I was disheartened by the assumptions animating Theresa Rebeck’s recent New York Times guest essay, “A Racial Reckoning Is Underway in Theater. Where Is the Gender Reckoning?” (not published in American Theatre, obviously, but shared on its Facebook page). Though I appreciated Rebeck’s advocacy on behalf of woman-identifying playwrights, who have indeed been denied opportunity for decades, I’m concerned about her reliance on the outdated notion that there’s not room for everyone at the table.
Equity is not a contest—race vs. gender—as Rebeck’s essay would have us believe. Woman-identifying playwrights don’t make a habit of comparing our progress with that of our global majority colleagues. Or our disabled colleagues. Or our trans and non-binary colleagues.
That kind of thinking relies on the false dichotomy of a theatre industrial complex, which—for all its virtue signaling—still relies on a scarcity model. That kind of thinking invests in “oppression Olympics,” which pits marginalized communities against each other—a tactic used by the status quo to maintain power since time indefinite. That kind of thinking also recalls feminism’s painful history of white suffragettes excluding Black suffragettes based on this same false “either/or” narrative.
These constructs are erroneous. They’re divisive. They cause harm. That Rebeck doesn’t even mention, in a column about gender disparity, the marginalization of trans women and non-binary people furthers amplifies the exclusionary aspect of her otherwise just cause. If we’re saying our marginalized voices must be heard, that argument can and must be made on behalf not just of women but also of trans and non-binary playwrights, because we’ve all been left out.
I speak not only as a white cis woman who writes plays but also as a member of Honor Roll!, an action and advocacy group of over 1,400 woman-identifying playwrights over 40 and our allies. We exist because we were shut out when we were “coming up” due to systemic sexism, racism, ableism, transphobia, xenophobia, homophobia, and other biases. Ironically, now that these biases (with the exception of classism/elitism) are being actively challenged in the American theatre, woman-identifying playwrights over 40 are considered “too old” to be viable and thereby supported, even by development programs.
We’re fighting to be seen, heard and supported, knowing the enemy isn’t each other, but an entire system that assigns value based on economics and pedigree—a system currently being interrogated on all fronts. If we’re to be successful in this advocacy, we need to operate from a completely different paradigm. We all get lifted up if we uplift together.
Sarah Tuft (she/they) is a bicoastal Gemini ADHD playwright who came to theatre from painting, photography, video art, and filmmaking. Her plays include Abigail (2021 O’Neill finalist) and Marvel-ous Monica; in Which Monica Lewinsky Is a Superhero Hellbent on Revenge (which went to the O’Neill).
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