A while back, I supported the Kickstarter campaign for a movie called Do I Sound Gay, in which writer David Thorpe explores how his voice works, how speech patterns are learned, and the relationship between sexuality and voices.
It is. I just got my streaming link, so I finally got to watch it; and it’s great. You should all get it when it’s more widely available.
Gay men face serious prejudice, and a “gay sounding” voice can be interpreted by bullies as in invitation to mock and punch. And that comes back around to the fact that the tiny differences between sounding straight and sounding gay are the same differences between sounding masculine and sounding feminine.
Dan Savage hit the nail on the head when he says the reason the “gay voice” is so derided is (drum roll please)… misogyny. Yeah. And the hatred of femininity that is manifested in all forms is especially pungent when femininity comes from a male-bodied person.
Which brings me back to the question of boys singing in choir, and their fear of being perceived as feminine. Which is a problem of systemic sexism, in which the conducting community is complicit through its reinforcement of the overwhelming presence of men on podiums and positions of prestige.
Regarding which, the editor of Choral Journal replied to my letter:
Thank you so much for writing in. I appreciate hearing your feedback on this article and this topic in general. I would be happy to print your letter in an upcoming issue of CJ. I do want to suggest also that if this topic is important to you (which it appears to be!) you might consider submitting an article for review through the editorial board. I obviously can only print what articles I receive and which pass through the editorial board, and if you feel that the gender trouble discussion needs another voice, you might be it. Certainly this article is not suggesting that the only gender trouble is with males, but again this is an article what was written and submitted and that the editorial board approved. Also, this is just an observation about the percentage of women conductors that you mentioned. Conference choirs are chosen by blind audition process, so perhaps it is that fewer women conductors are applying for the space that is available. I am not saying this for a fact (since I do not know personally) but just a possibility to consider behind the scenes.
In any case, I do appreciate your thoughts, and thank you for reading!
That’s great! Maybe people will read it and think, “yeah, we should hire a woman to conduct our next honor choir! Teach our students that women are strong, authoritative artistic leaders, and that doing things perceived as ‘feminine’ is awesome!”
I fear that people will read it and think I mean men are bad, or that men shouldn’t conduct, or that I’ve somehow been a member of ACDA for almost twenty years and never learned how the selection process for conference performances works. (FTR, I’m on the planning committee for ED-ACDA, and we had a whole conversation about the problem of overwhelming whiteness of choirs , the overwhelming maleness of conductors, and the obvious segregation of women in the treble choir ghetto; and how do we have a blind audition process that results in a more diverse program? A lot of us want to find a way to make it fair and also help raise up choirs and conductors who are underrepresented.)
I fear getting e-mails in which choral bureaucracy is mansplained to me as though I haven’t been actively engaged in every facet of that bureaucracy my whole adult life. (If I get them, I will be posting them here!)
I fear more than anything that I sound like a shrill harpy, the man-hating feminist stereotype, that I wasn’t apologetic enough to soften the blow of my well-founded opinion. And then I hate that I want to sound more apologetic. But do I hate it because I don’t want to sound feminine, in self-hating irony? Is apologetic tone inherently feminine or just socially feminine? And is apologetic tone bad?
Hell, yes, it’s bad.
Wait. Have I internalized misogyny?
Do I sound too strong? Do I sound like a jerk? Should I try to sound feminine? What does that mean???
David Thorpe decided that he just need to sound like himself. Me, too. Still working on that. Because I’m pushy and bossy and I have strong opinions — I’m a frikking conductor; of course I’m in the habit of expressing myself in a tone of authority! I only feel conflicted about it because I’m also a woman, and see all around me that I’m not supposed to use an authoritative tone.
I would much rather write a thoroughly-researched article to present fully cited support for my opinion; and that’s mostly because I’m afraid my perspective will be dismissed unless it’s got research to prove it true. But I don’t have time. I’m conducting four choirs and teaching two classes and commuting and grocery shopping and writing a book proposal and… I don’t have time. But I know my opinion is true. All the women on the Facebook groups I belong to know it’s true.
Maybe someone can write a thoroughly researched article about it. But really, maybe we could all just be louder.
“Maybe.” “Could.” Bloody hell, I’m apologizing. And both glad and embarrassed about it. Feh.