What about Ms. Canisius?

By Branwyn Wilkinson

Opinion Contributor

Canisius is a progressive school. The students, faculty and administration strive to uphold ideals of equality and not to discriminate. Yet, one of our favorite traditions is the Mr. Canisius competition.

Mr. Canisius, while it may sound discriminatory to outsiders, is actually quite the opposite. The competition is meant to parody female beauty pageants. It leads the audience to reconsider traditional gender roles. The show is also meant to be funny, though, and it doesn’t disappoint in either goal.

The show highlights talent, not looks. And hard work. Clips from rehearsals are played during the event to show off the commitment of the participants to creating routines to wow the audience, and make them laugh until they cry.

It’s not easy to get up on stage and show off a side of you people don’t usually see. Mr. Canisius reminds us that it’s OK to go against the grain and do something unexpected.

Plus, the competition is open to women. At least, the registration is.

Yet, it took until 2016 for a woman to enter the competition. With a name like “Mr. Canisius” it’s not hard to see why the women of Canisius might have felt it was not our place to compete. Maybe we’ve been waiting for someone else to break the mold first.

Regardless of the reason, the mold is broken now. This year, Mr. Canisius welcomed its first female competitor, Paula Uruburok to the rivalry. Now, it’s much more likely that more female students will follow in her footsteps.

This has raised some questions about the future of the competition, though. While it was open to women, traditionally Mr. Canisius was for the men of Canisius. If, in future years, equal numbers of men and women compete, would the name “Mr. Canisius” remain appropriate? And if it’s been holding female students back from competing, isn’t it due to be changed?

We could always stick with “Mr. Canisius” for tradition’s sake. But it’s also important that our school stick to its commitment against all forms of discrimination, which is why a name-change could be in order.

So far Canisius is doing well on that commitment. The fact that our school hosts a well-attended event like Mr. Canisius every year shows the people here are open to challenging norms. This year, a woman entered the traditionally male-dominated competition, and, while people took note of it, the response was positive. It also didn’t change the nature of the competition.

All this proves that our community is ready for an evolution in the time-honored tradition of Mr. Canisius. And that evolution should be to make the competition accessible to all genders.

It’s crucial that it be the same competition, though. It would go against the integrity of the tradition to invent a Ms. Canisius to accompany Mr. Canisius.

First off, female pageants are riddled with opportunities for women to become objectified. But it would be great to see a satirical female pageant to combat that tendency. And I have confidence that the Canisius community could create one that would be just as funny and enjoyable as Mr. Canisius.

However, while this too would break down some gender stereotypes, the key problem is it would uphold the norm that women cannot compete against men. It’s long past time to leave the idea that we must be measured by some separate standard in the past.

The great thing about the Mr. Canisius competition is that it goes against gender roles. How many other male pageants have you heard of? It emphasizes the importance of talent and personality, over that of looks and popularity. That’s the goal of the Mr. Canisius competition.

And that goal would remain even if the competition lost it’s “Mr. Canisius” title. With competitors of all genders, the event would still break down gender stereotypes. Uruburok proved that Canisius is not a place that views women as “separate.” Women and men can compete alongside each other, can be measured by the same standards, and it doesn’t have to be a big deal.

By stepping up as the first female contender for the Mr. Canisius title, she sparked a lot of thought on what Mr. Canisius is all about. Her participation could definitely lead to a change for the better in one of Canisius’ favorite traditions.

Because, while it is important to challenge gender roles, it is just as important to challenge gender norms, particularly those that uphold the idea of women and men as separate from each other. Making Mr. Canisius accessible and welcoming to more than just misters would be a great way to start.



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