Going for Broke

review by Zan Ross


Gillian Swanson and Patricia Wise
Going for Broke: Women's Participation in the Arts and Cultural Industries
Australian Key Centre for Cultural and Media Policy, Griffith University, 1998.


Book as a fetish object - I like this one: print shop smell - I used to work in one (fresh ink, new paper, glue, slightly metallic, industrial virgin commodity); the paper - an excellent quality - smooth, satin-skinned, non-glare for headache free perusal under intense light (Confess - what did you mean by that insinuation/those statistics/that anecdote?); cover - plastic-covered for rough handling by people like me who gorilla their belongings; c-l-e-a-n cover design in tones of green; cover image ('Sweet Little Girl' by Jill Barker) is suggestive, intriguing. The book's backpack/briefcase portable - a message of exclusion: no housewives, bikies, working class (and would these populations be interested in the content anyway?).

Open and enter, go straight to the rear - the interesting stuff's always there (my expectation): interesting and informative. Note section: the BIBLIOGRAPHY was exemplary and extensive; check out the appendices - shit! look at this, and I mean NOW - questionnaire design and sample (explains statistical data, where the questionnaire was published, what populations composed the sample, what were factors that were taken into consideration in writing questionnaires), interviewees and those consulted in the research phase (bloody impressive, this), questionnaires for administrators and practitioners. There's no index, but then the CONTENTS page is so detailed that if one can't find the piece of info. one's after, ya gotta be a flaming idiot.

I'm reading, reading, stop...look back at the title. It hits me - why hasn't someone tackled this subject before? Is it a case of the arts/participant body/psyche/administration assumed to be masculine, standing in/speaking for OTHER/femme...?! Oooooo - I'm majorly annoyed already, think back to writing/trying to get published/going to exhibitions/sculpting/applying for funding, feeling/seeing/being made to see, "It's a boys' club." Where is the space for my experience/work; where can my needs be met?

Let's look at some quotes, eh? See if I hit the dog on the nose. (It's only a rolled up news paper.)

Page 1
One of the key features of women working in the arts and cultural industries is their diverse 'package' of employment: freelance, commercial and sponsored arts and cultural proactive; voluntary and committee work; involvement in arts and cultural policy; and organizational activities, etc.

We can justifiably observe that women in the arts and cultural sector are characterized by a diverse career profile which adapts to personal and local circumstances, new developments and fluctuations in industrial, government and market influences, and new opportunities for training updates. Thus, while their incomes may not be commensurate with their levels of training and skill, women working in the cultural sector exhibit a high degree of self-reliance, vision and entrepreneurialism.

(And this says to me that it's the same old story as everywhere else in capitalist industries - women get paid less, full stop. If men take on the same positions as femmes in this particular industry, they get less than general for hours worked because, let's face it, from a cultural reading of the arts in general: It's for poofs and femmes. Sigh. What else is new?)

Women working in the arts and cultural industries characteristically :


From identified work patterns, we can discern a 'market-oriented' disposition, since the women we surveyed:

Page 2

(Interjection: Well, at least with this study we at last have data to confirm what we've always suspected.)

Page 3
A key analytical principle is that a survey of women's participation is not restricted to what have been defined as 'women's issues'. Features help to illustrate the equitable position of women (such as the proportion of total arts grant recipients), or the inequitable position of women (such as the lack of availability of childcare), were therefore supplemented by a more extensive set of industry indicators. While important in themselves, neither of these factors was critical in the general performance of women.

It is suggested that gender equity measures should work from the precise coordinates of specific and located working practices, to develop a realistic approach responsive both to the particular features of women's working lives and the industry sector they occupy.

(So, the main thing is, why has no one ever asked us what we need? It's a bit like the patriarchal government not asking other ethnic groups what they wanted/needed, just deciding for them. Sigh. Swanson and Wise did ask these questions. Let's hope the Powers That Be listen this time.)

Page 4
As a result, a more varied and detailed range of indicators is charted in this report, to assess the positions of women in the industry sector and to point to measures for enhancing their participation. These indicators indicate that, far from being prevented from participating, women in fact provide a mainstay for the arts and cultural industries, particularly - but, of course, not solely - at a local and regional level. What may be more significant is the shape of an industry sector in which there are insufficient options for a flexible combination of paid work, unpaid work and the development of one's own practice being placed on s sufficiently secure economic basis. Even for women working in an administrative capacity, it may not be so much that there is a 'glass ceiling' as that the specific mechanisms for career progress and the forms by which a qualification, knowledge and skill base are translated into a job description, position level and award have been insufficiently formalized and rendered comparable to other professional levels or public service designations.

(Yeah - same old same old: women provide the backbone/stability/do the day to day, and get FA for it. HELLO! Is anyone listening out there?)

Our findings suggest that women are a mainstay of the arts and cultural industries, but structurally disadvantaged by the very nature of those industries.

While the designation 'emerging artist' is frequently applied to women who may not have the indicators of professionalism employed by government agencies, it is rather that women administrators and practitioners are dependent on the insecurities of an industry sector which is itself an 'emerging' industry, without the coherent infrastructure characteristic of more mature industry formations.

The rest of the book organizes/displays the results of the questionnaire and speculates on how the Culture industry might be sustainably changed to better accommodate femmes over the long-haul.

It was a reaffirming journey through the material, which undeniably proved that the battle for fair recompense for the primarily femme practitioner/primary producer/arts administrator has only just begun. As unappealing as the prospect may be, we must cross the line this report drew on the earth. About time...

So I says to meself, "These women are amazing - thorough, professional without being pedantic/alienating/condescending. Let's read it again."


Zan Ross is a PhD candidate in Cultural Studies at Curtin University, WA. She is primarily known as a writer, having appeared in all the usual lit. magazines. Her first collection of poetry, B-Grade, was published in late 1997.


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Vol 2 No 2 October 1998
Editors: Nigel Krauth & Tess Brady