Monday, 5 March 2012

The rage bible: a collection of articles on discrimination and inequality in the arts.

I recently presented at Sphinx Theatre's Vamps, Vixens and Feminists in the North, alongside writer and broadcaster Beatrix Campbell, playwright Penelope Skinner, screenwriter (and creator of the brilliant Scott & Bailey) Sally Wainwright and countless other eminent women and men who care about equality, diversity and representation in the arts. It has now been written up in a wonderful Guardian piece by Clare Brennan. Note, she quotes me in the piece.

As for context, you don't need me to rehash the same old story - the cultural femicide stats are all over this site (look under the Headlines and Popular Posts columns on the right) and were highlighted recently by Vida's damning survey of how women writers and critics are universally ignored by the media here, here, here and here. I can say from experience that everything you've ever heard about the glass ceiling, sexism, misogyny, female misogyny, the double standard, discrimination, marginalisation, belittling, downtalking, ignoring and all the rest of it is true. As the top tiers at Equity wrote very firmly to the Arts Council, in an email forwarded to me by a member and printed here with permission,
While Equity members are pleased that the Arts Council of England has supported its minorities over the last thirty years it has become apparent that the majority - women - are hardly represented in state-subsidised theatre.
This meeting proposes that the ACE now withdraws support to revenue-funded companies that do not plan each season to employ 50% women as writers, directors and artistic practitioners as this is out of line with the aim of current equalities practice in the UK. We feel this problem should be urgently addressed.

We would expect 2013 to show good practice of equal opportunity rather than a continuation of the status-quo which excludes women's experience from the public arena.
At the conferences, lectures, panels and festivals I speak at nearly every week as a women's advocate and arts critic, it is made painfully obvious to me how aware women colleagues and attendees are of this marginalisation and the prejudice and un/conscious bias which fuel it. I work across all art forms, all cultural disciplines and all forms of media and the misogyny is no less shocking for being absolutely automatic, standard, seemingly 'natural', the norm. I am not talking about the open abuse of women but about the deeply entrenched values, biases, preferences, pathologies and dynamics which support a system, an ideology, a methodology and a culture: patriarchy. These values are rigorously promoted even by organisations which pretend to be fair and equal, like Amnesty International organising a huge comedy, music and acting show in defence of global free speech, where 30 men and only 3 women, virtually all white, are performing, or Penguin Books sending me a gift pack with four books by men and one (decades old) book by a woman in the expectation that I would promote them, despite the fact that it is women who are the backbone of publishing as writers, readers, editors, agents, PRs, book club members, librarians and book festival attendees. One of the books, about language, referenced more than 60 men (novelists, poets, social scientists, journalists, academics, editors) and only 7 women in its bibliography and almost totally ignored women in 300 pages crammed full of quotes, case studies and anecdotes. Or how about YouGov Cambridge, who are affiliated with Cambridge University and are hosting a major symposium about public opinion, economic governance and the future of Europe. They've invited 12 men and 0 women to speak. Both the YouGov and Amnesty events are still to happen so if you want to complain, there is still time.

It is obvious how frustrating, how baffling and saddening, how distressing and how angering this is. It is clear by the nakedly honest questions, comments, anecdotes, confessions, whistleblows and revelations I hear that women are acutely pained by the injustice and contempt with which we are treated. When we talk together about our experiences, all of which are horrifyingly similar no matter what area of the arts, politics, culture or public life we come from, it is obvious what the reason is: it's just misogyny. Believe. It is exactly what it appears to be. It is perpetrated, not by an exclusive secret club of pinstriped men who hate women, but by commissioners and editors of both sexes, at all levels of the process, who have wholly absorbed and happily perpetrate and perpetuate a 3,000-years-old culture which sneers at what women do, say, think, propose and create, regardless of what it is.

