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 It already is obsolete in many sectors of our society (the sectors I usually choose and always prefer to inhabit).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 musical establishment?
-Pauline Oliveros

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 subconsciously defensive).

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.


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 and reading.


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 government, etc.

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.
-Pauline Oliveros



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