Christine Payne explains how her union Equity is fighting for gender equality across the entertainment industry
Throughout the entertainment industry there is a hard-fought battle for gender equality going on, and Equity members are leading the way.
The precarious nature of the work, the industry’s tendency to discard talented women after they either have children or turn 40 and the type of roles the industry repeatedly requires women to fulfil means we face many challenges.
We are striving to create an industry where women are represented in equal proportion to men but also one that challenges stereotypes and facilitates wider societal change.
Equity does not pass moral or artistic judgement on the content of work created by our membership, and due to the performer’s role in the artistic process, there is often not a lot of space for them to challenge the propensity of the industry to reproduce certain gendered, racialised and other stereotypes in film, television and theatre.
That said, Equity’s women’s committee welcomed the documentary film Miss Representation which examines women’s role across media in the United States.
Upon seeing this film one can see the power, influence and money accumulated as a result of the exploitation of women’s bodies.
While the film focuses on primarily US media, which exists in a different social and historical context, in Britain we are facing similar challenges.
In Miss Representation one commenter states: “You cannot be what you cannot see” and this is entirely true.
Why is it that for every two roles for men, there is one role for women?
Why is it that women who work in the performance arts, from actors, to dancers, to models, so often need to conform to an idealised and sometimes unattainable image of flawless beauty?
What about women’s intellect, strength and resilience?
The Ford sewing machinists’ strike of 1968, the true story behind the film Made in Dagenham, highlights the greatness of women’s power to act collectively and create positive, tangible changes in the world.
This strike was pivotal in the lead-up to the Equal Pay Act 1970 and it demonstrated that not only are women important in the workforce, they are important to the trade union movement as a whole.
It is positive to see this proud story in feminist trade union history become a part of the popular consciousness again, and to see Equity women as a focal point of our stages and screens.
Equity’s women’s committee is working to improve the gendered nature of our industry.
It has petitioned to improve representation in film and television, it tirelessly pushed for publicly funded arts organisations to implement a system of equalities monitoring of our stages and screens, and it recently made childcare central to its work to improve our industry for the women who work in it.
There is still work to be done. Equity is committed to moving forward gendered issues in the performance arts, to highlighting and celebrating the breadth and depth of talented women working in our industry and to organising in an industry which is also an agent for social change.
Christine Payne is general secretary of arts and entertainment union Equity. For more information about Miss Representation visit the website.