On the 4ooth anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, the BBC announced that they would be enforcing gender equality across all services. This seems to be a good thing, providing more work for women, more visibility in the arts, so encouraging more women to become involved, and pursue careers n the arts, and it follows the announcement in Australia of the same policy at the Sydney Theatre company.
But it is a stupid idea as it ignores centuries of drama in which women were marginal; in particular, they are few in number and generally of low status in the works of The Bard, so in order to balance this, they will have to either cast a lot of women in male roles, or broadcast loads of programmes with mostly female casts.
Friday’s ‘i’ paper gives us what seems to be the first of a new batch of commissions, that of a rewritten Watership Down:
News that the children’s novel Watership Down is being toned down for a new BBC adaptation to make it more suitable for children could be seen as political correctness gone mad.
But the novel’s author Richard Adams tells I he’s all for it. “I’m glad the new adaptation will be less bloody… Originally in the book, Bigwig was going to die to save the warren. I had the idea from the death of Elzevier Block in Moonfleet, the great story by J Made Falkner, but when I read that bit aloud to my children they protested so much that I changed it. I always wanted the book to appeal to children.”
Adams, 95, adds that plans by producers to “boost” the female characters are OK by him too. “I don’t object to the female rabbits having a more prominent role in the series,” he says.
I find this whole debate very worrying, as it seems to suggest that women were less visible in our histories due to some kind of widespread gender bias, rather than biological realities.
The fact is that in order to maintain any species, reproduction needs to occur, and this has involved the woman. Pregnancy means that she – whether human, rabbit or whatever, is unable to compete on an equal footing with men whilst pregnant and child-rearing. During times of war, famine, epidemics or other disasters, the role of producing children becomes more urgent, so the lives of females become even more dominated by their role in reproduction. This means that women are less visible in historical accounts, they were less active in the public sphere and they left fewer records. By rewriting history plays, by casting women in male roles, is to deny this reality, and presents a false idea of relationships between men and women, and in wider society for most of human history, indeed for many people on the planet, this gender imbalance continues.
There is plenty of poorly written history about, this will only add to the general ignorance of our past in the name of gender equality.