Theatre is primarily participated in by females–as you can tell from my community-based podcast where only females responded–and that is why I thought it would be interesting to examine theatre from a feminist perspective. Is the reason theatre is valued less than sports not the activities themselves, but those involved?
Now, I had the above paragraph open on my computer for all of spring break. A constant reminder to write more, but for the life of me, I couldn’t decide how to go about it. Finally–with the quarter almost at a close and another piece of my deep dive nearly due–I decided to start with history. I thought that maybe history could tell me how theatre went from being male-dominated to being considered feminine. History (at least according to Wikipedia) failed me. It was very interesting and I hope to write about it (I mean the Spanish Golden Age of Theatre–how had no one mentioned this to me before?!) but it didn’t have any conclusive answers. Theatre wasn’t as male-dominated as Shakespearean study might indicate. With the exception of England, many civilizations allowed actresses historically. So, there was no clear story there–history had only succeeded in distracting me. So, what on Earth could I write about?
Finally, I realized. What does theatre have that sports doesn’t? What is it that men aren’t supposed to have, that women are often deemed “crazy” for having too many of?
Quite frankly, this thought blew me away. And maybe that’s because I was up way too late, but let’s indulge me. If emotions are the reason that theatre is “feminine” doesn’t that essentially mean that toxic masculinity is at the root of yet another societal standard?
If you consider it, it makes a lot of sense. Because one thing about theatre that I haven’t mentioned, is that despite being “effeminate,” most shows have more male roles than female roles. How is it that it’s acceptable for men to act (not to mention write and produce shows) but not for teenagers? What if the reason high school boys are so afraid of theatre is simply because they haven’t developed enough to be able to have such a complex relationship with emotions? I mean, stereotypically, doesn’t it make a lot more sense for a teenage boy to want to tackle someone than put themselves in someone else’s shoes?
Okay, so let’s think about this. Theatre becomes female dominated because boys don’t know how to process emotions. Then–rather than admit this–boys pretend that theatre itself is inherently feminine. And, because the gender ratio is so unbalanced, it becomes harder for boys to try out for theatre, for fear of seeming inmasculine, so the femininity increases. So the disparity in enthusiasm for theatre versus sports really does boil down to toxic masculinity?
Well, given everything we know about society, are we really surprised by the notion that our preference for one discipline is due to gender roles? And thinking about myself, I remember trying to do sports (pretending to be interested in a rolling ball, trying to be coordinated, etc.) versus trying to do theatre (and immediately loving it). At seven, I probably couldn’t have told you that I preferred the sensitivity of an emotional-driven medium to the violence of sports. I probably would’ve told you that I liked talking more than I liked being hit by a soccer ball. But aren’t both true?
Now, I will pause here to say I’ve never understood the allure of sports. With the exception of fencing (a sport of strategy and stabbing!), I have never enjoyed playing or watching any sport. I only attended one football game in all of high school and I only went as an excuse to take photos with my friends. But even the many actors and actresses who participate in both sports and theatre would probably agree with my assessment.
Athletes–regardless of gender–don’t need to understand their emotions to be successful. In fact, to my understanding, some unexplored anger can be beneficial for pushing through a sport. Actors and actresses, however, must be able to understand the emotions of an imaginary person. While this can be done through replication, true acting involves believing the reality of a character and experiencing it. If you are closed off to your own emotions, you certainly cannot experience the emotions of another. To be a masterful actor, you must be in tune with your own emotions.
And, when it comes down to it, I think this is the difference between the athlete and the actor. It’s not the dedication or the athleticism, it is simply the emotional maturity. So when we remember that theatre is less valued than athletics, let’s remember that it’s not because of the gender ratio. It’s because of the inherent femininity of emotions and the societal rejection of both emotions and femininity.