The only answer is female solidarity, the raising of consciousness and the creation of power in solidarity and joy. As a wonderful woman in the Vamps, Vixens and Feminists audience commented: "If they don't let you into their party, don't waste your time. Host your own party." The renewed fightback has been happening full-steam for a couple of years now and the National Union of Journalists are on it with an event on Wednesday 14th March. Click here for more details and for a series of links to further articles. And...the second annual WOW festival in celebration of amazing women opens at the Southbank on Wednesday, 7th March. Click here for the programme - I hope to see you there. I will be presenting two events, one on the idea of 'the lady', with Rachel Johnson, Anna Blundy, Catherine Hakim and Karen McLeod, and another on pioneering women, with Bianca Jagger, Camila Batmanghelidh, Ann Leslie, Salma Said and more.

.....I also thought I'd share, in a long stream below, the articles I was given by Sphinx in advance of the Vamps, Vixens and Feminists event a few days ago. They make for shocking reading:

Dan Baker writing in Arts Professional on what can be done about gender inequality in theatre

I have recently been swamped with work for a new company I'm the producer for. The sense of excitement and community within the company are invigorating, but in many respects I would rather the company didn't need to exist; the fact that it does suggests there are serious issues of inequality within the theatre industry which have yet to be properly addressed.

Agent 160 Theatre Company came into being because of a lack of opportunities for female playwrights to see their work produced. Sphinx Theatre's Vamps, Vixens and Feminists conference in 2009 revealed that just seventeen percent of plays produced professionally in Britain are by female writers. Quite why the number is so low is open to interpretation and could be affected by a number of different factors. However, there has clearly been a real lack of action addressing it, or attempts to change attitudes. Writers' work should be judged and produced on its own merits, and in keeping with the artistic policies of companies and venues; adding additional, unwritten caveats regarding gender is a damning indictment of supposed professionalism.

I personally find it absurd that gender should play any part in an artist's professional development. I have met and worked with some exceptionally talented and hard-working female artists across various disciplines, but at no point have I felt their gender has had any effect on how I or my peers treat them or their work. It disappoints me greatly that this is happening at any level and as a male it worries me that my own professionalism may be called into question due to the gender bias of others. There is undoubtedly a sense that the patriarchal system is alive and well in the upper reaches and this may affect opportunities as people climb the ladder. I sincerely hope that time will see the make up of the upper echelons change to become more representative of the industry and society as a whole.

For now, companies such as Agent 160 will do what we can to help promote the work of those who deserve to be seen. As we prepare to launch, there is definitely a sense that people recognise what we are doing is sadly necessary.

Angela Rippon criticises low pay for women presenters -
an article by Matthew Holehouse in The Telegraph, 9th Feb 2012

Angela Rippon, the veteran news reader, has criticised the BBC over the salaries paid to female presenters after it emerged the co-hosts of one of corporation's most popular shows earn just one fortieth of their counterparts on Match of the Day.

Miss Rippon, Gloria Hunniford and Julia Somerville are each paid £1,000 per episode, the equivalent of £20,000 a year, to present Rip Off Britain 2012, the consumer rights programme, it emerged yesterday.

By contrast, Alan Hansen, the Match of the Day pundit, receives £1.5m a year, or £40,000 per appearance. Alan Shearer, the former England captain, receives £400,000, or £10,000 per show. Gary Lineker is paid around £2m a year to host the programme and to co-present the BBC's Euro 2012 and Olympics coverage.

Rip Off Britain regularly draws in five million viewers, against Match of the Day's four and a half. The gulf in pay threatens to reopen the row over the BBC's treatment of older women. Miss Rippon, 67, said: "Of course it is very frustrating."

"We are a top-ten audience programme and it would be lovely to get top-ten pay. And yes, you might assume that the BBC would pay by ratings, but it does not."

"Yes, it has been harder for women, particularly those over a certain age, to keep going careers in certain areas of the BBC like news and current affairs," she told the Sunday Times.

"Yet I suspect people like Emily Maitlis and Sian Williams, who are of the next generation, will find it easier to continue. Also I have long realised that the public could not care less about age or sex as long as the presenters are good. Only now are TV executives catching up with the public."

Each show in the 20-part series takes on average two days to film, as well as time spent on research. It is commissioned by BBC Daytime and broadcast at 9.15am, and repeated during prime-time. The programme investigates issues such as the rising cost of train fares and the security of chip and pin devices. Last week Mark Thompson, the BBC director general, warned: "Whatever the individual success stories, there are manifestly too few older women broadcasting on the BBC, especially in iconic roles and on iconic topical programmes."

