I consider myself to be a stakeholder in classical music. When someone is a stakeholder in a company, it means that they care about that company's welfare. They might be an employee, a shareholder, a customer, a contractor and anyone who, for whatever reason, has an interest in whether that company succeeds or fails. I want classical music to succeed. I also feel very strongly that, in order to succeed, those of us who work within classical music organizations need to join the rest of the world in 2012. We don't have to swim in the mainstream but we should be able to wade without peeing in the water.
Here are the entry rules for the Mccammon competition. It is presented by Fort Worth Opera, a 501c3 non-profit organization and the top prize includes a role in a main stage production. You'll notice that the competition is even included under the section "Work for Us." If you win this competition, you will get a job. Since they're looking for young talent, there's an age limit, but here's the catch- men are eligible from ages 21-35 but for women the age limit is 21-32. If you're male, you have 15 opportunities to apply to win a job with Fort Worth Opera, once each year from 21-35. If you're female, you get 12 opportunities, once each year from age 21-32. That isn't merely unfair. It is blatantly discriminatory. If you're male, you have three more chances than if you are female.
Back when I was applying for these kinds of opportunities, I'd run up against this kind of discrimination regularly. Many programs and competitions were more subtle about it. They'd provide the same number of chances for men and women, but if you were a woman your age limit would be set from 18-32 as opposed to men being 21-35. The idea was that male puberty was such a major change that men were at some kind of a disadvantage when competing against women who had always sung in the treble octave. I'm not going to get too far into that kind of thinking other than to say that the basic foundations of classical technique are the same, regardless of whether one has gone through puberty or not. Both boys and girls can participate in choirs, perform treble roles in operas and build experience from as an early an age as they feel ready to do. As adults, we have access to the same education at roughly the same age. A man and a woman at age 21 can both have spent three years studying voice at a college level. Some people start younger and some take more time. It has nothing to do with gender. It is all about the individual.
In the classical music industry, the message is biased and it is made very clear. If you are female, your value expires earlier than a man's. You are expected to be a mature artist at a much earlier age, regardless of when your body matured or whether you have a voice that needs longer to develop. Your femaleness defines your value. You have to be young. If you aren't, it doesn't matter if you're talented or not. You are prohibited from trying. In my opinion, this is the kind of antiquated thinking that drives people away from classical music. If you're involved in classical music, it is the ugly status quo. If you're not involved in classical music, it makes it clear that classical music is out of touch at best.
This is 2012. I'm not saying that we've achieved gender equality, far from it. I'm saying that in this age, blatant discrimination is no longer considered acceptable. I dealt with this all through my career as a young artist and I never had the stomach to fight on my own behalf. I figured that if I was the woman who beat the system into becoming fair, the people doing the judging would see me coming from a mile away and there is no way that they would validate my fight by letting me win. I just promised myself that once my horse was out of this race, I would start taking action for the sake of every other young singer who would have to go through what I went through. No young woman should feel like she has to rush through her formative years as an artist because there's an early expiration date stamped on her forehead because of her gender. This is not acceptable. It was okay in 1952 and it sure as hell isn't okay in 2012.
Take a look at Fort Worth Opera. They are a 501c3 corporation. That means that they are exempt from paying taxes. You and I absorb their tax burden in return for the service they provide to the community. That service is defined as educational. They are here to teach us about the arts through presenting performances and they are also teaching us that a male singer at age 33 is more valuable than a female singer at age 33 or 34 or 35.
I am not asking anyone to remove their age limits. I'm not asking to put my horse back into this race. I'm only saying that, if we must have age limits, they should be the same for both sexes. Both men and women should have the same number of years of college and post college-level training and experience when they compete against one another. Yes, some people start early. I know a 19-year-old boy who has several main stage opera roles under his belt and I don't think that he should be penalized in any way for starting so young. The age limit should not be lowered for him any more than it should be for someone else simply because she is female.
This is 2012. We've spent years trying to create a world where people of both genders can pursue their dreams and explore their talents without discrimination based on gender. We're still not perfectly equal, but we've accomplished a lot. It's time for classical music to get with the program. If there is an age limit for a competition or program, it should be based only on age and not on gender.
And if you got this far, thanks for reading.