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  • Why do we think

  • that stories by men are deemed to be of universal importance,

  • and stories by women are thought to be merely about women?

  • My grandmother left school when she was 12.

  • She had 14 children.

  • My mother left school when she was 15.

  • She was a secretary.

  • I graduated from university to become a theater director,

  • and that progress is entirely to do with the fact that people I'll never meet

  • fought for women to have rights,

  • get the vote, get education, have progress.

  • And I'm determined to do the same, and obviously you are, too.

  • Why not?

  • (Applause)

  • So I started a festival called WOW, Women of the World, seven years ago,

  • and it's now in 20 countries across five continents.

  • And one of those countries is Somaliland in Africa.

  • So I traveled there last year,

  • and part of the joy I had in going there was going to these caves.

  • The Laas Geel caves.

  • Now, these caves contain some of the oldest cave paintings in the world.

  • These paintings are thought to be round about 9,000 to 11,000 years old.

  • Art:

  • what humanity has done ever since it evolved.

  • It's how we speak about ourselves,

  • how we understand our identity,

  • how we look at our surroundings,

  • who we find out about each other

  • because of the meaning of our lives.

  • That's what art is for.

  • So look at this little picture.

  • I think it's a little girl.

  • I thought it was a bit like me when I was a little girl.

  • And I thought, well, who painted this joyful, youthful figure?

  • And I asked the curator of the caves.

  • I said, "Tell me about the men and women who painted these."

  • And he looked at me absolutely askance, and he said,

  • "Women didn't paint these pictures."

  • And I said, "Well, it was 11,000 years ago."

  • I said, "How do you know?"

  • (Laughter)

  • And he said, "Women don't do these things.

  • Men made these marks. Women don't."

  • Now, I wasn't really surprised,

  • because that's an attitude that I've seen continuously

  • all my life as a theater maker.

  • We are told that divine knowledge comes down through the masculine,

  • whether it be to the imam, the priest, the rabbi, the holy man.

  • Similarly, we're told that creative genius resides in the masculine,

  • that it is the masculine

  • that will be able to tell us about who we really are,

  • that the masculine will tell the universal story

  • on behalf of all of us,

  • whereas women artists will really just talk about women's experiences,

  • women's issues only really relevant to women

  • and of passing interest to men --

  • and really only some men.

  • And it's that conviction,

  • that that we are taught,

  • that I think colors so much of whether we're prepared to believe

  • that women's stories really matter.

  • And unless we're prepared to believe that women's stories really matter,

  • then women's rights don't really matter,

  • and then change can't really come.

  • I want to tell you about two examples of stories

  • that are thought to be of universal importance:

  • "E.T." and "Hamlet."

  • (Laughter)

  • So I took my two children when they were little --

  • Caroline was eight and Robby was five --

  • to see "E.T."

  • And it's a fantastic story of this little alien

  • who ends up in an American family

  • with a mum, two brothers and a sister,

  • but he wants to go home.

  • Not only that, but some really bad scientists

  • want to do some experiments on him,

  • and they're looking for him.

  • So the children have a plot.

  • They decide they're going to take him back to his spaceship

  • as soon as they can,

  • and they plop him in a bicycle basket,

  • and off they ride.

  • But unfortunately, the baddies have found out, and they're catching up

  • and they've got sirens and they've got their guns,

  • they've got the loud-hailers, it's terribly frightening,

  • and they're closing up on the children,

  • and the children are never going to make it.

  • And then all of a sudden, magically, the bikes fly up in the air,

  • over the clouds,

  • over the moon,

  • and they're going to save "E.T."

  • So I turn to see my children's faces,

  • and Robby is enraptured, he's there with them, he's saving E.T.,

  • he's a happy boy.

  • And I turn to Caroline, and she's crying her eyes out.

  • And I said, "What's the matter?"

  • And she said, "Why can't I save E.T.? Why can't I come?"

  • And then all of a sudden I realized:

  • they weren't children;

  • they were boys --

  • all boys.

  • And Caroline, who had invested so much in E.T.,

  • well, she wasn't invited to save him,

  • and she felt humiliated and spurned.

  • So I wrote to Steven Spielberg --

  • (Laughter) (Applause)

  • and I said, "I don't know if you understand

  • the psychological importance of what's happened,

  • and are you prepared to pay for the therapy bills?"

  • (Laughter)

  • Twenty years later, I haven't had a word back from him,

  • but I'm still hopeful.

  • (Laughter)

  • But I thought it was interesting,

  • because if you read reviews of what he intended with E.T.,

  • he says very specifically,

  • "I wanted the world to understand

  • that we should love and embrace difference."

  • But somehow he didn't include the idea of girls' difference

  • in this thinking.

  • He thought he was writing a story about all humanity.

  • Caroline thought he was marginalizing

  • half of humanity.

  • He thought he was writing a story about human goodness;

  • she thought he was writing a lad's heroic adventure.

  • And this is common.

  • Men feel they have been given the mantle for universal communication,

  • but of course, how could they be?

  • They are writing from male experience through male's eyes.

  • We have to have a look at this ourselves.