A spokesman for the BBC said: "Whilst we don't comment on individual salaries the amount someone is paid will depend on a variety of factors. These include the type of programme someone presents, the time of day it is broadcast and any requirement for specialist knowledge. It is not, however, dependent on age or sex."

Fair play: should gender equality in theatre be mandatory?
An article in the Guardian theatre pages in Otcober 2011

We all know equality is a point of contention in the arts. Think about the concerns raised over the lack of roles for older female actors – an issue that was decried by the late, great Margaret Tyzack and has been raised by everyone from Ian McKellen to the Guardian's own Lyn Gardner.

But what about the lack of meaty roles for women, of all ages? Playwright and director Julia Pascal recently complained to me that women are more likely to play a secretary or mistress than a main protagonist. Pascal, who was the first woman to direct at the National Theatre, believes it's because most subsidised venues are run by men who "choose male writers to write about male experiences". Not only does this limit the roles available to women, she argues, but also dissuades some women from joining audiences.

Whatever you think of the argument, Pascal is at least putting her money where her mouth is, writing plays with strong female leads, particularly in the political arena. Her latest show, Honeypot, which opens later this month at the New Diorama theatre, loosely retells the true story of a "Swedish blonde goddess" who becomes a Mossad spy. It's the kind of character we don't often see on stage.

But Pascal has a more interesting – and perhaps more controversial – argument: that the woman issue can be better addressed through Arts Council England. "I think unless we have equality being demanded at funding level, equality of employment for women at all levels, this is not going to change. I think the arts council needs to demand that this is implemented. I think it is purely financial – nobody will change unless they are forced to. There has been a massive push for disability equality, but there hasn't been the same for gender."

It's a timely suggestion, given that ACE is currently reviewing its plans for diversity. It recently launched the Creative Case, which outlined plans for leadership development and an aim to work with individuals and companies that have an artistic approach to diversity. The funding body says it wants to move away from addressing "past imbalances and reducing deficits and structural gaps", attempting instead to find solutions led by artists and the arts. Next April it will publish a three-year action plan of how this will be done. If I interpret this correctly, this means less box-ticking and more proactive support for diverse groups, boosting their creative output. All great, but the main focus of this document is race and disability, even if it does mention gender.

Should ACE be more prescriptive, as Pascal suggests? It's happening in the business world: a report published in February by Lord Davies of Abersoch urged FTSE 100 companies to increase the number of women on their boards to 25% by 2015, as well as boost the number of women on executive committees. While the former minister did not go as far as recommending mandatory quotas, he didn't rule it out as a future option. And in Brussels the EU justice commissioner, Viviane Reding, has said she wants to see the number of women on boards rise to 40% by 2020. She believes quotas could be the necessary next step. Spain already applies quotas for women, and France passed similar legislation earlier this year. In 2003, Norway introduced quotas for publicly listed companies. Within three years the number of women on boards went up to 42%. Not everyone agrees: some argue that appointments should be based on merit rather than gender, while others believe greater diversity makes better business sense.

The world of arts doesn't have trouble recruiting women, but women rarely move into high-powered positions. According to ACE's 2009-10 equality report, most full-time employees in the arts are women. Yet more men represent boards. The 2011 Sex and Power report by Equality Human Rights shows that the number of women chairing national arts companies dropped from 33% between 2005 and 2008 to just 8.3% in 2010-11. The Cultural Leadership Programme's Women in Leadership study of 2008 revealed that in the creative industries male leaders outnumber female by 2.5 to 1.

Clearly something needs to be done. More women at the top might filter down and have an impact on programming and commissioning. It may create more opportunities for female playwrights and actors, and fill a gap for audiences, going some way to addressing the often-highlighted gender inequality issues. But we can't know this for sure until it actually happens. I wonder if Pascal is right.

Women’s roles in the arts
Jean Rogers writing in The Stage in January 2012  

In a conversation with Arts Council England’s Barbara Matthews during Equity’s Annual Representative Conference last May I bemoaned the fact that the casting opportunities for actresses in the subsidised sector were woeful in comparison with actors. She cited the classical cannon as being the main problem but also remarked that times had changed since there were so many female artistic directors in the north.

