30th Aug 2012
Gina Goes Pop: The Festival Gender Divide
British summer time. Always glorious, right? We may not have long sunny days, but we do have a great assortment of festivals.
Music festivals still draw the biggest crowds, but arts, literary and spoken word events are increasingly popular. Festival Republic’s Latitude Festival is leading the way in major mixed arts events, bringing the boho vibe to the masses.
For festival and art lovers, things have never been better. But what’s the story behind those line-ups of literary luminaries? Are literature and arts festivals as inclusive as they make out?
No major event wants to be known for gender inequality. After all, women make up a hell of a lot of festival goers. We want to be represented in the line-up…right?
Let’s look at the stats. Latitude Festival is arguably the biggest mixed-arts festival in this country. It sets the trends when it comes to cool, bohemian summer vibes. But does it set the trend when it comes to equality?
As you can see from the graph, there were ninety artists performing in the poetry arena. Twenty of these were women. In the literary arena, there were similar levels of disparity. Not exactly fifty-fifty, is it?
Let’s compare Latitude to a smaller event. Like the name suggests, Ilkley Literature Festival is entirely focused on literature. Latitude is the bigger festival but Ilkley is all about the lit, so there’s more writers and performers involved.
There were 178 speakers all together, and 67 were women. Just over 37%. So still not fifty-fifty, but much closer than some of the others. For a lesser-known event, that’s pretty good going.
The data I have here is undeniably limited. These stats include major players in both the large-scale, national leagues, and more independent, regional events. Still, it’s a small sample size, and I accept that.
But the trends are kinda undeniable. And they seem to suggest that the bigger the event, the more significant the gender divide.
This isn’t necessarily the fault of festival programmers and promoters. Publishers and PRs will pay big bucks to get their clients name high up on the list. Awards also come in to play and we’ve covered those issues plenty of times on the site.
Big names get bums on seats. Festivals like Latitude pour millions of pounds in to their events, meaning they need to make millions out of them.
There are systemic social and cultural factors at work too. You only need to take a look at the latest VIDA counts to see that the mainstream media prioritises male authors. And that has a knock-on effect when it comes to those authors’ position in a wider context, like festival line-ups.
I’m not slamming the festivals I’ve highlighted. When it comes to showcasing women writers, the talent and access is obviously there. Manchester Lit Festival has Carol Ann Duffy, Zadie Smith, and Jeanette Winterson, while Latitude featured the likes of Penny Arcade and Patience Agbab.
For now, it’s a case of ‘must try harder’. It’s brilliant that such fantastic women writers are being given a platform at such prestigious large-scale arts events. But ideally they should be there in equal numbers to their male counterparts.
What do you think to the stats we’ve highlighted? Do you know a festival which bucks these trends? And which women writers have you been blown away by at festivals this summer?