  • We have to be prepared to go back through all our books and our films,

  • all our favorite things,

  • and say, "Actually, this is written by a male artist --

  • not an artist.

  • We have to see that so many of these stories

  • are written through a male perspective.

  • Which is fine,

  • but then females need to have 50 percent of the rights

  • for the stage, the film, the novel,

  • the place of creativity.

  • Let me talk about "Hamlet."

  • To be or not to be.

  • That is the question.

  • But it's not my question.

  • My question is: Why was I taught as a young woman

  • that this was the quintessential example of human dilemma

  • and human experience?

  • It's a marvelous story,

  • but actually, it's about a young man fearful that he won't be able to make it

  • as a powerful figure in a male world

  • unless he takes revenge for his father's murder.

  • He talks a great deal to us about suicide being an option,

  • but the reality is that the person who actually commits suicide, Ophelia,

  • after she's been humiliated and abused by him,

  • never gets a chance to talk to the audience about her feelings.

  • And then when he's finished with Ophelia, he turns on his mum,

  • because basically she has the audacity to fall in love with his uncle

  • and enjoy sex.

  • (Laughter)

  • It is a great story,

  • but it is a story about male conflict, male dilemma, male struggle.

  • But I was told this was the story of human beings,

  • despite the fact that it only had two women in it.

  • And unless I reeducate myself,

  • I am always going to think

  • that women's stories matter less than men's.

  • A woman could have written "Hamlet,"

  • but she would have written it differently,

  • and it wouldn't have had global recognition.

  • As the writer Margaret Atwood says,

  • "When a man writes about doing the dishes,

  • it's realism.

  • When a woman writes about doing it,

  • it's an unfortunate genetic disposition."

  • (Laughter)

  • Now, this is not just something that belongs to then.

  • I mean, when I was a young girl,

  • wanting desperately to be a theater director,

  • this is what my male lecturer said to me:

  • "Well, there are three women directors in Britain," he said, "Jude."

  • "There's Joan Knight, who's a lesbian, there's Joan Littlewood, who's retired,

  • and there's Buzz Goodbody, who's just killed herself.

  • So, which of those three would you like to be?"

  • (Laughter)

  • Now, leaving aside the disgusting slur on gay women,

  • the fact is, he wanted to humiliate me.

  • He thought it was silly that I wanted to be a director.

  • And I told my friend Marin Alsop, the conductor, and she said,

  • "Oh yes, well, my music teacher said exactly the same.

  • He said, 'Women don't conduct.'"

  • But all these years later, we've made our mark.

  • You think, "Well, it'll be different now."

  • I'm afraid it's not different now.

  • The current head of the Paris Conservatoire

  • said recently, "It takes great physical strength

  • to conduct a symphony,

  • and women are too weak."

  • (Laughter)

  • The artist George Baselitz said,

  • "Well, the fact is women can't paint.

  • Well -- they can't paint very well."

  • The writer V.S. Naipaul said two years ago,

  • "I can read two paragraphs and know immediately if it's written by a woman,

  • and I just stop reading, because it's not worthy of me."

  • Audience: Whoa!

  • And it goes on.

  • We have to find a way

  • of stopping young girls and women

  • feeling not only that their story doesn't matter,

  • but they're not allowed to be the storyteller.

  • Because once you feel that you can't stand in the central space

  • and speak on behalf of the world,

  • you will feel that you can offer your goods up to a small, select group.

  • You will tend to do smaller work on smaller stages,

  • your economic power will be less,

  • your reach of audiences will be less,

  • and your credit will be less as an artist.

  • And we do finally give artists these incredible, prominent spaces

  • in the world,

  • because they are our storytellers.

  • Now, why should it matter to you if you're not an artist?

  • Supposing you're an accountant or an entrepreneur or a medic

  • or a scientist:

  • Should you care about women artists?

  • Absolutely, you must,

  • because as you can see from the cave paintings,

  • all civilizations,

  • all of humanity

  • have relied upon artists to tell the human story,

  • and if the human story is finally told by men,

  • take my word for it,

  • it will be about men.

  • So let's make a change.

  • Let's make a change to all our institutions,

  • and not just in the West.

  • Don't forget -- this message of incapability of women

  • to hold creative genius

  • is being told to girls and women in Nigeria, in China, in Russia,

  • in Indonesia.

  • All over the world, girls and women are being told

  • that they can't finally hold the idea of creative inspiration.

  • And I want to ask you:

  • Do you believe that?

  • Do you believe that women can be a creative genius?

  • (Applause and cheers)

  • Well then, please go forward,

  • support women artists,

  • buy their work,

  • insist that their voices are heard,

  • find platforms on which their voices will be made.

  • And remember this:

  • that in a sense, if we're going to get past this moment

  • of a world where we know that we are unequal,

  • it's artists who have to imagine a different world.

  • And I'm calling on all artists, women and men,

  • to imagine a gender-equal world.

  • Let's paint it. Let's draw it.

  • Let's write about it. Let's film it.

  • And if we could imagine it,

  • then we would have the energy and the stamina