Sadly, when this was checked by the Equity Women’s Committee later in the year they found nine women directors north of, and including, Watford - out of 37 companies, this is less than 25%. Also there was only one, Josie Rourke, in charge of any of the main 14 London producing houses. That brings the percentage overall to under 20%. Any seeming improvements are so fragile. It is also true that when the number of females does increase, the perception is always of more women than there actually are - it is such a novelty.

There are many economic and social factors which continue to contribute to the dearth of proper female influence in the arts and Jo Caird is asking for the industry to take note and help to implement a balance which better reflects society norms.

She is fully aware of the International Federation of Actors’ Age, Gender and Performer Employment in Europe report which underpins all of Equity’s campaigning on the subject. Since that report was produced in 2009, a handbook is now available showing good practices from around Europe, put together to engender change. If only we could put some of them into practice over here.

In the handbook there is reference to the research done by many organisations in this country but little or nothing with regard to actions. It is primarily in Scandinavia where most progress has been made to encourage and support women in leadership education (Sweden), in training women for top management jobs in theatre, music, dance, film and TV (Norway), but also elsewhere in Slovenia adopting a gender sensitive management style in theatres.

Many women move from working in theatre to management jobs in television when they decide to have babies. A nine to five schedule is more conducive to family life. Actresses, too - if they want to continue working - have an agonising job making arrangements for children to be babysat. I missed precious weeks of my son’s early development when I went up to York to play Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, leaving him back at home with a friend. Many of my contemporaries chose to remain childless or reluctantly had to leave the business.

Yet despite these female life and work sacrifices, the total of what we see onstage does not truly represent society’s fifty-fifty gender split. All one can conclude is that men who are in the top jobs are making choices which consciously, or unconsciously, censor female images, particularly as women age.

So Jo Caird is absolutely right. Something must be done. What could undoubtedly help would be for the Theatrical Management Association and the Arts Council England to work with Equity to find ways of setting up similar training schemes as in other European countries. Perhaps we could then see an increase rather than a decline in female contributions in the UK. No-one is pretending that there are not some wonderful productions in the subsidised sector, but an even richer output could be had if female talent both behind and on the stage was not allowed to fade away.

It would also help if the arts councils actively promoted gender equality to all their funding recipients. Fine words in documents are not enough, there is a problem and it is time it was addressed.

Jean Rogers
Equity vice president

Mark Thompson: 'not enough older women on the BBC'
An article by Murray Wardrop in the Telegraph

Mark Thompson, the BBC director-general, has warned that the corporation does not have enough older women on television. The lack of more senior female faces is most acute in “iconic roles” and on flagship “topical programmes”, Mr Thompson said. The admission comes following a series of controversial ageism and sexism disputes involving the replacement of newsreader Moira Stuart, and the former Strictly Come Dancing judge Arlene Phillips. Mr Thompson said he hoped the landmark age discrimination employment tribunal won by the former Countryfile presenter Miriam O’Reilly would be regarded as a “turning point” and “important wake-up call” for the BBC in its treatment of older women. Writing in the Daily Mail, Mr Thompson said a “thoughtful critic” of the BBC might make two “searching points”.

“First, that there is an underlying problem, that — whatever the individual success stories — there are manifestly too few older women broadcasting on the BBC, especially in iconic roles and on iconic topical programmes,” he said.

“Second that, as the national broadcaster and one which is paid for by the public, the BBC is in a different class from everyone else, and that the public have every right to expect it to deliver to a higher standard of fairness and open-mindedness in its treatment both of its broadcasters and its audiences.” He added that there are “too few women in key news and current affairs presenting roles, especially when it comes to the big political interviews”.

Mr Thompson said that while there were examples of women fulfilling top roles, such as the BBC’s Economics Editor Stephanie Flanders, “too few of the most senior on-air specialist journalists at the BBC are women”. The corporation’s long-standing chief, who is due to step down after the Olympics, said a survey he had commissioned found evidence of viewers’ concern over the lack of older female faces on air. The study, Serving All Ages, which he commissioned in his role as chairman of the industry body Creative Diversity Network, found that the view was shared by both men and women. Many respondents had the perception that women were deemed to have “a face for radio” at a certain point in their middle years and were “replaced with what people felt were less qualified but younger, more attractive women”.

