We believe we live in an age of equality where men and women have an equal chance of success in whatever they choose to do. This is not always reflected though in the world of entertainment where women past the first flush of youth are often regarded as over the hill. The EU has now commissioned a report to discover if women over 40 are getting their fair share of opportunities in the world of television and theatre.
Many older actresses say they are passed over for younger women.
The performing arts is a world bursting with the young and the beautiful – all competing for their chance of fame and success. During their youth, opportunities for performing artists are roughly equal. But what happens when they reach the brink of middle age? Do opportunities for work in theatre and television continue on an equal level for both sexes or do they decline for women? Many actresses over 40 claim they are passed over in favour of younger women when applying for roles. If this is true where does this sexist divide arise and how can it be combated?
Global Union, the International Federation of Actors, has won EU backing of EUR 150 000 for a Europe-wide investigation into television and theatre opportunities for women over 40. 'Changing Gender Portrayal: Promoting Employment Opportunities for Women in the Performing Arts' will include a survey that will be given to each of Global Union’s affiliated entertainment unions in Europe. Members of Equity, the actors’ union, will be asked to describe the kind of roles they have recently played and what their playing age is. How women over 40 are portrayed in television and theatre will also be looked at. When the surveys are complete the results will be compared with those of other countries and discussed at a conference.
Jean Rogers, Equity vice president, who says that she has personal experience of being turned down for roles that have gone to younger actresses, says: 'Although men and women receive the same training as performers and are equally successful during their twenties, from around 35 to 40 onwards women’s job opportunities lessen and their careers begin to wane, unlike their male counterparts. Since TV, film and theatre should mirror nature, why should this be? There are as many women as men in the population, indeed more women, as the population ages.
There are parts that are not gender specific, such as lawyers or magistrates. How many times would the decision be made to make that a woman? Those are the kinds of decisions that make a difference.'
Martin Brown, Equity’s head of communications and membership support said the portrayal of women had been a concern of the union 'for many years'.
He added: 'We are delighted that European Union funding now makes serious research possible. The research will be particularly valuable because it will make comparisons across Europe possible.'