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Guest Post: “Waking The Feminists” Starts A Revolution In Ireland

Guest Post: "Waking The Feminists" Starts A Revolution In Ireland

Next year will mark the centenary of the 1916 Rising, when Ireland fought for and won its independence. 2016 will thus be a momentous year to celebrate and reflect on our past and our future. Front and center of the celebrations will be The Abbey, Ireland’s publicly funded national theater, with its “Waking the Nation” program (announced back in October). 

Women fought in Ireland’s revolution. A woman, Lady Augusta
Gregory, co-founded our national theater. Women adorn the cover and the contents of
the publicity material for Waking The Nation. But out of the ten plays programmed
for 2016, just one is written by a
woman.

Following
this egregious announcement came a brave voice out of the darkness. Lian Bell,
a set designer and arts manager living in Ireland, posted on social media about
her thoughts, questions and anger at Ireland’s national theater to exclude all
but one woman writer. Bell opened a door, and other women came rushing through. An
outpouring of pain, anger and frustration was released, but most importantly, also a
unified declaration from Irish women that we’d had enough. A fire was lit and “Waking The Feminists” was born, quickly spreading across Ireland and beyond.
Endorsements came fast from artists such as Brian F. O’Byrne, Debra Messing,
Martha Plimpton, Cherry Jones, Amy Ryan, Gabriel Byrne, Dana Delany, Wim
Wenders, Phylida Lloyd, Emma Donoghue, Christine Baranski and Meryl Streep, to
name a few.

After
two weeks of testimonies, sharing stories and demands for reform,
a public meeting was staged on our national theater’s main stage. What happened
that day forever changed the course of so many women’s lives. The opportunity
to openly discuss experiences of discrimination, gender bias and sexism
was a powerful and important moment for our industry.

Less
than two months on, a collective of Irish theater workers are pushing hard for
equity. Our objective is simple: we want equality for women in Irish theater. There
can be no going back now. It’s out in the open, and we’re not going away. We’ll
start with our national theater making public the plans to change its
discriminatory program for 2016.

Response
to Waking The Feminists has been overwhelmingly positive. Lasting change that
brings equity into the lives of half our population can only be a good thing.
The next steps are to ensure the Abbey Theatre and other theaters and arts
institutions across Ireland address and redress their gender bias.

The
power of solidarity is spreading. Weeks after Waking The Feminists emerged, the
Irish Film Board issued a statement on gender inequality in the Irish film
industry. The statistics are glaring across most of the entertainment industry.
My unwavering belief is that the more we talk and the louder we get, the faster
change will come. And make no mistake, change will come.

My
own experience is similar to that of many women in the entertainment industry.
As a playwright now moving into TV and film, I learned over the years to suppress the pain of being overlooked
and ignored, the pain of being constantly pushed back. I’ve watched my male
contemporaries being produced and celebrated, as I kept plugging away, trying
to hush that quiet voice inside me that kept saying, “This is wrong. What
I’ve seen, time and time again, is that tired reality of men receiving the “He’s got potential, let’s take a risk” treatment and women receiving the “She isn’t ready yet” brush-off. 

I want, and see, a future
where women are as represented and celebrated as men, a future where girls
and women don’t have to fight for gender parity. Across the globe, there’s a palpable feeling that a moment is
happening. Here in Ireland, we’re gearing up to celebrate a revolution that
happened a century ago. And let me tell
you, we’re more than ready for the next one.

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