AS Byatt on gender segregation in the 1950s/60s(4 Posts)
Excerpt from a longer article in Granta:
My own Oxbridge college only let women in from the early 1980s. Extraordinary that this systematic (and systemic) sexual discrimination seems to have been so soon forgotten.
Have just read the link. My oxbridge college only let in women from late-ish 1980s. I was there in mid 1990s. When I think about it, is absolutely astounding that the segregation & discrimination has been so quickly forgotten.
Like Byatt says, when I think back I seem to have not been thinking straight. Facilities wise, I think everything was equally accessible (no men-only rooms, enough women's toilets etc had been added (NOT the case all over oxbridge at the time!)). But there were legacy elements of culture that I could definitely have questioned. For example, we had a famous college choir that was all male with no plans to change - I even remember the Master asking me what I thought about that once, and I hadn't even thought it through.
Interesting you mention choirs stirling - I am not musical at all but a friend of mine was organ scholar and is very talented, and he worked with a Cambridge mixed choir that had some amazing women singers, but he told me there was still - this was last year - a huge prejudice against having women singers. He said people will insist that boys' voices are 'purer' although the same problem doesn't seem to apply for opera! Interesting how snobberies conveniently reinforce sexism, eh?
Interesting to hear your friend's experience, LRD. There are some Cambridge mixed choirs (that is, male and female students) that are just as good if not better than Kings and St John's (which are still all-male with choirboys) but it's true that Kings and John's still have the prestige factor of big Radio 3/televised services and lots of tourists. I think this is mostly due to tradition and the 'cute choirboy' factor.
Cathedral choirs started letting girls in from the early 1990s and it was very controversial (though as with letting women into Oxbridge colleges everyone got used to it very quickly and the sky has not fallen in). Lots of people claimed that boys' voices were just more 'special' than girls although the research tends to refute this. Also, and rather sadly, cathedrals have found that they have to keep the boys' and girls' choirs separate, as otherwise boys lose interest (as anything with girls in is perceived to be uncool) and leave.
When googling this topic I found a website campaigning for the traditional all-male cathedral choir which I would recommend to the connoisseur of sexist rhetoric:
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