One Thing More #WakingTheFeminists closing speech, Abbey Theatre

One Year Later, 1800 homeless women live here in Ireland.

One Year Later, over 1000 women live in direct provision here.

Over 3,000 women here have had to travel abroad for an abortion.

And the time to close the gender pay gap globally has widened to 170 years.

One Year Later, I had wanted to talk of Hope, but the outrage remains.

Making theatre is a privilege – it’s not life or death. Behind each of these numbers is a woman in a life or death situation. If we can’t make room for the marginalised to share their own voice from our stages, then what the hell are we here for?

If any of you doubted the real-world consequences of permitting male characters such wide ranging scope to do whatever they want and still be credible figures of power, while vastly restricting female characters’ access to powerful identities:  LOOK AT WHAT JUST HAPPENED [US election result].  That came from our CULTURE.  WE shape our culture, and how we shape it has consequences.

Women are central to the great events and issues of our time.   Our place is not at the cultural periphery, because inequality of voice compounds the inequality of our power.  Exclusion festers until it explodes. Listening to predominantly male narratives, is not only delusional, it’s dangerous. In failing half our talent, we fail our art, we fail our culture, and we fail our society.

Attentive listening and inclusion of other voices is a powerful restorative. Equality is not a luxury we can afford to defer. Equality is a muscle that improves with Feminism and exercising Feminism daily strengthens everyone of us.

Getting in touch with my own dormant feminist muscle through #WakingTheFeminists has been an immense privilege and a transformative experience.  Each of us working on the campaign will carry this learning into every area of our future endeavours. It will not be lost.

To female artists, this year you have heard loud and clear – your gender does not make you less capable of creating extraordinary theatre.  Your voice is vital, and we need it. The flaw is not in YOUR talent or ability, it is in our perception of it.  LOOK AT THIS, THIS IS WHAT COLLABORATIVE, FEMINIST POWER LOOKS LIKE, and it is a JOYOUS, playful, inclusive thing.

To male artists, thank you for listening and thank you for your support, for recognising value of #WakingTheFeminists in all our creative lives. I hope you understand that this movement is about expanding all our opportunities and talents, not diminishing anyone’s. We welcome hearing more from you in this conversation, because all want the same thing really – to live creative lives to our fullest potential.   

Now, the point of any public campaign of protest is to get a seat at the table – to rebalance the power.  All year, week after week, those of us organising #WakingTheFeminists have been pulling up chairs at all sorts of tables. We have found ourselves at tables we never imagined we’d be sitting at!  So that when you sit down to do your artistic work, you can do so in greater confidence that you will have a fair and equal chance that it will meet the audience it deserves.

And with that opportunity comes responsibility. Women of the theatre –  make your work with an urgency like never before. Take on this research as a creative challenge, not a fait accompli.  Be more ambitious than ever – equality can only be achieved with your full participation and your creative curiosity.  Be brave, be big, be rigorous, but as writer Danai Gurira says: Get It Done.

The research shows us where we can improve. It’s not about blame. It shows none of us are immune to bias.  Numbers are important, but they are not the whole story.  Awareness and action need to work hand in hand. No one organisation can do this alone.   Implementing widely initiatives like the Abbey’s visionary Guiding Principles on Gender Equality will help.

We all have an individual responsibility, AND there is additional onus on our leaders to ensure the appropriate practices to support this change are activated. It’s not just the right thing to do, it’s the law.

Section 42 of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission Act 2014 places a positive duty on public sector bodies to have regard to the need to eliminate discrimination, promote equality, and protect human rights, in their daily work.

This applies to all bodies financed, even partially, with public money.

To all of you, and especially to you leaders of companies, I know, through all our conversations this year, that each of you believe passionately in equality in your hearts. Together we can to figure out with our heads, how to put what’s in our hearts on our stages. We are not defined by these statistics we have seen here today – use them as a springboard not a weight.

This public phase of #WakingTheFeminists is drawing to a close, it has done its job as rocket fuel for this movement. But, we all know there is more to be done. What comes next is slower and more deliberative, because true change takes time and collective, careful attention to be deeply rooted.

