Friday, September 21, 2007

All Krugman, all the time

Yes I know this is getting ridiculous, but Paul Krugman is just that good - and now he's no longer behind the pay wall!
One of my pet peeves about political reporting is the fact that some of my journalistic colleagues seem to want to be in another business – namely, theater criticism. Instead of telling us what candidates are actually saying – and whether it’s true or false, sensible or silly – they tell us how it went over, and how they think it affects the horse race. During the 2004 campaign I went through two months’ worth of TV news from the major broadcast and cable networks to see what voters had been told about the Bush and Kerry health care plans; what I found, and wrote about, were several stories on how the plans were playing, but not one story about what was actually in the plans
And while the pundits are doing theatre criticism, the theatre critics are doing punditry, as when Charles Isherwood said:
Affection for the enterprise is hard to resist, especially since the majority of the writers are women, who are chronically underrepresented on local stages. I’m not sure Ms. Healy’s relentlessly quirky exercise in neo-absurdism will win many converts to the cause, but the play can be granted a little leeway as part of a healthy, even inspirational exercise in authorial self-determination.
It's no secret that what both Isherwood and Ben Brantley want is brutal manly masculine plays, and they always look at plays by women as BY WOMEN. Women are very much still The Other in NYC theatre. You can see it in the way that Brantley contemptuously dismisses another play by a woman:
But the story approaches these topical matters with a calm, open mind and a tidy, symmetrical structure that balances and parallels different points of view. It’s like the Platonic ideal of a Lifetime television movie.
Lifetime, you may not know, is a TV channel aimed at women. To compare a play to a TV show on a women's network is about the most dismissive thing Brantley could think of to say about it. The men who still run theatre in NYC - and the women who mindlessly accept the rules, abide by the the idea that men's experiences = human condition while women's experiences = silly and stupid and unkewl.
Mostly what this is about though, is what I will call the Goldin-Rouse effect. When the producer of art is known to be a woman, the art produced is automatically rated lower than art produced by men. Here is the Goldin-Rouse study:
Blind auditions for symphony orchestras have contributed to a substantial increase in the number of women who have secured these positions, according to Cecilia Rouse, assistant professor of economics and public affairs.

In a blind audition, a screen is placed so that the evaluator can hear but not see the performer. While screens in final rounds of auditions are still uncommon, the use of screens in preliminary rounds is now a wide-spread practice, Rouse said.

She used personnel records and rosters from several symphony orches-tras to track the hiring of women musicians as orchestras adopted the practice of blind auditions during the 1970s and 1980s. Her findings are presented in "Orchestrating Impar-tiality: The Impact of 'Blind' Auditions on Female Musicians" (Working Paper #376 of the Industrial Relations Section, coauthored with Claudia Goldin of Harvard).

"The switch to blind auditions can explain between 30 percent and 55 percent of the increase in the propor-tion female among new hires and between 25 percent and 46 percent of the increase in the percentage female in the orchestras from 1970 to 1996," according to the study, which was based on a final analysis sample of 14,133 individuals and 592 audition segments.

The study found that the practice of blind auditions increased by 50 percent the probability that women would advance out of certain preliminary rounds. "The screen also enhances, by severalfold, the likelihood that a female contestant will be the winner in the final round," the authors noted.

And as Elizabeth Spelke, in her mighty smiting of evolutionary psychology asshole Steven Pinker (you don't think he's an asshole? At a future date I will count the ways) noted that in general, females are less likely to be given the benefit of the doubt:
What about the average successful vita, though: that is to say, the kind of vita that professors most often must evaluate? In that case, there were differences. The male was rated as having higher research productivity. These psychologists, Steve's and my colleagues, looked at the same number of publications and thought, "good productivity" when the name was male, and "less good productivity" when the name was female. Same thing for teaching experience. The very same list of courses was seen as good teaching experience when the name was male, and less good teaching experience when the name was female. In answer to the question would they hire the candidate, 70% said yes for the male, 45% for the female. If the decision were made by majority rule, the male would get hired and the female would not.

A couple other interesting things came out of this study. The effects were every bit as strong among the female respondents as among the male respondents. Men are not the culprits here. There were effects at the tenure level as well. At the tenure level, professors evaluated a very strong candidate, and almost everyone said this looked like a good case for tenure. But people were invited to express their reservations, and they came up with some very reasonable doubts. For example, "This person looks very strong, but before I agree to give her tenure I would need to know, was this her own work or the work of her adviser?" Now that's a perfectly reasonable question to ask. But what ought to give us pause is that those kinds of reservations were expressed four times more often when the name was female than when the name was male.

So there's a pervasive difference in perceptions, and I think the difference matters. Scientists' perception of the quality of a candidate will influence the likelihood that the candidate will get a fellowship, a job, resources, or a promotion. A pattern of biased evaluation therefore will occur even in people who are absolutely committed to gender equity.
Theatre critics see mediocre plays all the time, by male and female authors. What I am suggesting is that they, like the professors in the above study, are more likely to give male authors of mediocre work the benefit of the doubt. I will provide one example, which I originally dicussed in my essay "The Last Manly Man Playwright":
the opening paragraph of Michael Feingold's review in the Village Voice:
Despite my admiration for Adam Rapp's writing, I've stayed away from his plays the last few years—no easy task, given his prolific output—because they were starting to give me the locked-in feeling of a gifted artist endlessly circling round and round the same material, looking for someplace else to go but uncertain what direction to take next. In Rapp's case, this sense of imprisonment was particularly grueling because of the relentless sordidness in his work: characters always at the bottom of life, actions always the harshest and ugliest.

Rapp is such a gifted artist that Feingold's been avoiding his plays!

And that sums up the theatre world in NYC in 2007. Which is why, over a hundred and fifty years after Charlotte Bronte adopted the gender-hazy pen name Currer Bell, it might still be a good idea for female playwrights to avoid revealing their gender as long as possible.

Speaking of Bronte, my adaptation of Jane Eyre will be produced this February.