Revered figures such as Anna Ford, Selina Scott, Kate Adie and Dame Joan Bakewell have all voiced concerns about the treatment of older women by broadcasters. Mr Thompson says there is a “duty” to ensure that no presenters suffer a “similar experience” to Miss O’Reilly, who claimed she had been axed from the programme for being too old.

The BBC must “develop and cherish” the “many outstanding women broadcasters” on its books and ensure that they know “age will not be a bar to their future employment”, he said.

Why women in radio are starting to talk back
Miranda Sawyer writing in The Observer, Sunday 30 October 2011

From awards ceremonies to drive-time presenters, radio is dominated by men. But not for much longer, writes one of the team behind the launch of Sound Women, a pressure group devoted to giving women a louder voice

Annie Mac, DJ, Radio 1: ‘Sound Women makes complete sense. Like, why hasn’t anyone done this before? It’s not about “men are crap and women are better”. It’s just about equality and women getting the same opportunities and pay as men get in radio’

It's silly to get upset about awards ceremonies, we all know that. Every award, from the Turner prize to the Oscars, is just the result of four or five people getting together in a room, eating curly sandwiches, disagreeing with each other about something, and then agreeing. If a different group of people were in that room, the award would go to someone else. Possibly if you had different sandwiches, the award would go to someone else. Awards are not entirely haphazard, but getting wound up about them is as clever as shouting at your horoscope.

So why did this year's Sony Radio Academy awards make me, and many others, so cross? "The year of the lad", it was deemed, with TalkSport winning station of the year, 5 Live's Fighting Talk bagging a gold and Absolute's celeb-jocks Ronnie Wood and Frank Skinner also winning big. Host Chris Evans displayed his familiar "chivalry" (can any woman feel comfortable when a man bangs on about how much he fancies her, to her face, in front of an audience?). Jenni Murray and Annie Nightingale won special awards: well deserved, but outside regular categories. And lots of great women got up on stage: Sophie Ellis-Bextor, Kirsty Wark, Mariella Frostrup, Moira Stuart. Unfortunately, they were there to hand over gongs, to men.

'When I first approached Radio 1 about being a DJ [in the late 1960s], it was an all-male enclave. I asked why that was and was told, in all seriousness: "DJs are husband substitutes." Things have changed considerably since then. Hopefully, in the future everyone with talent and dedication to music broadcasting will get a chance to give it a go' Annie Nightingale, DJ, Radio 1, Thursday evenings

Was this any laddier than usual? Sadly, no. There was more of what we might call saloon bar banter, but actually, the Sonys are always pretty much the same; and that's what really irritated. That, and the fact that while women form just over half of radio listeners, they don't form anything like half of programme makers, or presenters.

Anyway, I made mention of my feelings in my radio column and Maria Williams got in touch. A respected executive producer who's worked at Radio 1 and Woman's Hour, she said she was thinking of forming a group for women in audio. Would I like to be involved? I wasn't sure. Feminism sits easy, but I'm not much of a joiner-in. I was persuaded when she pointed out that radio – lovely, lovely radio, your friend in the kitchen, in the car – doesn't have an organisation looking out for women's interests, such as Women in Film and TV, or Women in Advertising and Communications. To be honest, I was shocked by that.

But now – ta-da! – radio does. Williams gathered together more radio ladies, we held a few meetings, and the result is Sound Women. Sound Women will soft-launch at annual industry conference the Radio festival this week. We've made a promotional film and have a website. More importantly, Skillset, the skills council for the creative industries, has gathered together existing research on women in UK radio into a report, which we're also launching on Tuesday; and we've set up a mentoring scheme for women in radio, to be run by the BBC. On our to-do list is creating a network of contacts, so that employers and conference organisers in radio can easily track down brilliant females; funding more targeted research; and possibly, eventually, an annual glitzy do.

