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.  

boxing-women

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.

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Thank You For Not Being Trolls

Thus far, I have been pleasantly surprised and really quite flattered by the responses to Submitting Like A Man. In the days leading up to the launch, I had become quite nervous about how the project would be received. It pushes some buttons on a sensitive issue, and it’s no secret to me that there are many people in the world who hate button pushers, especially when it’s women doing things that invoke the F-word (feminism). I mean, I’ve seen the episode of Last Week Tonight about Online Harassment, and beyond that, have lived for 31 years in a world where I can hardly so much as walk out the door in sweatpants without being catcalled. All that’s to say that I know very well the variety of scenarios in which women are harassed, and was concerned that my project would incite it.


Isn’t it sad that I had to consider I might be harassed for conducting a project that examines a seeming gender bias?


So I’ve been holding my breath about the launch of this project, basically assuming I’d get a bunch of misogynistic hate mail. But it’s now been ten days since the project launched, and so far, I am happy to say—and honestly, quite floored—that I have had no trolls!

David King Flickr Troll(Trolls: If you’ve been hiding, please don’t take this as an opportunity to step forward. Maybe you’re over there thinking, “I thought Dave was on this one! He was supposed to send a bunch of emails with pejorative terms for women and a some pictures of his junk.” I am NOT complaining. If Dave forgot, just sit this one out.)

But let’s talk for a minute about what it means that I was so prepared to be on the receiving end of hate (and for the purposes of this article, I am conflating things like trolling, harassment, hate mail, and so on). Even if it didn’t end up happening, isn’t it sad that I had to consider I might be harassed for conducting a project that examines a seeming gender bias? As if it’s not bad enough that there is a seeming gender bias, and my fellow female writers and I are only about 20% of all produced work—on top of that, to add insult to injury, I should also reasonably worry that if I speak up about it, I will have to deal with hate mail. In fact, I was so prepared to be hated that I apprehensively checked my spam boxes several times on the first night of the blog’s launch, like peeking under the lid of a Tupperware filled with old soup that you just know is going to be moldy and chunky and rank, which just has to get poured down the sink so you can be rid of it.


I was so prepared to be hated that I apprehensively checked my spam boxes several times on the first night of the blog’s launch.


And yes, I did get a few messages that were defensive or negative. There were the comments insisting, despite the studies cited in my post, that there isn’t an industry discrepancy between male and female writers, and those declaring that my project was some sort of illegality or corruption (even though it’s just the well-established practice of using a pen-name). But even then, the messages were mostly polite, and even those that weren’t were at least totally, completely non-threatening. So does that mean my concern about being harassed was misguided or an over reaction? Or was my concern legit, and I avoided it simply because I’m lucky? It’s food for thought; obviously we can’t know the answer.

Now, bear with me for a minute while I get meta and talk about this post itself.

I wrote the first draft of this post in the wee hours of late Sunday night January 10th, right after the blog launched, as a reaction to the surprise I felt to the positive response. I have been sitting on it since then, chewing over whether or not to publish it, because I wondered if perhaps posting it invited the exact kind of harassment I was so excited to have avoided. And then the next morning, David Bowie died, and among all the great sound bites and remembrances, The Daily Show aired this wonderful clip of Bowie saying: “If you feel safe in the area that you’re working in, you’re not working in the right area. Always go a little further into the water than you feel you’re capable of being in. Go a little bit out of your depth. And when you don’t feel your feet are quite touching the bottom, you’re just at the right place to do something exciting.” And so I release this post to you with Bowie’s wisdom and my feet not quite touching the bottom.


“If you feel safe in the area that you’re working in, you’re not working in the right area. Always go a little further into the water than you feel you’re capable of being in. Go a little bit out of your depth. And when you don’t feel your feet are quite touching the bottom, you’re just at the right place to do something exciting.”


However, I would be remiss to give all the credit for my decision to David Bowie alone because a huge part of my experience these past ten days was also the supporters. So, so many supporters—real human people I know, real human people I once knew and now see around on social media, and real human people who are total strangers. The outpouring of support was fantastic, and I am so grateful to everyone who read, followed, shared, and commented. You have helped me find renewed courage, and I am so thankful.

In fact, one supporter who appears to be a Facebook friend-of-a-friend summarized quite well the overall sentiment of the initial launch: “Love the experiment, but can’t wait for the day when dudes have to submit as a woman to be accepted or taken more seriously.”

And that, ladies and gentleman, is why I am doing this.

So thank you for not being trolls. Now please re-read that sentence, and this time, sing it to the tune of the Golden Girls theme song.

You’re welcome and goodnight.