In order to manage the legacy project, we have set up a temporary non-profit company. It’s two aims are to publish the research, and to establish a learning programme in gender equality. Later today, we are coming together with our colleagues in the theatre to continue that work.

Last year we asked you t’ Stand with Us. This year we’re inviting you to make equality a reality within 5 years. Today is our momentous opportunity for leadership. Each one of you decides how this story, this history, plays out – WE have it in our collective power to be the first theatre community in the world to attain and sustain full gender equality. Imagine what that would be like.

All inequality is an outrage. Rage out against it in determination without despair until there is nothing to be outraged about. In this chaotic global moment, let’s open up – ignite ALL our stages with big complex messy conversations, using ALL our talent, ALL our genders, ALL our diversity. Make our theatre a beacon for equity, not a bystander to a burning world. International Women’s Day 2021 beckons us. LET’S GET IT DONE.

Achieving a Feminist Republic, Mansion House

Talk given to Labour Women

What more needs to be done in order for us to really live in a Feminist Republic?

I’ve recently had conversations with with three female top executives in major leading corporate companies – companies dedicated to achieving gender equality. One explained that over one month, she had been the only female in every single meeting she had attended. Another outlined that while they are making progress in this area, it’s incremental, and not seeing it happen fast enough is demoralising. They say they’ve been inspired by the #WakingTheFeminists movement.

Yet, their stories, and stories about countless women like them, changing their world day by day, are not reaching our main stages or screens or airwaves. I’m fed up sitting politely in theatres regularly having to translate the protagonist’s experience to my gender. It’s not that there aren’t any great lead roles for women in theatre. It’s more that those roles tend to be women who kill their children, shoot themselves or throw themselves under a train. ‘Strong woman as cautionary tale.’ What if we expanded the narrative? What if we had a theatrical reference for Hillary Clinton other than Lady Macbeth?

The republic has to be imagined before it can be created. We create ourselves through stories. To achieve a feminist republic within the next 20 years we need to create imaginative spaces that allow us to explore that possibility, exactly the kind of space that the arts can and should provide. #WakingTheFeminists, Women In Film and Television, Women on Air, Composing The Feminists, Women in Advertising, all know in our bones and our everyday working lives – as women, we’re continually culturally famished.

Boys and men are spoon-fed their cultural icons and heroes, breakfast, dinner and tea. If we want a feminist future, then we have to start a more balanced cultural diet across all artforms. Girls have precious few external structures from which to build positive complex versions of ourselves as women.

It matters who is in charge of our stories, and who is doing the telling. Women’s cultural space matters as much as our political space, our economic space, and our physical space. These all work together to either diminish or affirm our humanity and equality. As a society we cannot be economically rich while we remain culturally impoverished.

A snapshot of our deficient cultural diet: 11% of history is written about women; less than 15% of plays on our main stages are written or directed by women; less than 28% women’s voices are heard on air; less than 16% of our films are written or directed by women.  In some cases the statistics for women’s work have diminished, not increased over time.  We can go backwards as easily as we go forwards – there is no such thing as a ‘natural’ progression towards equality over time. Just ‘waiting our turn’ is not going to work.

Yet women are the majority of ticket buyers and audience members in our theatres, but a minority as far as what happens on our stages. This damages our collective ability to advance – inequality of voice, inequality of visibility, perpetuates an inequality of power. Equality legislation and policies, as fundamentally important as they are, only give us the possibility of equality, not the actuality. They are a starting point, the danger is the destination is on a eternally receding horizon. Equality in principle must be back up by equality in practice.

#WakingTheFeminists aim is simple: Equality for women in Irish theatre. Equal opportunity, equal advancement, equal pay, safe workplaces, childcare – you’ve heard it all before. The theatre community is small, but its reach is wide – and we hope that what we achieve will impact beyond the theatre world.

So, we need more stories by and about women, told from a woman’s perspective throughout our culture, reaching wider audiences, performed in prominent places, more often. Otherwise there is no strong counter-narrative to the dominant patriarchy and its constant feedback loop affirming male dominance. We need to make it normal, not exceptional to listen to female voices.

