As a young black woman building a career in Belgium’s live art sector, Priscilla isn’t just an advocate for gender equality as such. “When I look around, I not only see white, middle-aged men, I also see tradition, socio-economical wealth, and inherited privilege. And this goes further back and beyond gender.”Priscilla
In my professional life as an actress – I am surrounded by way more men than women. Whether we’re talking about who’s in charge at the theatre houses, the directors of the pieces, the scenographers, or the technical crew, men have been the dominant sex in the cultural world for decades. Although there is a slight feminisation of the live arts to be seen, up to today men still take up far more space. Things being that way, I guess it shouldn’t come as a surprise that from an artistic point of view, men get better parts. The characters they’re asked to embody are more complex, subtle… Often much funnier too. Whereas female characters are stuck in the realm of clichés. The tease, the shy one, the femme fatale… To only name a few.
While growing up, I saw from up close how sexism enters a couple. My mother was expected to quit her job as a diplomat, enabling my father to take the next step in his career. I assume that back in those days, no one even questioned that it was up to the man to provide for the family. I suppose it was equally natural for the woman to back down professionally, but today, my mother is 65 and she is still beating herself up about that decision. She regrets things being decided that way more than anything else in her life. Me? I refuse to leave decisions about my professional life up to anyone other than myself.
What’s even bigger and more important to me personally, is not just the skewed power structures that exist between women and men. What hurts me, even more, is the complete and utter dominance of the middle and upper-class of our cultural and intellectual circles. When I am at work and I look around, I not only see white, middle-aged men, I also see tradition, socio-economical wealth, and inherited privilege. And this goes further back and beyond gender.
I am under the impression that those who suffer most from structural inequality are black women. Poor black women to be more specific. If you look at the two biggest migrant communities in Belgium – black and Arab people – the representation of women from Maghreb descent in media and television is strikingly higher than that of black women, regardless of the similar migration history in Belgium. Being a black woman – even though I come from a privileged home – I have little choice but to deal with that on a daily basis.
But yes, I do honestly think that we are living an era of change. People’s minds are opening up. In the public debate, women’s voices are getting louder. Inequality is a fact. Inequality is systemic. Fewer people question that these issues are ingrained in our society. But whether you look at violence against women, or how our justice system treats victims and offenders of sex crimes, it is clear that even our democratic institutions are lagging behind. I see things going in the right direction, but the source of these issues needs years, maybe even generations of activism and remediating. I do think that we have to be very careful not to get all cheery. T
here is no room for complacency.