What are you willing to pay for? (And what do you expect for free?)
JB Barrington is a UK-based performance poet. He tours the country to perform in front of audiences willing to pay for the opportunity to watch him in action.
However, like many creatives, he still fields requests to work for free.
If, when and how women choose to provide their services pro-bono is a matter for them to determine.Credit:
Earlier in February, a man called Brian enquired as to whether JB could perform at an event he was putting on in London.
The catch? “Unfortunately, due to costs of venue hire etc, there’s no money in it,” Brian wrote. “But I can provide some food and drinks.”
JB replied with a question. “Brian, what do you do a living?”
When Brian responded that he’s a painter, JB asked another question.
“Can you come and do my halls and landing? There’s no money in it but I can provide cups of tea …”
Brian was horrified. “???? That’s not the same?”
“It’s exactly the same Brian. Exactly the same.” It is.
JB removed identifying details but shared a screen shot of these messages on Twitter. It was swiftly picked up by a Twitter account set up to showcase these types of requests.
It has more than 215,000 followers who watch messages in which creatives are asked to speak, draw, write, edit, or perform – for free.
The ridiculous, often brazen requests would be funny to read if they weren’t real.
Exposure doesn’t cover anyone’s bills.
Brian was obviously willing to pay to hire the London venue and to provide food and drinks … but his expectation was that the entertainment was the component he could engage without paying.
It seems accepted that, perhaps with the exception of charitable events, paying for a venue, for equipment and for catering is not up for debate.
It’s hard to imagine carpenters, plumbers, lawyers, doctors or electricians routinely being asked to contribute their services without payment but, when it comes to creative talent, it seems there is an expectation that it might be gratis. Why is that?
International Women’s Day is just around the corner and it inevitably presents something of a peak moment in requests for creative women to work for free.
It’s ironic because International Women’s Day exists to highlight the inequity women face, with economic imbalance a key barrier. That inequity is clearly hindered by the expectation that women won’t be paid fairly for their professional endeavours.
A number of high-profile women, authors, presenters and advocates have taken to social media to highlight the invitations they have received to work for free this International Women’s Day.
None need to justify the grounds upon which they have declined but it is worth noting that none of these women are salaried employees. They are self-employed, meaning their time is their money.
If, when and how they choose to provide their services pro-bono is a matter for them to determine.
The disconnect between "celebrating" female empowerment or putting the spotlight on gender inequality on International Women’s Day, while at the same time asking women to work for free, is jarring.
But so, too, is asking anyone to work for free on any day of the week. Isn’t it funny how often that gets forgotten?
Georgina Dent is a journalist, editor an author with a keen interest in women's empowerment and gender equality. Her first book, Breaking Badly, published by Affirm Press, is out now.
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