And what women have to say through our artistic work is not just for a female audience, it’s for everyone, in as much as male work is assumed to be for everyone. And, yes, there is quality in equality! Meritocracy remains a fallacy until there is full equality of access and opportunity  – it’s only effective on even playing field. It’s one of those tricky ways language is used to exclude women from advancement.
On the morning of the 12th Nov last, as I waited to go on Morning Ireland, discussing the matter with a government minister in the green room, he commented,   ‘but surely it’s about picking the best plays.’   It should be, but it’s not. You can’t rise on merit if someone else’s unacknowledged privilege is prioritised. The flaw is not in the talent and ability of our female artists, (scientists, politicians, economists, etc.) It is in our perception of them, steeped in a culture that does not value women.

There are many deep and subtle causes, structural and systemic, that contribute towards gender inequality, and the solutions are complex. Unconscious bias is everywhere. Inequality is a socially transmitted disease. Without the tools and training in the practicalities of addressing gender inequality, and the focused participation of leaders, nothing will actually change. Awareness is not enough. Only by taking rapid, extensive, and sustained measures to adjust our perception will we achieve herd immunity to this disease.  

As well as commissioning groundbreaking quantitative research, #WakingTheFeminists are working with leading theatre organisations in order to set up policies, assessment plans, and training programmes that will address several aspects of the issue. From these actions we have to see results – soon.  We co-exist in a globally connected community, and we will achieve our aims faster by working together.  

While the Abbey found itself at the centre of a maelstrom last November, since then its reaction has been astonishing. The Board have developed and adopted several key principles to address inequality, that are visionary, far-reaching and practical. Combined, they place gender equality at the centre of the organisation. They understand it has to be addressed first at highest level – it’s a board responsibility, and then to be implemented at every level. I am fortunate as I join the Board, not to have to be the lone voice for gender equality, because they have all gone on that journey and fully embraced it. Because Lian Bell started a conversation we’d all been waiting for.

Ultimately, though, at its very heart it’s simple. Danai Gurira actor, and playwright of the Tony award-winning play Eclipsed speaking at the Lilly Awards in NY, gave this wonderful advice to women writers: ‘Go where you are loved.’  Hearing this, to me, it correlates that we must have structures, institutions, companies and champions that love women and want them to succeed. Love, in the respect, listening, encouragement, trust way, not in the ‘oh, you’re so hot’ way.

Finding ourselves as accidental activists with #WakingTheFeminists, here’s what we’ve learned so far:

  • Be publicly vocal on every platform and at every opportunity
  • Demonstrate the real impact on women’s lives
  • Place accountability at the top of governance and with leadership
  • Make specific and achievable asks that address structural inequality
  • Empower others to speak out, tell their story, get organised, and take personal and collective action
  • Include men in the conversation
  • No blame, focus on solutions we can all be responsible for
  • Meet weekly, use Slack (it’s a brilliant app)
  • Be clear about the issues and back them up with statistics
  • Count the numbers to change them
  • Listen for what’s going on under the surface as power dynamics begin to shift
  • Move fast, but understand that lasting change takes patient negotiation to achieve
  • Create space, time and training for people to learn about the issues and co-create the solutions
  • Create mutual amplification with sister causes
  • Have Meryl Streep in your corner, [Meryl makes everything better!]


While it feels like there’s been a huge shift in our cultural consciousness, it’s easy to forget that nothing has objectively changed yet: male artists are still in the vast majority on our main stages. As a former producer, there’s nothing like setting a date for Opening Night. #WakingTheFeminists have set a deadline of five years to achieve full gender equality in Irish Theatre.

It’s quite probable that another 100 years could pass without achieving a fully feminist republic. We need to rapidly accelerate the pace of change across all our institutions. Set a deadline. Make achieving gender equality a stated priority at every opportunity.

Finally, women of the theatre will no longer fade into the wings. We will not wait.  The stakes too high for us, we’ve lost so much already. They are too high for you, and for every other woman out there trying to make her way in the world, to allow the status quo to continue.  No woman should wait for her voice to be heard, for her body to be fully her own, for her wages to be equal, for her full potential to be recognised.  We must disrupt the culture. The time for action, the time for equality is NOW. To change the future, change the story.