Dispatches from the Awesome Lady Squad #4: On the topic what we’d like to see instead


Yesterday I reviewed the last meeting of the most Awesome-est of Lady Squads and I ended with a section called:

What we’d like to see instead

This section for me is key.

I believe in the power of talking and sharing and creating a sense of community in perspective. But I value even more the ability to take the power of that sense of community and perspective and identify problems and find awesome ways to solve them. Tackling the issues we identify, this is for me what elevates support into a sense of empowerment. It’s the thing that brings me back to my super lofty goal for us Awesome Ladies: To make Philadelphia a model city for how women work in the arts. Some part of that will be discussion of the problems we face. But I hope a much bigger part is piece by piece finding concrete projects to start tackling them.

And I find that the easiest way to get to that new place is to have a vision of what it might be. So in identifying how to best channel the building energy of the Awesome Lady Squad I started with a line from the  “What we’d like to see instead” category and coupled it with a concrete projects to help start to accomplish it.

This is the list I came up with:

The “What we’d like to see instead”

–       A re-framing of how we look at each other as female artists. Replacing the model of scarcity and competition to a model of abundance.

A project that could help us get there:

–       Create a concise and clear code of ethics for how the Awesome Lady Squad. Inspired by the Core Principles of Artist U this document should contain clear and simple guidelines that underpin the way Awesome Lady Squad members promise to work with each other and the world around them. It is an agreement that details the ways we can model the behavior we want to see around us.

The “What we’d like to see instead”

–       More models of women in roles of leadership and success in the arts. Seeing female artists successful in their practices. A commitment by established artists to identify and foster talent in emerging female art makers.

Two projects that could help us get there:

–       Foster an Awesome Lady Squad Recruit! This could include: creating an survey for young artists to talk about interest areas that is then used to pair them with artists and administrators already working in the field, “Take an Emerging Lady to work day” in which young creators get to shadow women doing their awesome professional thing in action, and/or an “Ask the Lady Squad Anything” advice column in which new Squad members send their questions to the email list in search of advice.

–       An Awesome Lady Arts Administrators caucus. Bring together women who already get to make choices about the work they make and produce (as self producers or as a member of a larger company) and talk about how they can use that leverage for positive gain.

The “What we’d like to see instead”

–       Skills to handle tough conversations about gender parity. A way to talk about this that doesn’t become apologetic or defensive. Something to say when I sense people starting to roll their eyes.

–       The ability to say no to a project that doesn’t conform to my moral code.

Three projects that could help us get there:

–       A “manifesto” of the AwLaSq that details in a fuller form the believes and aims of its members. Defining your core principles specifically will help when you have to articulate them to others

–       A workbook or simple writing project that helps codify and set bars for situations you will and won’t tolerate artistically that you can come back to when trying to decide if you want to take part in a new project.

–       Conversation toolkits and practice. Just like a business negotiation, knowing that you’ve done this thing before is half the battle. This task force will identify such potentially sticky moments and help craft language and talking points that are clear and concise. It will also identify the potential counter arguments and possible responses. These “toolkits” could be downloadable online. We could also organize a session where people simulate these conversations with others coaching from the outside so that there is a low stakes situation to practice so they are more confident and comfortable in the moment.

The “What we’d like to see instead”

–       Female directors, designers, administrators and actors represented in equal numbers.

A project that could help us get there:

–       Create a symbol of Awesome Lady Approval for arts organizations that meet a certain minimum set of Awesome Lady requirements. Before minimum wage was mandated if you were an employer willing to pay a certain wage you could display a certain color flag. What if Philly had a stamp that you could put in your program, on your door, in your marketing material that indicated that your company had a commitment to women in the artistic community? Using this positive reinforcement, we could also find ways to make sure our audience bases understood what this symbol means and to help promote the theaters that make this commitment.

The “What we’d like to see instead”

–       More awareness of the size and scope of the problem.

Two projects that could help us get there:

–       Create an Awesome Lady Squad shirt. Make it something awesome that you will definitely want to share with the world. Then make a promise that any time you wear it and someone sees it and asks about it you stop and take a second to share a bit about the vision of the squad. Possible offshoots:

  • Use any proceeds to fund childcare at future Awesome Lady Squad events
  • Organize a city-wide Awesome Lady Squad “shirt-in” day to show the size and reach of all the awesome ladies that live and work here

–       A marketing effort in conjunction with our other projects (like the gender report card or Awesome Lady approval symbol) to help reach not only fellow creative sector workers but audiences as a whole. Use the model of the DC based female playwright initiative to create powerful marketing leverage that makes it Awesome and sexy to be a part of the movement.

The “What we’d like to see instead”

–       A genuine curiosity in discussions we have with people about these issues. Figuring out what’s really motivating the choices that undercut female artists and getting at them. Not assuming the worst of our peers even if they display behavior we don’t approve of.

A project that could help us get there:

–       Create a “Gender Parity Report Card”:

  • Develop a set of standards as a Squad for what poor, mediocre and outstanding work at creating equal opportunity for Awesome Ladies looks like.
  • Gather measurable, concrete, data to evaluate artistic producers in Philly and then create an awesome and well-articulated assessment of that data we share with these companies along with an invitation for dialogue about the results.
  • The key here is to find out 1) if theaters know their own stats in this regard 2) if there are trends that might indicate a lack of opportunity for women if they are willing to dialogue about how and why such trends occur 3) if they are willing to make a commitment to change

The “What we’d like to see instead”

–       A way to share these issues with my male colleagues. A means by which they can help support these issues when they see them.

A project that could help us get there:

–       Bring together an Awesome Lady Squad support team: Set up a meeting that includes a discussion forum specifically for guys who think the Awesome Lady Squad is awesome. Talk about ways that they can become Awesome Lady Allies and strategize about means through which they can help. Give them some of the tools we offer the core members so that they can go and spread the Awesome word.

And finally:

The “What we’d like to see instead”

–       Funding targeted for women that doesn’t carry a social change element.

–       Non-traditional funding opportunities and alternate way to fund and produce work

–       Subversion of some of the power systems that currently undercut the issues we’ve discussed. Starting a conversation on “this is the way that funding has worked” and “here’s how it might work in the future”

A project that could help us get there:

–       An Awesome Lady Grants and Funding Task Force that:

  • Meets and discusses what might be problematic about certain kinds of funding structures
  • Strategizes about ways to approach funders about these concerns
  • Envisions and articulates the kinds of funding we would wish in Philadelphia for the future and shares this vision with the funding community
  • Works together to try and brainstorm and create alternatives to the current structures

These are what I envision as the first tangible steps towards seeing the “What we’d like to see instead.” And over the next year, they’ll be the ways the Lady Squad starts gathering energy and focus around all those things we discussed.

The next step is to figure out which of these takes our energy and focus first.

If you have thoughts about what should happen first, let me know.

If you have expertise in one of these areas and want to help out, let me know.

If you have a lot of passion about one of the items and want to get in on the ground floor, let me know.

If you don’t really care where we get started but are interested in helping to organize or send emails or type minutes or whatever just let me at it, let me know too.

And soon, let’s say in the next couple weeks, we’ll roll out the first phase of one or more of these…

Until then…



  1. I’m loving the code of ethics task (reframing how we see ourselves as female artists), and it yells out to me to be tackled on the early side. Count me in for the ground floor of this one!

  2. This is excellent. I am inspired by your work! We’re stumbling along here trying to do/achieve/build the same thing with Ladies of Triangle Theatre in North Carolina.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s