A Guide To Understanding Young Women in a Rehearsal Setting…Practical Considerations

debaseinstallCoaching With Intent

A couple of months ago I published an article on this site about the women in the pageantry arts. That post garnered the second most hits and comments than any other post I’ve written. The article spoke in depth of observations that I have noticed in my 25 plus years in the activity. In the article, I noted that the leadership roles in the winterguard and drum corps arenas are filled primarily by men. Most designers are men. Designers are paid more. Most judging panels are made up of men. Most members on circuit boards and national boards are men. WGI for example, is made up of 16 board members. Three are listed as women. In a brief look around drum corps websites and without doing a full analysis of all of the drum corps listed by DCI, most of the directors, boards, and caption heads are men. The last blog post addressed the possibilities of this and I don’t profess to want to go to extremes and say that misogyny is at play or that women are being left out at will, what is interesting however, is that pageantry has always been a microcosm of society and the trends that are found in pageantry are also found throughout legitimate research that looks at corporate America.

Why does this matter? It matters because in the world of pageantry and specifically winterguard, young women are the primary recipient of our performance art, yet it seems that less than 30% make up leadership positions. It matters, because while it is young girls who are on the floor bringing our art to life, especially at the scholastic level, it tends to be men directing them. It matters, because girls are raised in our culture by our media to be pretty, ridiculously thin, and to take a subservient role in many aspects of life. This is true. Data shows over and over that women make less than men for the same days work. Data shows us that there are less women CEO’s, stockholders, and executives. It matters, because in any culture, it is important for a child to see themselves through the eyes of their leaders and role models. A black male needs to see that black men can rise to great achievements. A Hispanic child needs to know that there are Hispanic leaders who came from where they are and that they too, can rise to great levels. This is also true for young girls, yet misogyny is alive and well in our culture. The Geena Davis Institute specifically exists to bring to light the lack of female representation in Hollywood and Broadway, specifically behind the scenes at the decision making level.

It matters mostly, because if men are going to direct our young girls they need to know a few things about them. They need to have an awareness into the female psyche and female body when interacting with them. When researching this post, I spoke to a number of women who have been in the activity for a long time. They spoke of things they have heard men say to the girls, that a woman would never say. They also drew on their own experiences as performers, as did I. These women were honest and very appreciative of the opportunities pageantry has afforded them. They spoke highly of their male counterparts. They also admitted their own failings over the years, when they got caught up in the pressure of the season and made comments to the girls that they later regretted. They also voiced concern. 

  • For example, I spoke to a woman this year in Dayton who tech’d for a very prominent designer. The designer told a 19 year old who needed to go to the restroom in the middle of a rehearsal to take care of menstruation issues, that at the age of 19 she should have figured out her cycle by now and that leaving for that reason was unacceptable. Seriously?  Did he know that it can take a woman years to get a consistent cycle and that a change in stress and health can change the cycle? Was he aware at the embarrassment young girls go through as their body adapts to menstruation? While we are at it, as an audience member and judge, I cringe when I see high school girls wearing white uniforms, especially the young ones. I wore a white uniform in high school colorguard and hated it. On top of trying to do the best show possible, I had to worry about issues the boys in the guard didn’t have to and so did my teammates. The last thing you want as a designer or tech are issues unrelated to the show, during the show. 
  • What about body image? Open up any magazine or watch any tv show and you will see anorexia glaring at you. Girls grow up looking at their bodies as something to hate. There are entire industries set up to make a woman hate her body. So, how do we address this in colorguard? First, create buy-in on the uniforms. Think first about the girls you are about to costume and bring them 3 or 4 acceptable versions and ask them what they would like to wear the most. The uniforms I’ve seen some girls in over the years is not just a blatant act of not considering body image, but disregard for the girls themselves. At age 14 and 15 you are dealing with developing breasts and hips. Consider that during the costuming phase. Anorexia and obesity are huge problems for young girls. Consider those issues as well.  I have taught two guards that the designers costumed the girls in corsets. The shows didn’t even dictate them. They weren’t shows staged for an 18th century period piece. They were just shows. I watched as girls taped down their breasts and worried about lifting their arms to throw a toss, with fear their breasts would pop out during a show. I watched as the pulled at their uniforms in warm up and I watched as they experienced pain from the prolonged pressing down of their breasts. How does this help their self-image in any way? How does this make them look forward to the hours of being in uniform? Engage a female staff member when designing uniforms and ask for their opinion and then listen to them.  
  • Don’t refer to a girl’s weight at all unless a woman is present, especially at the high school level. I once heard a band director use the phrase “beached whale,” in referring to the guard and how they moved across the field. Was that the best way to show respect towards the girls paying dues to participate in his program? Pageantry isn’t the modeling industry or professional dance. Many of the girls we get are in the activity, because they found a home with it. Many of them already feel bad as they weren’t included in the more female based activities like cheerleading or dance team. Let’s not destroy their fragile self-esteems by our insensitivity to body image. 

