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Artistry requires representation

Did you go to Party on the Green? I did, but I left early with my head reeling and a sickened feeling in my stomach. It wasn’t that it had been any different from music events that I’d been to at Wooster in the past — but that was exactly the problem. In a near-replica of last year’s Springfest, this year’s Party on the Green again featured 19 performers. Almost unbelievably, 18 of 19 were cisgender men and none were women.

The seemingly only progress to be found was one song featuring a female student opener, and, yes, I was happy to see that. But is one song and one woman enough? My answer to you is no. For any students other than cis-het white males at Party on the Green, there was either no one or almost no one like you onstage. How could this possibly have happened in a community as diverse as Wooster, not once but twice in a row? I want us to take a look at this and why we need to care.

First off, we need to establish that this was not coincidence. There are no physical or biological differences rendering one gender identity less capable of or interested in playing music than another. If you acknowledge this, then you recognize that the reasons driving it are entirely social. (Still think it’s coincidence? Consider this: Wooster is 45 percent male. If you took a completely random sample of 19 Wooster students, there is less than a 0.25 percent chance that you would end up with all men, twice in a row.)

There are female, trans and non-binary musicians at Wooster, and there are female, trans and non-binary musicians in this country: we just aren’t seeing or supporting them. To say that there is no other choice than to showcase cis-het male performers is to excuse yourself from doing anything about it.

The second point I want to drive home here is that this matters. It matters not just because women — especially queer women, trans women and women of color — deserve visibility, but because their lack of visibility is an agent that serves to reinforce social constructs of gender, sexuality and race. When the people looking down at you from the stage represent largely the most privileged demographic, what does that communicate? They, only, are talented. They, only, are powerful. They, only, are important.

Lastly, we need to understand both that this can be changed and that change requires action. Passively mourning the lack of representation is no different from apathy.

Action, if you’re an audience member, means creating a more welcoming environment at events by respecting other identities in the audience (i.e., not shoving, groping or using hateful language against them), by not making performers a representative for their demographic and by using your privilege to correct your friends when they do.

Action, if you’re a musician, means going out of your way to include people who are different from you in the process of learning, playing and creating music.

Action, if you’re in a position to influence which artists are brought to Wooster, means choosing to give female, trans and non-binary folks a platform and a place in the spotlight. If we do this, we can create a positive cycle in which marginalized identities at Wooster can become increasingly more centered and fairly represented: once included, they can share the experience they’ve gained with others and serve as inspiration for the aspiring artists watching them succeed.

Covers is tomorrow night, and I encourage you to drop by with these thoughts in mind. I know I’ll be there, and I plan on staying until the end. To all of us here at Wooster: start noticing, start caring — and start acting.

Robyn Newcomb, a Features Editor for the Voice, can be reached for comment at RNewcomb20@wooster.edu.

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