Why what happens to mums in the performing arts matters to all of us

 

A report out last week from Parents in the Performing Arts [PIPA] highlights the problems faced by parents in the performing arts – and most particularly women who, as elsewhere, continue to do most of the childcare for whatever reason that might be. Many are self employed and often rely on ad hoc childcare because that is the nature of the game and it is in large part because of this that it has taken a while for the profession to realise just what an impact parenting has on people’s ability to get work. The research by PIPA shows over eight out of 10 self-employed parents in the performing arts have had to turn down work as a result of a caring responsibility. That’s a lot of people.

But there are wider ramifications. If so many parents [mainly mums] have to turn down jobs because of practicalities like childcare and work patterns then how does that absence impact on the rest of us – those who consume the arts or those who are represented in them [which is potentially all of us if the arts are to show a true representation of society]?

Of course there are many reasons why older women – women of childbearing years, if you will – are not present in the arts: lack of good parts for older women [due to lack of opportunities for female writers/directors/producers], social prejudice against women [the idea that women past a certain age are no longer worth looking at – unless of course they are packed full of chemicals to ‘freshen’ them up] and so forth. But surely this is another. If women, and particularly women who don’t have the money to pay for ad hoc childcare, have also to pass up jobs because of logistics then the performing arts are all the poorer for that. Because women in their middle ages and older have a lot of terrific, dramatic, moving stories to tell. I interview these kind of women every single day and I can vouch for that.

But, as with other industries, it takes having sufficient mass of these women in all their diversity in all parts of the industry to ensure that those experiences are represented.

It’s not that arts organisations are resistant to addressing these issues. PIPA is a network of many and they are looking at how to overcome the barriers whether that is through setting up subsidised creches for actresses going for auditions or pushing for more flexible work patterns that better accommodate people with caring responsibilities. Too often work cultures have grown up based around a certain type of employee and they become entrenched because ‘things have always been done this way’. The same could be said of journalism or Westminster politics or any number of professions.

What PIPA is doing in questioning this culture is important work with potentially wide-reaching consequences.

*Mum on the run is Mandy Garner, editor of Workingmums.co.uk. Picture credit: PIPA.





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