'I've got the best job in the world! The Today programme has a healthy mix of men and women behind the scenes, but when you listen, you don't always hear that. Today recognises that as a problem. Sound Women is clearly an organisation that is trying to help work through such dilemmas' Sarah Montague, presenter, Radio 4's Today programme

Early on, we approached more than 200 women in the industry to see if Sound Women seemed on their wavelength (a radio joke, there). The likes of Sarah Montague, Lisa Snowdon, Zoe Ball, Margherita Taylor, Gemma Cairney, Victoria Derbyshire, Angie Greaves, Annie Mac, Annie Nightingale, Lauren Laverne, Edith Bowman and many more said yes. All said they loved radio, and they loved their job, but that the medium still felt male-dominated. And you only have to look at the roster at stations as varied as 1Xtra, Absolute, Capital and Magic to see that they're right. Most presenters – way over half of those on air – are men. Presenters can be hard to shed a tear over (they're the successful ones, after all) but some of the statistics are stark. Magic 105.4's Angie Greaves is one of a handful of women who presents a drive-time show on her own in London. Of BBC local radio breakfast shows, 82% are hosted by a lone man. Just one is presented by a solo woman.

Perhaps it's unfair to pick on the BBC, which works harder than most organisations to make sure women are fairly represented, but, with that last stat, it's interesting to wonder why. Do listeners just want to hear male voices? Do women not want to work on breakfast shows? Do controllers find females a pain to employ?

The reason may not just be sexism. The recession has meant cutbacks, and two co-presenters are more expensive than one. And if the least experienced presenter is dumped, it's the woman that goes, as almost every breakfast show sticks to the older man/younger woman cliche. After all, the remaining man can banter with the travel lady, or weather girl, can't he?

'I don't wake up with headphones on. I wake up with my husband and my kids at home, and I try to bring that to my presenting. It's always baffled me why the majority of listeners to radio are women but they're a minority of presenters' Angie Greaves, DJ, Magic 105.4, weekday afternoons

Behind the scenes, there's the familiar scene of women being mostly employed in "other occupations, including HR, finance, IT and secretarial/admin" and hardly at all in anything techie (just 1% are editors). This may change, as a new generation of computer babies move in. But at the moment, women – not just presenters – are dropping out of the industry after the age of 35, and only 16% of those who don't are living with dependent children. Radio, it seems, isn't a flexible enough working environment for mothers. This fallout means that the further up radio's management structure you look, the fewer women there are. At board level, they make up just 17%, far fewer than in TV.

But then, radio is very different from television, and not just as an employer. Its commercial sector is harder pressed than, for instance, BSkyB. Its digital evolution has been bumpy and is still far from perfect. It's underrated as a creative medium (no one gets agitated about radio plays in the way they do about Downton).

And… so what? We audio buffs know that radio, when it's good, is the most intimate of all media. Presenters feel as though they're our friends; we take schedule changes to heart; we feel possessive about it, in a way we never do about TV. So to discover that radio doesn't really like us, merely because of our gender: well, that's personal too.

Radio reaches an astonishing number of people. In this country, we all listen to the radio at some point during the week. Young and old, men and women. So it would be nice if all of us were represented. It wouldn't stop some people (me) getting annoyed at ceremonies. But it might mean that the sandwiches were organised by someone else.
Fi Glover: 'The pay imbalance is just extraordinary. On average, women earn £2,200 less'

A former BBC trainee, Glover, 41, cut her teeth in local radio, winning a Sony award for her GLR breakfast show before moving to 5 Live. From 2007, she presented Radio 4's Saturday Live programme in a slot previously hosted by John Peel, but stood down earlier this year. Most recently, she has presented Generations Apart, also on Radio 4.

My personal experiences in broadcasting have actually been pretty good: I had my own show aged 26. But one of the reasons I'm on the board of Sound Women is that I've seen an awful lot of gender inequality in broadcasting, which audiences probably do not realise still exists.

The pay imbalance, for example, is just extraordinary. On average, women earn £2,200 less per year than their male counterparts. I have never felt in a newsroom, a production room or a studio where women are doing less work, or are less able to do it, than men, so that's absurd.

In my youth I certainly witnessed, and was part of, radio stations where there is a male drinking culture. That can be quite intimidating for young women. I have had many great nights in the pub after radio programmes – I'm no angel – but looking back on it, it was a very male environment, and I felt I had to ape that behaviour, even though sometimes I'd have liked to have walked away from it.

