Thursday, July 21, 2022



In this week's issue of the Columbia Flier, a story from July 5th:

‘She’s an inspiration for gender equality’: Wilde Lake’s Chantal Ridlon Thacker to be first woman JV head football coach in Howard County, Jacob Steinberg, Baltimore Sun

The quote in the title of the piece is from Matt Sillers, assistant principal of WLHS. I’m not sure I would have featured it so prominently. Being an inspiration for gender equality isn’t that far from being stuck with accolades like being a credit to one’s race. 

Don’t misunderstand me. I’m happy to see Ms. Thacker getting a job doing something she is good at and that she clearly loves. I’m a bit uneasy with the burden than this kind of coverage places on her. It could go one of two ways. Is it truly a celebration of who she is or does it set her up to be carrying the ball for all women who want to move forward in traditionally-male careers?

Speaking of traditionally-male careers, last time I checked HCPSS had not even one single band director at the high school level who is a woman. We have twelve, soon to be thirteen, high schools. Zero women band directors. Surely there are women who are motivated and qualified to be high school band directors. Why don’t we have any?

Nationally there’s a good deal of what I would call “bro culture” in the band world, especially where marching band is concerned. Does it somehow trickle down from the football games they come out to support weekly during the season? Perhaps, but it’s a good bit more complicated than that.

The fact remains that women are less likely to be hired as high school band directors across the country. It’s changing, but very, very slowly. There’s a lot of deeply entrenched sexism out there. I belong to a Facebook group called “Women Rising to the Podium”.

For all the great discussions about repertoire, successful concert experiences, and so on, tales of demeaning treatment appear pretty regularly. A woman in the band world can expect to be ignored, talked over, or excluded. People will go to a male intern or even a male parent volunteer and assume they are in charge. A woman band director will have her choices of concert apparel scrutinized and criticized in a way that a man in the same position never would.

People will probably not come right out and say it, but, for many - - in their mind’s eye - - a high school band director is supposed to be a man. They’re just more comfortable with the status quo. Parents may carry inside them an expectation that this is the case even if they’ve never conciously thought about it. This puts women at a disadvantage in creating their own high school band environment and leadership style. Parent volunteers are absolutely essential to a successful band program. Their “buy in” to the school’s band director can make or break a program.

Let’s face it, many people just want things to be the way they were when they were in school. Football coaches and Band Directors were men. That’s just the way it was. I can think of a lot of reasons why that should change and almost all of them have to do with improving the educational experience for students. So far, movement in that direction is painfully slow. 

It isn’t that applicants for these jobs should be hired because they are women. They should be hired because they are the best person for the job: the best prepared, the most skilled, the most temperamentally suited to work with high school students. Often, though, they are just invisible. Not considered. Or they are aware of the dynamics and so don’t apply.

I hope that Coach Thacker is beginning a successful tenure at Wilde Lake High School. I hope her hiring will open the door for similar hires. I worry that a lot rests on her success as she is “the one and only.” I’d love to see HCPSS make progress in hiring and supporting women as high school band directors as well.

But let’s not hang the “inspiration for gender equality” mantle on them when that happens.

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