‘. . . As in all the churches of the saints, the women should keep silence in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak but should be subordinate, as even the law says. If there is anything they desire to know, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church.’ (1 Cor 14:33-35)
Only 50 years ago, every cathedral in the country had exclusively male choirs with the lower parts being adult men and the higher parts being predominantly boys aged 4-14. We have finally seen girls choirs being integrated into part of the weekly routine of cathedrals and churches up and down the kingdom, most are only about 10 years old with only three Anglican Cathedrals left with no female chorister of any kind; Oxford, Hereford and Chichester. These Cathedrals choose to uphold the “tradition” of the boy chorister or treble. In response to that I would say, why pick and choose what traditions to uphold? If pure cathedral tradition dictated the lives of cathedral goers, women should stay silent and shave their heads as per Corinthians; as if women are purely an object to be possessed by a man. It is my opinion that the argument of “tradition” is not only illogical but hypocritical, has sexist undertones and is ultimately self destructive.
‘...If a woman does not cover her head, let her hair be cut off. And if it is shameful for a woman to have her hair cut or shaved off, she should cover her head. A man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but the woman is the glory of man.…’ (1 Cor 11-6)
As we know for a fact as people of a fairer and more egalitarian society, this treatment and opinion of women is not acceptable, nor am I suggesting it is taken into account in any of the Cathedrals named who remain without girls. However there is still considerable evidence that women’s rights are being threatened. On the brighter side, we have seen developments in the pursuit of gender equality over the past few decades with the first female bishop, Libby Lane, ordained into the Church of England in 2015 and the introduction of the first female at St Paul’s last year, who sings the alto line after over 1000 years of a all-male choir.
Although there have been some steps in the right direction, it must be said the treatment of said girls choirs in Cathedrals is far from equal. It is commonly the case that boys perform much more frequently, have larger practice rooms, priority staffing, singing lessons, higher and unequal payment, are first choice at the most prestigious events and generally have more funds and effort invested into their experience as choristers at the expense of the girls. Many cathedrals complain of insufficient funds but surely the rates boys are paid can be split or half sacrificed in the name of equality? However small or insignificant the margins of inequality, it is still inequality based purely on tradition and the genitals one happens to be born with. This injustice is a common problem and a hot topic of cathedral politics. It is an increasingly regular occurrence that girls are given the privilege of a choir however that is about where equal treatment stops. Remarks such as, “there is no chance of a choir football team either” are still made. This one in particular by Richard from Wraysbury, England who commented under a BBC article apropos of girls in cathedral choirs. Richard, it might be wise to think before you type and, last time I checked, women still have functioning feet so don’t be too sad.