On the national BBC networks, mainly thanks to fantastic controllers, women are well represented on air. But in local radio it's appalling: only 2% of all breakfast shows are presented by a solo woman. That is rubbish. I don't really understand what's happened over the past 20 years because when I started out, there were a lot of women working as reporters and producers. If you don't get those women presenting on local radio, learning the craft, how are they going to make it to national radio?

Also, if you look at how many women work in the broadcasting industry, there's this strange drop-off halfway through their careers. What troubles me is not that women might leave for a while, it's if they never manage to get back in. That needs a bit of investigating. Radio should be an industry where part-time workers flourish. There is something going wrong with that structure if it can't accommodate people who also have other responsibilities.

I speak as a 41-year-old mum of two who has just given up a prime-time show to spend more time with my kids. I really hope that I can go back to radio in a couple of years, and would find it heartbreaking if I couldn't, but I take that chance, as many women do.

Theatres must join fight for older women’s roles
Matthew Hemley writing in the Stage, 9 February 2012

Equity vice president Jean Rogers has called on the theatre sector to follow the example set by broadcasters and take steps to address the lack of opportunities for older female performers.

Rogers was speaking after the publication of research revealing that TV viewers have concerns about the lack of middle- and older-aged women on screen. She claimed the report was a “vindication” of the union’s campaign calling on broadcasters to cast more female performers.

However, Rogers said that, while the broadcast industry is beginning to make improvements in relation to “gender balance and awareness of the issue”, the “same awareness and will to improve the situation” is not apparent in the theatre sector.

She revealed that Equity had sent 43 letters to artistic directors of venues in the subsidised sector in February last year, asking about their plans to improve gender balance in their choice of repertoire. She said there had only been five replies six months later and “a gentle reminder brought in half a dozen more”.

“The older actress barely walks our British stages and it would seem, unlike the British public, our theatre community does not think this state of affairs warrants any changes,” she said.

Last week, the BBC, as current chair of the Creative Diversity Network, published Serving All Ages - research aimed at finding out what the public and people in the broadcast industry feel about the representation of age on television, radio and online. It discovered that there is concern across all age groups surveyed about the lack of middle- and older-aged women on television.

Rogers said she was “delighted” by the report, which she claimed “concludes that the media has all but censored the portrayal of middle-aged and older women”.

“In fact it was, and I quote, ‘typically a key concern across all age groups of both genders and it was also an issue raised by the expert participants’. I believe Equity’s campaign has been vindicated,” she added.

In response to the report, BBC director general Mark Thompson said the lack of older women on screen “needs to be addressed”. Rogers said Equity could now prepare to deliver a petition, which calls for equal representation of women in film and television drama and has been signed by more than 10,000 people, to the BBC and other broadcasters.

Women on the case: winning formula for primetime TV drama
Maggie Brown writing in The Observer, 26th Feb 2012

Series like Call the Midwife and Scott & Bailey are attracting record audiences with a mix of strong female characters

Call the Midwife has been crowned as the BBC's most successful new drama of the past decade, thanks to its mix of strong female characters and a realistic portrayal of childbirth. Now ITV is poised to strike back, with a female detective series also entirely shaped by women.

Industry figures believe these programmes represent a tipping point, with women now producing, writing, directing and acting in more television drama than ever before – and their efforts are proving hugely successful.

Pippa Harris, executive producer of Call the Midwife, said: "It is an interesting moment. We have always had women producers and drama executives, but now we are seeing women directors and writers taking centre stage. It does make a tonal difference and it is leading to a shift in the dramas we are seeing."

It was Heidi Thomas who adapted Jennifer Worth's book, Call the Midwife, for television. But, Harris said, the director Philippa Lowthorpe "was instrumental in setting that mixture of grit and warmth from the first episode. It could have been a different show if directed by a man. I was a big, big fan of Scott & Bailey last year because it was so well written and has such wonderful, strong female characters."

The first episode of Scott & Bailey, starring Suranne Jones and Lesley Sharp as detectives, slipped into ITV's schedules a year ago without anyone paying it much attention. It sprang a surprise by becoming the most highly rated new drama of the year, with 9.4 million viewers. It returns next week for an extended eight-part run.

