A few months ago, I mentioned in passing in a room full of techies, that I was a member of a relatively young organisation called Women in Lighting.
A male lampie in attendance, who I’ll guess we’ll call Ebenezzer for the purpose of this story, immediately embarked on something of the following rant:
“Jesus, I hate f-ing things like that, I mean, you’re not f-ing discriminated against any more, you women, you’re like totally not, I’ve worked with f-ing women in the industry and it’s not like you need an organisation. I mean I think it’s actually sexist for women to have this thing, like, you know, sexist against men!”
Now, I already owe Women in Lighting a lot, and I’ve only been a member a few months, so I figured I’d take this time to answer a few points raised…
I do not consider myself a feminist, although, it turns out that possibly, I am. The reason I was surprised to discover that I was one was because, until very recently, there had been no circumstance to test this assertion. At no point had I been (to my knowledge…) challenged on the basis of my gender, and thus whether I had anything resembling a gender-political conscience hadn’t really been tested. And whatdayaknow? I do…
That’s not to say equality = sameness. After all, I fully confess that men are physically stronger than me and are thus better suited to certain tasks. Like, say, moving steel deck. Oh woe. And there are men out there that are better techies, and there are women out there that are better techies – of course there are, I mean, obviously and of course! The point is this; that I do not wish to be judged as a woman, I wish to be judged as a person, real and whole, and not on the basis of whether I have breasts and, heaven help us, the quality of both the same.
“I would never judge you because your a woman,” or “of course I look at breasts, so do all men,” would probably be the two majority retorts. The latter – well, there’s a whole can of worms waiting to be opened up there and if anyone wants my Sociology 101 analysis on the nature of gender/sexual identity, just lemme know…
As for the former, sure, there are a lot of guys out there – great guys – who would not judge me because of my femininity. They’d judge me because of my wiring, and go from there… and that’s how it should be! Sink or swim, let it be because of my qualifications! But there still seem plenty working in the technical side of theatre who don’t get it. Sometimes its an innocent thing – an attitude of ‘she’s a woman, she can’t do it, let’s keep her safe’ that leads them to chose a man for a job that a woman perfectly if not more qualified at – or the same attitude that leads to the addition of the word ‘darlin’ to make alright the sentence that went ‘yeah, if it’s okay with you, I’m going to send one of the lads, just because, you know, it might be kinda tricky… darlin….’ Sometimes it’s just people being tits. Because people sometimes just are.
And yes, this is active (if perhaps unconscious) discrimination and yes, it’s the minority position. Men are in the majority in theatre lighting, and I have learnt 99% of what I know from men who looked at me entirely as a lampie-in-training and where kind and generous with what they knew and did what they did absolutely superbly, with the added bonus that it mattered not who did the job so long as it was done well. Although that said, it is impossible to give the battle cry of ‘men – do not generalise about women!’ when in order to make a concise argument, women find themselves generalising about men. If you don’t mind me saying, I will, as a good historian, acknowledge the own hypocrisy of that argument and then with a swift academic vigor, move on.
No – my main reason for joining this ‘sexist’ organisation is, if you don’t mind me waxing sociological on you, a bit more complicated. Your 1st year LSE sociologist basically is worried about identity – who and what you are within society.
For example, I say:
“I am a woman.”
“Ah-ha!” (quoth our sociologist) “But what is a woman?”
“Well,” I say, adjusting my hair pointedly, “a woman is the female of the species – she has babies, wears dresses and will probably chose wine over beer.”
“So all women have babies?” demands our sociologist.
“Well, no, some women may chose not to have babies…”
“So all women wear dresses?”
“Well, no, it’s just something that sometimes women can do to make themselves feel feminine…”
“So its feminine to wear dresses?”
“Well, yes, but you can be feminine while not wearing a dress…”
“So a woman doesn’t actually have to have babies or wear a dress to be a woman?” exclaims our sociologist, by now looking rather smug.
“Well… as you put it like that… no.”
“And can men wear dresses?”
“Ah-ha!” he exclaims and then trots off smugly to write a paper on the subject.
Gender, it turns out, is a lot more complicated than simple biological function – its an identity, built up out of ideas of ‘wears and dress and has babies’ into a figure that society accepts and can classify. (Don’t even ask about sexuality. Whole other story.) But in technical theatre you can rely on one thing above all else – there’s only one gender identity going on, and it’s a bloke. Every cliche is somewhere founded in a little grain of truth, and there’s a sackful of truth in the cliche of the lampie who drinks excessively, lives on a diet of cigs, beer and cornish pasties, swears like a Satanist, and treats exciting bits of technological development with an almost libidinous affection. And to mingle in techie society, to be accepted as part of it, your average woman will, at some point, have to behave like your average bloke. Sometimes worse; will have to prove themselves to be one of the society, and it’s a man’s society. The word we’re heading for is macho, or machismo.
And fine. Okay. We all do it; it’s like finding yourself putting on a Scottish accent in Glasgow even if you were born in Cambridge – you may not consciously angle to do it, you may not realise you’re doing it at all, but the need to mingle with a social group just pushes your vocal chords over the edge. I’m not a militant feminist, I have no desire to ask technical theatre to change its ways. But I would like to ask it to expand its horizons; to look beyond the macho lampie world that has been constructed and say ‘hell, I may be a bloke who likes my beer, but actually, there’s no shame in liking a cuppa tea and a movie with the girls…’
So coming back to the very beginning of this tale, I’m back in the green room with Ebeneezer being told that I am the member of a discriminating group, and I have, I’m afraid, one simple answer. Cast aside, Ebeneezer, your pre-conceptions! It’s not about biological equipment, who is stronger and who has babies more reliably, it’s not about a conspiracy of bitter spanner-wielding female lampies looking for a bit of a bicker – it’s about introducing a new idea, a new identity into the world of technical theatre. Don’t write angry letters to your union about our existence, do the smart thing, go one better. Open yourself up to a world of tea and biscuits, of friendly social events and affection that isn’t shared over hangovers, in short…