It’s no secret that sexism is still prevalent in many sectors of today's society, such as in educational institutions, workplaces and even onstage. But despite many high schools and college-level theater programs being female-dominated, women still do not always receive equal support.
Reflecting on her acting experience, theater freshmen Jewell Redman felt that back in high school there was more pressure on women to be better than there was on men. The abundance of women in Redman’s theater program made it much more difficult for women to get a role, therefore, creating tension among females in the cast.
“It’s much easier for a guy to get a part, or get a lead role, even if he’s not as good,” Redman said. “It’s a lot more difficult for women to be able to stand together and also receive roles that they deserve.”
As we celebrate Women's History Month to recognize the contributions and struggles of women throughout history, women from Michigan State's theater school share their past experiences of facing discrimination on the basis of gender.
Theater freshmen Meleah Acuff, who has participated in acting projects her entire life, said she started realizing the discrimination she had faced growing up much later as she would reflect back on all the times.
“When I was younger in middle school, our theater teachers were both male," Acuff said. "They kind of prioritized the boys over the girls, and I never really thought anything of it. But it's crazy now that I think back over it."
Acuff recalled her middle school teachers used to put a lot of time tutoring male actors while simply telling girls to just learn their part. Acuff reasoned this may be because the directors thought performing came more naturally to women.
“Maybe they think it’s easy for us or something, but we definitely weren't getting as much attention as the boys," Acuff said.
Freshman acting major Tessa Kresch, who has been performing in theaters since age seven, has also noticed men receiving priority in theater, especially since they are fewer in number.
“I went to a pretty small high school, so everyone knew the handful of men who were talented, and they were a small number of guys,” she said. “They would usually base the shows that they do the next year around them and around their talents, and then fill in the women later.”
Like Redman, Kresch also noticed this increasing competition among the women in the program.
“There were a lot more women, so roles were a lot more competitive,” Kresch said. “For men it felt less about the talent and more about the looks, or just having a guy in general. They usually were valued more even if they were not on task or something because there were less of them."
While theater can create an environment that puts women head to head, Redman emphasized the importance of women continuing to pursue theater.
“I think it’s a really important thing for women to do, especially because in the past they weren’t able to," Redman said. "I think that women in theater is a beautiful thing. Seeing women onstage and film is just amazing for me, and I think others love that too."
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