Paula Milne, whose new BBC2 epic, White Heat – about sexual politics and feminism, starring Claire Foy, Juliet Stevenson and Sam Claflin – also starts next week, said: "It is much better mainly because there are more women writers. It is so different from the 1970s, when I wrote Angels for BBC1. Our default position as women writers is that we give women equal weight to men. I think we also write male characters differently, as husbands, lovers, sons. I disagree, though, about the influence of women directors. Directors tend to come to productions late and do not influence the content as much as they could."

One of the distinguishing features of Scott & Bailey, which can be tracked back to the composition of its female team, is that, while based in a fictional downbeat police station in Oldham, it deliberately avoids graphic depictions of murder and depicts the humdrum reality of policewomen's lives. In last year's opening episode, a shot of a hanged woman lasted just two seconds. This is because the key influence on the show's tone and plot is its co-creator, a retired detective inspector of 30 years' experience, Diana Taylor, who is resolutely opposed to showing, and lingering on, graphic details.

The detective constables are portrayed by the writer, Sally Wainwright – best known for the comedy drama At Home with the Braithwaites – as women doing their jobs conscientiously and well, but also juggling personal lives. She said: "I have never written a crime series before, and I find it distasteful making a drama out of crime. I tell myself it's about interesting women."

Nonetheless, Scott and Bailey are put on the toughest cases. The new series opens with three murders where people are tortured to death by a team of down-and-outs: one killing is sparked by a debt of £5 over a dog. But while you see shots of feet stabbed by a screwdriver, a burned body and a bloodied victim, the detail of suffering, such as anal rape and the loss of teeth, is relayed by words.

Unlike the typical portrayal of detectives as lone and damaged people – such as Helen Mirren's Jane Tennison in Prime Suspect – Sharp's character, DC Janet Scott, goes home to two schoolchildren wanting attention and packed lunches, a disgruntled husband and a visiting elderly mother.

Taylor said: "Detectives on TV tend to be abnormal. But to police the community you have to be normal. There have been times I was queueing in Tesco after being at a postmortem for six hours, and I'd think as I looked at the other women in the queue, 'If you only knew'."

Peter Fincham, ITV's director of television, said he was proud of being able to follow the success of Downton Abbey with a contemporary detective series that is so completely different.

"The pitch for this series was not the most exciting in the world. It is not the stylised world of the police. It is in the wrong bit of Manchester, not the centre everyone knows. And it sets out to do the hardest thing, a drama set in the real world. But it is all in the execution. I like the fact that you expect the two detectives to report back to a boss who is a man. But the boss in Scott & Bailey is awoman!"

Taylor says writers such as Wainwright do not need to rely on gore to suggest the horror of murder. "When TV producers want to show a disembowelled body, they go to the butcher's and get a pig's innards. I personally don't think it is necessary. If someone is battered to death, the public don't need to see it, especially if children might be around watching.

"People think showing gore, exploding organs, relays the horror. But I know from my work that the real horror is for parents being told you will never see your son or daughter again. They think of all the things they wish they had said, not being able to touch them again." There is an emphasis on the way the detective constables break bad news to the families or partners affected and on how easy it is to get it wrong.

Taylor hates watching most TV crime series, dubbing them "eye candy for weirdos". She added: "Yes, being a woman, part of a team of women, does have a cumulative effect."

Suranne Jones came up with the idea for Scott & Bailey with Sally Lindsay, one of its guest stars, because they wanted to create better roles for women, and writer Wainwright was introduced to Taylor. The producer is Nicola Shindler, who runs the Red Production Company in Manchester. Two of the three directors are women.

Fincham, however, believes that television drama is a broad church and cautions: "It never all trends in one direction. Gore is a feature of detective dramas. We are also running Whitechapel – crime meets horror in a very stylised manner."

Veteran Ted Childs, producer of The Sweeney and the creative force behind Inspector Morse, added: "It all depends on how good the script is, and characterisation, so you don't have to depict dismembered bodies. But there is, on the other hand, a cultural change that seems to demand you depict more and more."