could stand to do better; it certainly would not hurt to be half the submission pool. But the problem we’re facing started before anyone reading this would have even been born, and it’s so complicated and layered that there’s no way we can wag a finger at lady playwrights and call off the investigation. There are many reasons why we would be remiss to say that women making up half the applicants would solve the problem, not the least of which is because submissions and open calls for work are just one of many ways new writers and new scripts are discovered, developed, and produced. But as someone administering a gender bias project that utilizes the submission process, I can’t help but wonder what’s going on.

Female playwrights, and our plays, most certainly exist (I swear I’m not a hologram). So why are we seemingly submitting so much less? It’s one of these things that’s impossible to “know” (again: if we could, it would be easy to solve) and that other women and organizations have pondered before me—which, in fact, is how I came to be aware of it. And since launching this project, I’ve had many people tell me that they don’t think I’m submitting enough. I’ve publicly stated that in the last nine years, I’ve sent out 117 submissions. To me, the number is a Goldilocks-esque “just right,” but others have suggested that perhaps I am “submitting like a woman” by simply not submitting enough. (What’s tricky about that idea is that I’ve had many of those same people remark that my success rate—about 10% of submitted work has been accepted—is higher than most. I can’t say if that’s true or not because most writers I know will guesstimate their success rate but actually don’t keep track closely enough to calculate a specific number.)


My hunch is that if we work together to give more women the opportunity to succeed, more women will come forward to put their hats in the ring.


What I ultimately can’t help but wonder is if it even makes any difference for women to submit in smaller numbers than men. And if it is true that women are submitting less, is it still “fair” for us to expect to be half the resulting productions? Let’s say a play festival is producing ten pieces. In a perfectly “equal” world, there would be five plays written by women, and five by men. So let’s say their applicant pool is all comparable quality work, and breaks down to 30% women and 70% men. Does that mean they choose three female winners and seven male? Or are they still obligated to choose five and five? My personal answer is five and five, but I can certainly see how others may argue that’s unfair or nonsensical.

In essence, it’s a philosophical question. Do we choose and present work representative of the applicant pool’s demographics? Do we choose work that doesn’t necessarily reflect the demographics of those who have submitted but does represent the demographics of our society? Or since this is art, do we have an obligation to put aside the composition of the applicant pool and make a deliberate effort to choose work that promotes voices that have historically been under-represented, oppressed, and/or denied opportunity? The only answer I have is that, as with so many issues we face as a society, what we need is an all around awareness, cooperation, and a commitment to figuring it out together. And my hunch is that if we work together to give more women the opportunity to succeed, more women will come forward to put their hats in the ring.

Originally published on HowlRound.