A couple weeks ago, I put on a fake mustache and suspenders, shoved my hair into a hat and auditioned for the Yale Whiffenpoofs, the nation’s oldest collegiate a cappella group. I didn’t sing particularly poorly, but I left the audition about 98 percent certain I would not be getting the opportunity to take a year off and travel the world, singing and bonding with some of the most talented singers in my class. Because despite my best efforts, I knew that my vocal range and fairly gendered name gave away the fact that I am not a man.
The Whiffenpoofs need ladies. This has been obvious to me since my freshman fall, but I realize not everyone may think about how gender inequality manifests in the Yale a cappella community, so allow me to explain. There are three primary groups who are affected by an all-male group being the face of Yale a cappella:
First, women. Women who join Whim ’n Rhythm, an all-female senior a cappella group, cannot access the same opportunities that their male friends in the Whiffenpoofs can. And despite all the hard work from recent Whim business managers, Whim will never be the first collegiate a cappella group. It will never be the first all-female collegiate a cappella group. It won’t even be Yale’s first all-female collegiate a cappella group. And for every venue that hires based on talent, there’s another seven that are just into the idea of having the “first” something come perform for them. Whim is not and will not be a true Whiffenpoof counterpart any time soon in terms of capacity to generate revenue.
Second, men. Despite not being a true equivalent to the Whiffenpoofs, Whim creates a special kind of space on campus for many senior women that does not exist for senior men. Instead, junior year those men have to decide whether they want to audition for a group that will make them delay graduation for a full year, put on a ridiculous costume and sing a pretty stagnant repertoire of songs. Some men would probably prefer the Whim experience: less-restrictive music, a new community on campus and some quality post-graduation international travel. Everyone should be able to think seriously about what kind of senior a cappella experience they want to have, rather than having it dictated to them by their gender.
Finally, everyone else. I know there are same-sex singing groups on campus with positive histories when it comes to gender boundaries, but being the only non-woman in a women’s group cannot be the only option. We need a co-ed senior group because there are currently genderqueer students who are unable to sing a cappella in their senior year, and that’s not okay.
I’m not the first woman to audition for the Whiffenpoofs — I wasn’t even the only one to do it this year. And I know I will not be the last. But I need everyone who has ever looked at the Whiffenpoofs and thought, “Huh, I wish I could do that,” to allow themselves to imagine a Yale in which all-male a cappella does not so aggressively dominate the arts culture. It’s hard to imagine that Yale. The value placed on male voices permeates everything from the a cappella rush process to the audiences at annual a cappella jams to the disparate performing fees wealthy New England private schools pay male and non-male groups.
But that Yale is possible, and it’s closer than you think. Please, any person who has found themselves unable to look past the inflated value that is placed on the male voice, continue trying to imagine that Yale. Audition for the Whiffenpoofs next year and push for the change you deserve to see happen.
Jackie Ferro is a junior in Branford College. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .