Ladies with balls

Written on .

The page 3 headline screeches “Women set to shine as scandalised Hollywood does the honours”, and the story posits that women will do particularly well at the Oscars this time because the men that run the film industry have been shown to be sexual monsters who run their business with their pricks.

The inevitable questions are already past rhetorical – why didn’t the women concerned, or the male witnesses of it, speak out before? And why does it take a tsunami that makes Jimmy Savile look like an April shower for the accomplishments of female directors/actors/screenwriters/designers/score composers/producers and the rest to be recognised?

The problem is much deeper than we're prepared to go, it seems. It’s do with acceptance in all sectors and at all levels of a long set practice, however egregious that practice might be beneath what has been a very thick skin.

AI is currently featuring Karena Johnson, CEO and artistic director of Hoxton Hall in Hackney, who has programmed a three month season created entirely by women to acknowledge the centenary of the women’s vote, including a full musical about Victorian London’s girl gangs ( She knew it was going to be difficult, but not as difficult as it turned out to be. As she sought a woman to fill each job in the project she found that although they were there somewhere, even other women in the sector couldn’t guide her to them. It wasn’t, she says, that they didn’t want to, it was simply that they had become so used to working with men occupying the key roles, and that they had settled into a professional praxis that worked for them. Most particularly, comedy was a problem. Female comedians – I’m not calling them “comediennes” any more that I will talk about “actresses”, “directresses” or “artisettes” – seem to occupy Radio 4 panel games, TV reality programmes and even social documentaries, but they are controlled largely by male agents and producers who have their own perception of the audience and the kind of bookings their charges should have – the screen or arena platforms, not 227-seat Victorian venues. There is an understanding that lady comedians are funny, but in a different way, and behind the Perkinses and Calmans Karena found an ominous void. Instead she discovered Funny Women (, funny women who train other women who want to be funny to perform, write and do business, and which runs the annual Funny Women Awards and saved what was becoming a crisis for Hoxton Hall (and has now became its associate).

I know it happens elsewhere. Female composers, for instance, tend to be left out in the cold because even female performers and music directors won’t take a chance on music they don’t know – won’t even look at the score. And while five of the last eight Turner Prize winners have been women, we have had one director of a national museum or gallery, and she’s only been in post since June.

If it’s changing it is a shame on all of us, men and women, that gross sexual behaviour by men has allowed women’s professional talent to become evident.  What is depressing is that women will, perhaps, now get some of the credit that has been their due, but they’ll get it by women getting together to force the issue, not by women and men getting together because they mutually see something wrong that needs to be collectively righted. We really do have more in common than our sexual differences, and these scandals, insist.



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