Don't put your daughter on the stage

Michael's picture

Don't put your daughter on the stage, Mrs Worthington, wrote Noel Coward in 1947. Till the early twentieth actors, actresses and all things to do with theatre were considered unseemly as a career choice. Actors were often conflated with 'rogues', 'vagabonds' and 'loose women' as an underclass. The twentieth century saw a paradigm shift whereby  an acting career could bring fame and fortune, and  actresses and actors like Vanessa Redgrave and Ronald Reagan could enter politics without having their characters impugned. 

Apparently there are 'acceptable' roles and there are roles that disenfranchise women. When Lenore Zann announced she was standing as a New Democrat (social democrat) candidate in Nova Scotia, Canada, political opponents sent 'nude'photographs of her to the media . Reality check reveals that the so-called 'nude' photos show part of an exposed breast (Janet Jackson is apparently not forgotten) in a scene from 'The L Word' , a television programme that deals with lesbian issues. 

Is Ms Zann's crime, the one tht makes her unsuitable to represent the people in her community in government, (a) she is female, (b) she is an actress, (c) she appeared in a role that dealt with homosexuality, (d) she agreeed to play a role that required partial exposure of a breast, (e) all of the above?

There are clealry a number of issues here which cannot be unpacked because politics is apparently about discrediting your opponents regardless of method or principle. But they are still issues that deserve our attention. In no particular order; Would this have happened if she were male?; Is being in the arts still considered unseemly and unworthy of the the gravity of political life?; Are the roles one plays likely to lead to discrimination in later life?; Is homophobia still rampant in politics?; and are women's (but not men's) breasts, or even parts of them still considered weapons of mass moral destruction? 

Or should we simply dismiss this as mere political sleaze and simply the behaviour one should expect of elected political representatives and their agents. Either way, one can only hope that Ms Zann is elected with an overwhelming majority or these questions will linger on and act as a disincentive to others who might even marginally be considerd not to be leading (let alone depicting) the exemplary dominant cultural roles celebrating  'community standards' and 'family values'. Whatever the outcome, Ms Zann faces difficulties. If she is elected it should be on her abilities not alleged scandal and backlash, and once these questions are raised they never really go away.

Perhaps all aspiring politicians on stage or screen should carefully consider any roles that are not those of heros and heroines, or depict any character flaws. It is unclear if that leaves anyone unscathed, or whether it will rapidly lead to numbing blandness in the arts, for fear of offence and discrimination.