Universal Suffering
When we started the design process for Tales, one of our priorities was to make sure that women were properly represented and had a fair share of the “screen time”. Of the original four “main” characters, two were male and two female - and although Arthur and Sophia are a couple, we wanted to be clear that she wasn’t just an accessory defined by her relationship to him. If anything, she’s the driving force in the marriage and he toddles along happily after, doing what he’s told.

But that said, working within a broadly historical setting posed challenges. Attitudes to women at the time were pretty despicable - and we chose to have Cadwallader embrace the misogyny of a man of his time, though we made sure to be clear that he is utterly wrong, given that the women he disparages are considerably more competent than he is. Jessie and Sophia are deeply flawed human beings, but their failings aren’t related to the fact that they’re women. Overall, we thought we were getting the balance about right, and were feeling quite proud of the fact that we’d written such a show with such good representation of women.

How wrong we were. Rhi (who plays the Tribune in Season One, and does the best monkey noises of any human alive) reviewed the scripts for episodes 1 and 2, and shockingly, in episode 1 only 20% of the words were spoken by women - 10% by Sophia, and 10% by the other female characters combined. Cadwallader had 52%, Gillespie 16%, and the remaining 12% were spoken by Arthur, Godalming and other minor male parts. Even accepting that Cadwallader was the narrator and therefore would have a bigger share of the lines, the demographic was still hugely skewed in favour of the men. We kept going - surely episode 2 would be better - after all, the women were doing all the actual work while the men blundered about ineptly. Well, yes and no.

In episode 2, the women do have greater than 50% of the dialogue - 62% is shared more or less equally between Sophia and Jessie, but there are only two other female parts giving a total of 66% to the women. Remove Sophia as narrator and only 35% of the remaining words are spoken by women - which is astonishing given how female-dominated it seems on first hearing.

We’re aware of the unconscious bias that makes people think that non-men are dominating a conversation when they’re only half of the participants - but it was still a surprise to see it so obviously in our own writing. Part of the problem is that we’d wanted to keep the backdrop historical - so of course butlers, police officers, ministers and similar ended up as men. We’d vaguely intended on introducing Mrs Gillespie as a character, but we never quite got round to it, and while she’s there as an offstage presence (maybe contributing to the impression of there being more female characters about) she never actually appears. The other problem that we ran into was that - for the simple reason that the women were staggeringly more competent - it was harder to get them into ludicrous and funny situations, and their share of the plot suffered as a result. The final contributing factor was that when the casting call went out we got a lot more interest from men, and when seven guys turned up to the first session compared to three women we ended up finding bit parts for them to play. This had the effect that roles which could theoretically be played by any gender ended up as men by default. If we hadn’t taken the last minute decision to make the Tribune a woman, it would have been even worse.

So, what are we going to do about it? We realised by midway through season one that we were going to need a new regular female character, and we hope you’re looking forward to her arrival considerably more than Dr Cadwallader is. We’ve recruited another regular female cast member, and we’ve made sure that there are more parts for women throughout - a cursory examination of the gender balance of roles for the season appears roughly equally balanced, though we won’t know the final statistics ‘till we’ve broken it down line by line, which we promise to do once the season is recorded. And in the meantime, we’ll keep writing strong characters with motivations and story arcs of their own, and we remain utterly committed to seeing the women of the Aletheian Society and their excellent actors getting their fair share of the limelight.

Jude Reid