Juxtaposing the International Day for Women & Girls in Science with Drawdown solutions, Persistent Acts considers the vitality of women and girls in the climate conversation, and how the arts can play a role in gender parity.
Of Drawdown’s 80 published solutions for reversing global warming, three are explicitly about women and girls. As Drawdown Vice President of Communication and Engagement, Katherine Wilkinson, states in her TedTalk How empowering women and girls can help stop global warming: “Climate and gender are inextricably linked.” Gender parity is connected to numerous climate solutions, but Drawdown solution #6, Educating Girls, drives a case for equity. Enabling opportunities for safe, quality education for girls “is the most powerful lever available for breaking the cycle of intergenerational poverty, while mitigating emissions by curbing population growth.” Moreover, “educated women can marshal multiple ways of knowing to observe, understand, reevaluate, and take action to sustain themselves and those who depend on them.”
In honor of this day, I chatted with ecologist and environmental lawyer Kyla Bennett. Kyla has taught classes and workshops for elementary school students, and noticed that the girls were less engaged than their male counterparts. In a talk with fifth graders about what they can do to help the earth, boys dominated the conversation. We discussed the need for girls’ voices to be valued in our society, so they can more actively participate in the classroom and beyond.
Kyla also brought up the inclination of girls towards the arts (reading books, watching movies), and how our society urges them toward creative pursuits at young ages – more so than boys. This suggests that we (artists) can support girls in feeling more comfortable with science, and in engaging with scientific topics at vital young ages (8-18 years old) through means that they already love. As Kyla explained, “everything is already stacked against girls in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) area…we need to get it into their lingo.”
This is in part why Kyla wrote No Worse Sin, a young adult novel featuring a teenage girl in the face of global disaster. There is a love interest, but the story breaks the mold of a series like Twilight, to uplift the female character’s agency. Young people need stories that highlight leaders and heroes other than cis white men, and the stories for girls can and should be of substance in order to foster scientific curiosity.
Another example is a verbatim theatre project, A Chip on Her Shoulder, by director and playwright Kristin Rose Kelly. With Honest Accomplice Theatre, Kristin is creating a docu-play with music, investigating the experiences of women, trans people, and other minorities in the field of engineering. I talked with her about her impetus for this project, which started when she was a graduate student at Virginia Tech. As she came into leadership roles as a theatre director, she realized the extent of the gender bias against women in any leadership position, including in the engineering field, where only 15% of engineers are women. She connected with organizations like WINGS (Women Inspiring the Next Generation’s Success) to interview engineering students and professionals from around the country.
There was a certain caution and reservation amongst female interviewees, especially those associated with institutions: “I can’t talk about this. I don’t want to use my name.” Women who do talk candidly are often labeled as having a “chip on her shoulder.” Yet there is no question that we need to break the stigmas and encourage more women and girls to embrace STEM. So many solutions to our global issues are being generated and developed in STEM; with more diversity and inclusion, such solutions can have greater impact for more people – not just those who look and think like the engineers. Kristin talked about the ethics of engineering, and the ideal that the tools engineers create should be for everyone. Empowering and uplifting women in STEM helps break the homogeneity, unlocking the unbounded applications of what engineers can do.
Through theatre, Kristin is spotlighting stories on the margins, stories of women in workplace situations not dissimilar to her audience’s. She is creating a piece of theatre that people across industries can relate to and helping them feel more resilient in their own workplaces and communities.
Kyla and I agree: Women are going to save the world. Whether it’s through art or science, women are drawing upon our particular ways of moving through the world and sharing modes of empathy with others to address climate. Drawdown has the research compiled on women-centric solutions; people like Kyla and Kristin are playing out the possibilities. This is notable today on the UN’s International Day for Women & Girls in Science, but it is also notable everyday that women comprise half of the world’s population.
Mothers of Invention, hosted by former Irish President Mary Robinson and comedian Maeve Higgins, celebrating amazing women doing remarkable things in pursuit of climate justice.
Performance in New York City:
Honest Accomplice’s Engineer Not Found, created by Honest Accomplice Theatre featuring verbatim interviews from A Chip On Her Shoulder. Directed by Maggie Keenan-Bolger Rachel Sullivan and Kristin Rose Kelly with original songs by Teresa Lotz (music) and Naomi Matlow (lyrics), coming to The Tank this Spring.
(Top Image by Mariadel Alamort.)
This article is part of the Persistent Acts series which looks at the intersection of performance, climate, and politics. How does hope come to fruition, even in the most dire circumstances? What are tangible alternatives to the oppressive status quo? The series considers questions of this nature to motivate conversations and actions on climate issues that reverberate through politics and theatre.
Julia Levine is a creative collaborator and vegetarian. Originally from St. Louis, Julia is now planted in the New York City downtown theatre realm. As a director, Julia has worked on various projects with companies that consider political and cultural topics, including Theater In Asylum, Honest Accomplice Theatre, and Superhero Clubhouse. She is the Marketing Manager at HERE and is Artistic Producer of The Arctic Cycle. Julia writes and devises with her performance-based initiative, The UPROOT Series, to bring questions of food, climate, and justice into everyday life.