By Erin Bregman
I currently wear two different hats in the Bay Area arts scene–one playwriting hat, and one teaching artist/director of Little Opera hat. Mostly the two roles are complementary, but when it comes to gender inequality there aren’t two hats–there are two universes. As a playwright, gender inequality conversations center around the question “Where are the women?” As a teaching artist, the question is the polar opposite: “Where are the boys?” For a field as culturally defining as the arts, the fact that either of these questions is at the forefront of my mind is troubling. But watching them play out as two pieces of the same puzzle is positively baffling.
My recruitment of boys for Little Opera thus far has been less than successful–of our fifteen students this season, three are boys, two of whom are returning students from last year. If this wasn’t part of a larger trend, I wouldn’t mind. The boys themselves don’t seem to care, and the girls in our class are becoming some of the most confidently creative kids I’ve ever taught. But this disparity in equal gender enrollment isn’t an isolated event. From the small amount of research I’ve done and the anecdotes I’ve heard, it seems to be endemic to nearly all arts learning programs across disciplines and ages, straight through to higher education. Take a peek at enrollment data* from a few of the top arts schools in the U.S.:
Boston Conservatory: 40% male; 60% female
Rhode Island School of Design: 32% male; 68% female
School of the Art Institute of Chicago: 4% male; 96% female
California College of the Arts: 39% male; 61% female
- Source: http://www.usnews.com/education
Some schools, like Berklee College of Music (70% male, 30% female) buck the trend, but they are more the exception than the rule. With women taking up so many seats in the arts training programs around the country, how is it possible that they are so under-represented professionally? Where is the magical change-over happening that turns a where-are-the-boys dilemma into a where-are-the-women issue?
The thing that confuses me most is just how vast the disparities are between educational and professional settings. This is not a shift that can be accounted for by a few women leaving the arts for something else, and a few men discovering an artistic side they never knew they had. This is an invisible avalanche of a change. Somehow, as a generation of artists reaches adulthood, it changes from an unmistakably female-dominated learning arena into a profession that is heavily male. You can see it in publishing, visual art, theater, and film. I want to know how, when, and why this shift happens. I can’t pretend to know the answer. I don’t. But I do know that I will continue asking the questions that may, eventually, lead me there.