Watching the choirs perform might not have been as jarring for you as it was for me. During the first concert of the year, after performing with Viking Chorale, I asked myself a question: why is the concert attire in Cantala and Concert Choir split up by presented gender? And just like that, I could no longer ignore the cavernous divide that I had just observed. Perplexed and disturbed, I asked a friend in Cantala why that was. Her answer was that the concert attire was mandatory, and that the few times that the issue had been brought up had been met with resistance. I was rather floored by this. At the beginning of both terms that I have been in Viking Chorale, we have talked endlessly about unity and community and acceptance. But here I was seeing in front of my eyes the oldest way to uphold our oppression of women: emphasis on gender difference and gender itself. Whether or not you believe me and whether or not you believe this to be a non-issue is up to you, but I take this as a given and a fact.
Now, mind you, we are very uncomfortable with breaking down and traversing gender divides, so I might have simply accepted that all the girls chose dresses and all the men suits. However, that was not the case. The girls were required to wear dresses and the men were required to wear suits. All of a sudden I began to feel very cheated. It was the same old message of “community” but so long as you follow my rules, those rules being those of how men and women are supposed to present themselves as performers. It is a stipulation on community. It says that if you want to perform, you must squeeze yourself into our category, our standards. This is not one of welcome or acceptance. I think that this was done out of intertia rather than malice and that honestly upsets me more. Tradition for the sake of tradition is how we have propagated a system of oppression against minorities. It’s how we kept women from voting, and kept our slaves working. The base instinct of that was inertia — we took as a given that women were too emotional to vote rationally and that black people were subhuman. This is what was taught, so inertia in that belief caused a resistance to change, but it’s very disappointing (though not surprising) that Lawrence would fall prey to that very same problem.
I acknowledge that we are all humans though, and that we all suffer from this. Any change to my own routine is difficult for me, though not impossible. Fortunately, this situation has an easy fix. All that Dr. Sieck and Dr. Swan would have to do would be to give people a choice between two options: the suit or the dress. This wouldn’t be that hard, what would be difficult would be the acceptance of people who took that opportunity. The uncomfortable feeling if a woman walked out on stage in a tux or if a man walked out in a dress. It’s all well and good to pretend that we are forward thinkers, but if we strip down bare and observe a man walk on stage in a dress, we will find that we are not the evolved humans that we once believed ourselves to be. I know that I am asking for a tradition to be irreparably altered and that that can be difficult, but if change is to happen, so be it. The fact is that there is no really good reason for choir dress to be gendered. Cohesive? Yes. Gendered? No. Having two options sufficiently covers the cohesion issue and allows more freedom in gender expression. Problem solved.
Perhaps you will take issue with the public nature of this piece – but the fact is that I cannot be sure that anything but a public discussion will alter this. Change is painful, but just because it is tradition does not mean that you should maintain it. The fact is that when you force women to wear dresses and men to wear suits, you are upholding the idea that men and women are completely different and so it is okay to value one over the other. But whether you believe me on that count or not is irrelevant. The fact is that nothing bad will happen if you give people two options instead of one. The world will not end if a man walks out in a dress. What will happen is that choir will be a truly inclusive community that welcomes difference.