Hello everyone, and a very happy International Women’s day to you all!
I have been writing blogs for Open Theatre for a couple of years now and my first blog was International Women’s Day 2020. Today I have something a little different for you.
I settle down with Cobi Aikman, a female-identifying drama practitioner for Open Theatre Company to discuss International Women’s Day and the three main themes for this year. The themes are: breaking the bias (attitudes) raising awareness against bias (negative attitudes), celebrating women’s achievement, and taking action for equality (fairness).
At the end of the interview, you can find more information and contextual history about International Women’s Day and how the role of women in society and across the world has changed.
Madeleine Levy: Thank you for agreeing to meet with me today and for supporting the work of Open Theatre. Their work is obviously something that means a lot to both of us. The topic we are discussing today is International Women’s Day and we are an interesting pair to be discussing these issues because you are female-identifying and I myself am Non-Binary. I think this mix lends itself nicely to an interesting discussion about National Women’s Day. The first question I have is quite a big one to start off with I’m afraid. What does being a woman mean to you?
Cobi Aikman: I think being a woman means lots of different things to lots of different people. For me, my family is mostly boys, so I always felt like it was my special thing because I was a daddy’s girl. I was his little princess but on the other hand, my nana believes that boys are just better than girls. It’s a really old-fashioned thing.
I think I grew up really noticing the difference between boys and girls so I think there’s always been a big difference between me and my brothers. When other people are like “oh boys and girls are the same” in my opinion they definitely are not because I am definitely not like my brothers in good ways and in bad ways. I think the biggest thing about being a girl is like if I achieve anything that a boy achieves it’s been much harder for me than it has for a boy in my opinion, just I just feel like that’s a thing.
I think the other thing is like boys and girls aren’t brought up the same, but I don’t think that they should be brought up the same. Boys and girls aren’t the same in my view. Women have completely different characteristics, we are very emotional, we are sympathetic, and empathetic. We have completely different traits to men, not every woman’s the same but these are stronger characteristics in women. We also have different bodies like female-bodied people have different outside figures to men. We give birth, men do not, etc.
I believe that the world works in a way that from an early age masculine traits will get you further in life if that makes sense? So men are taught to be competitive, confident, and bold and are rewarded for being so. Women on the other hand get taught not to be confrontational or to be outspoken as this behaviour is seen as aggressive.
Women’s pathways are mapped out differently by society when they are young and women are still taught in a way that takes us down that pathway and we are still expected to achieve as much as men. It’s just not going to work because the whole system is tailored towards all of the traits that women have to work hard to do to keep up with men and all of their stuff, in my opinion anyway.
Madeleine Levy: That is interesting. I guess a lot of the stuff you mention is why I am Non-Binary because when I was young I grew up with sisters and you get told a lot of women should be pretty, should be into fashion, and like make-up and handbags, etc. I didn’t fit into that world and I have a few masculine traits so that’s why I ended up thinking, well I am non of that but I also have bits of both masculine and feminine energy so yeah I went down the middle and did my own thing being neither or both at the same time.
Anyway, that brings me nicely on to the next question which relates to raising awareness against bias (negative attitudes) and that is have you faced any stigma along your journey whilst becoming a drama practitioner with Open Theatre?
Cobi Aikman: Open Theatre are pretty open-minded as a company. I think it’s just when I talk to others about my role nobody understands what it is that I do. They assume that I am a caregiver and they will say “oh that’s cute” or “you’re such a good person for doing that.” I think this is partly because I am a woman doing drama. Yes, I am a good person and yes I am kind but not because I work for Open Theatre. I am those things in my own right.
I also think going into school’s is challenging because 90% of the teaching assistants are female and so it is just assumed that we are in a care giving role. The drama sessions are not about care giving there is a lot more to it than that. When a man goes into a room to do drama people assume he is an authority figure because he is male in my view. I often worry if I am being taken seriously as a woman.
Madeleine Levy: Obviously, you are a really good drama practitioner and you do good work with Open Theatre. I guess it’s about celebrating the achievement as well, and if you could tell me a bit about some of the things, you’re proud of working with Open Theatre? I feel it’s important to recognize and celebrate the achievements of women in the arts industry.
Cobi Aikman: Well I must say it was really nice to be forced to think about my achievements because I am someone who rarely reflects on my achievements. Rather I think about how much more I need to do or what has not gone so well so yeah that was nice. I think a big achievement for me was the day I took the lead on a drama session in schools. I have only been working with Open Theatre for a year and the lady I work with Jenara had to self isolate so I found myself leading and I had always pictured in my head how when I lead it was going to go wrong. It went really well and that was a proud moment for me in life let alone working with Open Theatre.
Madeleine Levy: And do you have any goals for the future? Either personally or as a drama practitioner with Open Theatre?
Cobi Aikman: Now I know this doesn’t sound like a lot but to me it’s a big deal. I would like to get to a place where I feel confident in doing what I am doing already. Not like someone who is an imposter but this is me and I am taking up space in a room and it’s ok to do that. Yeah that would be a really big thing for me.
Madeleine Levy: So that brings me on to my final question and it’s another big one to finish with. Earlier we were talking a lot about the differences between men and women and how the world conditions people to be and this question is about gender equality so how do you feel about gender equality as a woman working in the arts in 2022? Do you think it’s the way it should be, or do you think we can do more equality wise in society?
Cobi Aikman: I think we can always do more. There is a reason why so many female actors have body dysmorphia or eating disorders and that is because there is so much pressure put on them to look and act a certain way in the industry which men just don’t have. Yes there are less men in the industry but that means most often they have the choice of roles they want. There just isn’t the same pressure that there is for women. Yes there are women in the industry there are loads of them but we must not stop at where we are at if we want true equality for everyone. Applied theatre is a much nicer environment because we are more community based and we want to understand how we can make everyone feel valued but there is still much more that needs to be done if we want to achieve 100% true equality and accessibility.
Madeleine Levy: Thank you so much for agreeing to meet with me Cobi. It has been a truly enjoyable discussion.
History of International Women’s Day
Now I want to share some of the history of International Women’s Day and women’s history as a reminder why International Women’s Day is important.
Please note that some of the topics in this section are upsetting.
International Women’s Day was first celebrated in 1911, so 110 years ago.
It is important because women have not always been treated very fairly throughout history. From being burned as witches when they helped to heal others from 200 – 500bc – 1736 when the last witch trial was held in England.
However, as recently as 2011 in Saudia Arabia a woman was beheaded for practicing witchcraft. Women were only allowed to work since World War I and were only allowed a right to vote in 1918 which was only 103 years ago.
All of these rights we take for granted now but women are still met with unequal treatment in modern times. In 2017 the median hourly wage for women working full time was about 9.1% less than the median hourly wage for men (excluding overtime). That’s £1.32 less per hour. That may not sound like much but it all adds up and is not equal treatment.
It’s important to remember and acknowledge these issues and that inequalities still exist when celebrating International Women’s Day.
That is all from us for now but as ever we love to hear your stories and thoughts. If you have any opinions on any of the three themes that were discussed today drop us a comment below. As always everyone, stay safe and look after one another until we meet again, from Open Theatre.
Early Modern Witch Trials.” The National Archives. 2020, www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/education/resources/early-modern-witch-trials/.
Kaplan, Temma. “On the Socialist Origins of International Women’s Day.” Feminist Studies 11.1 (1985): 163–71. Print.
The Economy (2017) Do women earn less than men in the UK [online] available from <https://fullfact.org/economy/UK_gender_pay_gap/>