GENDER & MUSIC
I feel very ambivalent about this article. It is poorly written
and not really organized, most likely owing to my annoyance at the
subject itself. I feel like it will be
antique and obsolete in a few more years. It already is obsolete
in many sectors of our society (the sectors I usually choose and always
prefer to inhabit). Sometimes I decide to delete it, but then,
before I get around to it, I attend some musical event that could
easily be described as a "sausage fest" and reluctantly end up letting
it stand a while longer. I feel vaguely ashamed that this ever
was an issue to anyone. To those of you who think it's stupid,
I'm with you, I look forward to the time when everybody does.
Music created by women could have a
special function . . . for healing separations that cloud the spirit of
humanity. . . . Music cannot go on as a lopsided affair belonging
only to men. As music changes so will the world as we know
it. We need a balanced society with equal representation for both
women and men and support for all composers and musicians.
Are you listening to your own inner
voice and answering its call? Are you expressing what you need to
express, or what you have been taught to express by the canon of men’s
Women are vastly under-represented in music. Aside from singer /
songwriters they are generally exceptional in any field. For each
Bonnie Raitt, Irene Schweizer, Sofia Gubaidulina, Susie Ibarra, or
Annie Gosfield there are thousands of men doing work in similar idioms.
Twenty years ago this was easier to understand, but as the patriarchy
has lost and ceded its hold on many institutions (most law students are
now female for instance) music has remained predominately male (the
percentage of women in the military is far higher than the percentage
of women making a living from music).
Why? I don’t believe musicians are more sexist than people in
other disciplines (though they may be more insecure and thus more
Our traditions, our methodologies, our forms, the types of messages we
expect to receive and express seem to be discouraging the participation
of the majority of our species. This exclusionary path is
unhealthy. The passively accepted assumptions we are making about
what constitutes music are obviously incomplete and need to be
challenged and criticized.
I find myself surprized that I've ended up writing this. I am also
surprized that so little thought appears to have gone into it.
The few existing sources (Susan McClary, Ruth A Solie, Susan Cook &
Judy Tsou) that claim to investigate gender and difference in music
don’t do very much.
The Oppressive Hypothesis
There is certainly a lot of merit in this. Females are
conditioned from an early age into ‘traditional’ social roles.
But these ideas have been actively challenged for three decades now,
yet the gap persists.
Is this more than social? Is there something embedded in the
structures we use to make music that alienates females? Have men
unconsciously built some exclusionary factor into the infrastructure of
our theory, into the mechanics of the instruments themselves?
Is anyone else as bored as I am of the whole hunter/gather
schtick? To me it reeks of
protecting the paradigm, like all that crap about men being
instinctively more promiscuous than women.
SIZE IS IMPORTANT
According to research, the brains of men and women are slightly
different. The corpus callosum which connects the two hemispheres
is larger in females than it is in men, which produces greater cerebral
symmetry, more communication between the ‘left" and the ‘right brain’.
In tests (like SATs), males do better in mathematics (the higher the
level the more the gap is pronounced) and females do better in language
SYSTEMIZATION / EMPATHIZATION
Males appear to have superior spatial aptitude.
"Women assemble watches, men design and repair them."
There haven’t been many female mathematicians and engineers.
This is undeniably true, but one can draw different conclusions from
it. The most obvious one is: women don’t have the same level of
analytical mechanical ability as men. Another (and far more
interesting to me) response is: there’s something lacking in the
elements of our mechanics and the methodology of our analysis that has
evolved from the (socially imposed) nearly exclusive participation of
men in the field.
Our technology is a magnificent achievement, but it’s far from a
perfect one. Possibly, owing to its evolution almost solely in
the asymmetrical minds of men, it has ignored and/or failed to develop
approaches that incorporate the more symmetrically minded talents of
women. It may be that the more linear and less inclusive ways men
solve problems (our traditional logic reasons by exclusion) has
prevented us from developing more appropriate technologies, forms of
Why aren’t we farther along? The social programming and the physical aspects can’t explain the whole thing.
I don’t want to remove gender from music (the PC ‘everybody’s the
same’), but add more gender to it. Re-engender it. Expand it.
Our music has been developing for thousands of years along the path of
systemization and technocracy. Perhaps this reached one dead end
in the era of serialism and now is reaching another in technology-based
music. To me it seems it needs to change its direction and
explore the paths offered by empathizing instead developing through
exclusions. Indeterminacy and free jazz both appear to be
leanings toward this.
The psuedomorphosis of women imitating the approaches men have taken is not going to change very much.
Changing a paradigm is a rite of
passage. The paradigm of exclusion will not change without the
energy and participation of women whether it is to compose and
participate in art music or any other kind of music. Women really
must assume responsibility and take charge of this change. Our
western culture is suffering from the lack of spirit from music
traditionally provided by women. It is not enough for women to
buy into art music – no matter how attractive it is – and only becoming
accomplished in the techniques and forms created and taught by men; It
also could be wise to avoid participating in the competitive and
sometimes cut throat careerism that often goes with the field.
The musical heroine of the millenium must discover her own inner voice
and seek out her own inner path in music, She must also answer
the call of the lost music of women across the ages. Out of the
united inner voices of many women will come the music of the millenium
–the music that we need to find balance and harmonious relationships in
our society. To achieve balance and harmony it will be necessary
to gather together, learn and promote high level teamwork and strategy,
network with each other, support each other and move toward healing the
separation that so blatantly continues to exist –the seapartion of
women from each other, from men and from the creative process and power
of music. Creativity is a birth right for all human beings.