I recently got an email from someone who wanted a “female voice” to read at an event. The subject of the email was “Ladies.” I found myself tremendously bothered by the email, but not initially sure why. After reflecting on it for a day or two, I came to some realizations.
First, it rankles me to be called a lady. Even though I am a cisgender female, I don’t identify as a “lady.” When someone calls me that I immediately disconnect. It conjures up specific images of parasols, cinched waists and luncheons with others who look like me. Yuck and more yuck.
Another realization I had was that there is no such thing as a “female voice.” While choirs are neatly divided into who can sing in a particular range, with sopranos being the highest range of notes and basses being the lowest range, there is no reason to think that soprano necessarily equals “female.” In fact my mother, who had a beautiful operatic voice, sang alto, tenor and, sometimes bass. I’m pretty sure she considered herself female.
So what did this person mean by “female voice?” Would a transgender male whose voice was high pitched work? Would a transgender female whose voice was in a low range work? Would someone who is non binary with a mid-range voice work? Or did the person who wrote the email really mean that they wanted someone who looks female to read?
I think one of the reasons this bothered me so much was that even though it was further framed that they wanted a female voice “for inclusion and diversity,” what it really did was perpetuate heteronormative stereotypes which ultimately exclude, rather than include, people.
If inclusion and diversity were really what they were after, it would have been better to ask for “someone who is routinely marginalized by society” to read. Or, they could have said, “We’d like for someone other than a man to read.” People who identify as female would certainly qualify, but it wouldn’t exclude other people based on their gender. (Other than men, of course, who were already presumably excluded from the “ladies” category.)
When we categorize people into the binary of male and female, we are ostracizing a very large part of the population. This is not inclusion. This does not represent diversity. It perpetuates “sameness” and allows us to preserve the categories of “us” (male/female) vs. “other.” True inclusion includes all people, no matter what gender they are, no matter what voice range they have, no matter whether they look like the gender you might think they are. That’s the direction in which we need to head and that’s the level of sensitivity we need to develop for true inclusion and diversity.