The Women of Ellensburg: Issues of Women in Washington State
Arts & the Humanities
The Woman Artist
Throughout history, women have found fairly easy access to the arts. This has been especially true in the performing arts, partially because women's role as a courtesan was frequently joined with the role of actress, singer, dancer, or musician. Women today find, however, that if they choose a career in the creative arts, they earn half the income of the male artist. In addition, certain fields, such as conducting and composing, are only now beginning to open to women.
A survey conducted by the woman who began one of the best print workshops in the country found that, in 1970-71, male artists received 72-95% of the space in art reviews, 80% of New York exhibitions, and 90% of art museum shows. While half of the Ph.D,'s in art history and half the M.A.'s and M.F.A.'s are held by women, they make up less than one-fourth of the faculties in U.S. institutions of higher education. If crafts are eliminated from consideration and only studio classes in the fine arts (painting, printmaking, and sculpture) considered, the proportion often drops to zero.
The Women Artist on Stage and Screen
Television and films pay the best salaries for actors and actresses. But a 1971 study by the Women's Conference Committee of the Screen Actor's Guild found that, in a typical month on all stations of three major commercial television networks in Los Angeles, almost three-fourths of all roles were male. Public TV discriminates just as blatantly, For example, 90% of the announcers promoting programs over public broadcasting stations are male, and the number of male characters exceed female characters two-to-one in all children's programs.
For the past 150 years, women have had a fair amount of access to roles in the theatre. (Prior to that, the roles of women were played by men.) Some actresses have become famous in theatre and films. The roles of these and other women have frequently been as lover, mother, or, as in Greek drama, the moving force of fate. The narrowness of types of roles offered for women is matched by the relatively small number of roles. An Artist's Equity analysis of 350 plays produced between 1953-72 a number of which were undoubtedly made into films showed that only one third of the available parts were for women.
The Dance: A Woman's World
More than 80% of dancers are women. The movement of women's bodies and their flexibility has often been the standard used throughout the dance art form. Men in classical ballet have often been used to imitate or emphasize their female partners' dance movements. Women's bodies have more flexibility for jazz or contemporary dance. Women dancers have provided a window through which women may have increased access to the male-dominated arts.
Women Musicians: On the Rise
In the music world, women have made astonishing strides. In the 1974-75 season, women made up almost one-fourth of the total performers in major orchestras (those with a budget over $1 million). Ton years before, they made up only about 18%. The primary reason for this gain is that one-third of all major orchestras hold preliminary auditions behind a screen, and more are incorporating the practice every year. Blind screening was apparently important in the Johann Sebastian Bach International Competition in August, 1975. The judges were separated from the contestants by a seven-foot shadowproof screen, and access to the piano was across a thick rug that dulled footsteps. The judges tallied points in full view of the audience. When the winner was announced, a 31-year-old woman stepped forward. One judge stated:
I am amazed the winner is a woman, because not only did she play with the authority and assurance of a man, but she also demonstrated such a strong intellectual grasp of this architectural and monumental musical masterpiece ...
Women artists are working together to encourage blind auditions and jurying of art shows, to form cooperative galleries, and to pressure the media into integrating women. The tremendous advances made when juries and boards review work without knowledge of the artist's sex shows that women's traditionally minor role in the arts is not the result of lack of commitment or talent.