Oh by the way…stop costuming high school girls in white!

    • Then there is design in and of itself. Whether we like it or not, many girls are not raised to be competitive. They aren’t raised to be powerful. Even in this day and age, really competitive girls aren’t easy to find. When Disney released the movie, “Brave,” it was hailed as a triumph for women. Merida was the first princess in Disney history to want to be competitive and want to break away from female tradition. Girls could find themselves in her. I have noticed that most girls come into rehearsals rather timid. They aren’t overly competitive, especially if there are boys in the ensemble. It’s easy to design for the really outgoing performers, especially if those performers are boys. Boys get more crowd response…it seems. When I teach, I tell the girls that I expect a rise in the female power and that they can achieve great things. I tell them that they can throw a high toss and that if they want to be a rifle, then they can…they just have to know they can and they have to do the work. I also make sure they know that I know when they are selling themselves short. It’s important that we do this. The skill to know they can command an audience can carry into their careers and relationships. If they can command an audience, then why in the hell would they ever let someone in a relationship call them a bitch or a whore. If they can command an audience of thousands, then they can take on that date a rapist if the day, Heaven forbid ever comes. I heard a designer once ask the entire guard if there were any boys who could perform a certain trick. He didn’t ask if “anyone” could perform a certain trick. He asked if “any boys.” Let me tell you, this was not a design decision. That statement was one of misogyny. Girls in this activity have the potential to take on any design moment that a male can. They just have to know they can do it.  They have to be given the chance. Feel free to design to their natural sensuality, but use the female staff to help them understand it.

    We can use the female sensuality as a wonderful aspect to the design of the show, without exploiting their sexuality. It’s been done, but not enough. 

    • Strength. If I see one more phrase written with the strength of a grown man, for the strength of a 14 year old girl, then I swear I’m going to throw something at the choreographer. End of the pole work is an example of this. Wrist strength is different for females then it is for males. We can train and train and train, and some choreography will always be a struggle for some women. They aren’t lazy. They physically can’t do it. Tricep based work is also difficult for some women, especially the young ones. Most girls in their teen years are not at a physical point to have the muscular strength to manage some of the work that is tricep and even bicep based. There are cheats. There are ways to manipulate the phrase to make it accessible to all performers, which will not change the structure of the phrase. Did you know that teen girls are more susceptible to ACL injuries? Teach landing skills properly.

    ·         Bitch, whore, ho, and pussy. Just don’t! Not in any way or any context! While we are at it, could we put a moratorium on the phrase, “fish?” 
    • Avoiding embarrassment is a priority for girls. Girls are raised to care about how they look and act. Not wanting to be embarrassed is a huge issue for many females. This will keep them from excelling and cause them to panic when they feel pressured. Work with that trait and not against it. 
    • Girls also want to look “pretty.” Don’t forget to costume the hair and make up and then give them the tools such as technique and time to do it correctly. 
    S   The issues with women in our society is one that stirs some very passionate responses and I realized that as I wrote every word of this post. The dynamics of women in society are studied and researched internationally and the body of research is growing. Even women are split on misogyny and how it impacts our world. This discussion however, remains an important one and one that every organization should have.

    Pageantry has done some wonderful things for young women all over the nation. We can do more. It’s important that our young girls who have chosen the path of pageantry can see themselves in any way the want to. They need to know that their self-image and self-esteem are safe while in rehearsal. They need to know that the misogynistic images they were raised with through the media, aren’t going to follow them on the field or in the gym. In a world where women are 10 times more likely to be raped than a man…where females are nearly twice as likely as males to be shown with a diminutive waistline…or female characters in feature films populate less than 30% of all speaking roles, then we have to take a stronger role. WE HAVE TO! 

    Those of us in leadership roles, need to look at the makeup of our organizations and honestly assess if women are being asked to adjust to a male dominated environment or the environment is equal to both sexes. We have to harness that female power. We have to understand it and include them as stakeholders in the design of the shows and in the running of the organizations. Here is how you start…It’s pretty easy. Just ask the women of your organization. Just ask them. Ask the performer and ask the staff. Just ask. It’s that simple.