girly voice

I made a poster for the Research Gallery at the ED-ACDA conference because several presenters in the Gallery withdrew, and I wanted to fill it out a little. My poster was based on the letter to the editor I wrote that was in last month’s Choral Journal, and published on the blog in December. Here is that poster:

womens work questions


See how polite it is? I’m just asking questions. “Gosh, I don’t know… correct me if I’m wrong, but it seems to me that maybe these numbers are sort of imbalanced. What do you think?”

I’m here to confess that the original draft of the poster was titled Women’s Work: The Invisible Ghetto Built by ACDA, Or: a Decade of Implicit Sexism. And it didn’t have any questions on it.

Admitting that the word ghetto has different meanings in different contexts, I meant it in the sociological sense of a place — geographical or otherwise — that members of a particular group are placed not by their own choice, without likelihood of escape. Lots of women (including me!) love conducting children’s choirs. That’s not a ghetto. But when women are overwhelmingly chosen to conduct children’s choirs, and almost never chosen to conduct more advanced choirs, that raises the question of whether women can be chosen to conduct adult groups or they have some barrier (like systemic sexism, and implicit associations between authority and masculinity) preventing them from being chosen for those positions. That suggests a sociological ghetto. I know the phraseology is potentially offensive or troubling or bad; but it’s a technical, academic term. Blame sociologists for picking something so loaded.

Here is the conversation I had with my sister about the initial draft:

women's work chat


I chose to be polite and gentle and a little apologetic. It is not my authentic voice; it’s my girly voice. It does not represent how I really feel about the subject. The empirical accuracy of the observation notwithstanding, I chose to wrap my calculations in a fluffy cloud of uncertainty so I wouldn’t offend anyone with words like “patriarchy” and “feminism.”

In contrast, I attended Andre de Quadros’ interest session at ED-ACDA this morning, and it broke my heart and warmed my heart, and was the most honest thing I’ve seen at a conference packed with artists sharing their most authentic work. I won’t dishonor Dr. de Quadros’ perspective by trying to rehash it here, but those who have heard him speak know what I mean. And those who have not heard him speak should go out of their way to do so if possible.

I wonder if people think Dr. de Quadros is too outspoken. He didn’t actually call the system “white supremacist,” but he did say prison populations are overwhelmingly, disproportionately black. There was a chart and everything.  I wonder if he worries about offending people. Calling us out on our prison policies, identifying the shame we should feel that these policies are carried out in our name might make some people defensive. Does he care? It doesn’t seem like it.

I want to not care.

Dr. de Quadros is in a position of privilege, being a man with a reputation as a respected academic. He risks little in speaking truth to power. I’m younger, newer, and a woman. Research shows that women have to choose between getting what they want, and being respected. I risk potential gigs if I come across as confrontational — “who wants to invite a clinician or guest conductor who is an admitted feminist? Doesn’t that mean she hates men? If she thinks women’s choirs and children’s choirs are a ‘ghetto,’ she clearly doesn’t respect my choir enough to contribute anything to their development.” I had to police my own tone in order to make the message palatable to the widest possible audience without risking any possible raising of hackles.

I have mixed feelings about my choice. The gender imbalance makes me angry. But sounding angry makes people stop listening. But the anger is justified. But anyone who needs to be convinced of the injustice will definitely not be convinced if the tone is aggressive. But aggression is required to instigate change. But maybe assertiveness is enough. But it hasn’t been so far.

So this blog post is my way of atoning for my compromise, admitting my complicity in perpetuating a system that requires women to tone down their truth in order to protect themselves from the powerful defenses of the patriarchy.

The bugger of it is, the politics have nothing to do with my actual conducting. When I’m on the podium, nothing matters but the art and our shared humanity. Which is probably why I feel more myself and more at home on the podium than anywhere else. Alas that I can’t live in a perpetual bubble of rehearsals.

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