Why So Many Questions About Why So Few Women?

Thank you for this article, Susanna; I appreciate your raising important and subtle points, including the fact that there are still firsts, that ‘blind and neutral’ are not the same, and so on.  There are too many points to cover, but since you mention specifics and acknowledge not having the answers, here are few thoughts:

(1) We need to take into account that men and women are socialized in ways that are suboptimal or worse for women (and for men, depending on one’s values, ethics, and goals).  The inclusion of women on boards and panels and such is necessary, but not sufficient.  Presence does not equate with equality; there are many more factors to consider.  (For what it is worth, I have been on plenty of panels that were attentive to gender.  But the imbalance continues.)

(2) You ask about role models: I am one such role model, and one for whom Judith Weir has been and continues to be an exemplary role model herself (in her role as a composer, as you say—and I have written about her work in regard to gender and other matters too).  But I am sad to say that the presence of mature, experienced women is not enough either.  I have been attentive to mentoring female composers, and male ones too, including but not limited to advisees interested in gender-related matters.  Most of my own mentors were male, and they were and continue to be exemplary citizens in terms of gender issues and everything else.  I myself am puzzled sometimes to see that there are fewer women applicants for a certain opportunity, or fewer who are likely to be considered as likely contenders.

(3) I am curious (literally) about your mention that women “lose motivation to continue studying music and musical composition, and why are they then less likely to put themselves forward”:  Is that an inference from the data?  Can one be sure of what is happening behind the numbers there?

(4) The ways in which decisions are made and opportunities awarded (caveat: I am in the US) can be quite informal and subjective, and the distinction between professional expertise and personal bias, in a field such as composition, is not always easy to manage.

(5) Apart from the numbers, men continue to enjoy unwarranted privilege and license; for example, how many male composers are reading this article?  For how many is this topic a concern?  As above, it is, for #SomeMaleComposers.  Yet it continues to be the case that men are accorded license far beyond that accorded to women, and that (again, in the US), personal hunch and identification may well affect decisions.  The fact that there are likely to be comments on your article that put forth blanket assertions without having worked in this area or having done any investigation to support what they say is telling.  (Cue the tubas . . . )  #SomeOfUs report our experience, read books about discrimination, have discussions like this, look at data, and strategize (and worry over whether clothing is too sexy or not sexy enough, whether self-presentation is too humble or too self-important, whether manner of interaction too accommodating or too “pushy”).  In response, #SomeOthers say, “Well, no, it’s really like this,” presuming to define others’ experience without having done the legwork to support their assertions.  In such instances, the opinions of those how know less too often are accorded disproportionate authority.  If one is not required to deal with gender on a daily basis, why would one?  (The fact that some do is all the more heartening.)  And if not, why consider oneself an authority on the topic?  Moreover, most articles on the underrepresentation of women focus on what needs to change on the XX side of the chromosomal balance: there should be more women, why are the numbers low, what can women do.  (Hence my question above about the data.)  But there is much less energy being directed toward men and the changes they need to make.  The frequency with which a proposal is described as “letting” women in is revealing.

(6) I am sorry to say that, as a composer with three decades’ experience now, having enjoyed opportunity, support, artistic accomplishment, and recognition, I find the persistence of gender inequity in some pockets of the composition world egregious.  Another matter that that is almost never discussed is the way that women may be confronted with more, not less, discrimination as we gain wisdom and expertise, as we become elders; that has been my experience, from some quarters, I am sorry to say.  I hope that my mentees and other younger composers do not encounter such resistance to their mastery.  For now, being experienced and established offers no guarantee that one will be respected in the way that each one of us deserves.  There is still pressure on women to deny any imbalance; we receive much positive reinforcement if we say we have not encountered challenges, that we think of ourselves “as composers first” or that we believe ourselves to have been treated fairly (great, but how could we know?).  Women who acknowledge forces that work against them meet with reprisals of various sorts.  (Notice the #ManyQualifiers in my discussion here; they are accurate, yet my commentary is still likely to be read as dualistic.)

(7) As some have written about in mainstream discussions of otter gender issues, again and again we are the ones who are required to adapt to circumstance.  While informal, ad hoc efforts may not be effective, it is also not realistic to think that systemic/bureaucratic changes are feasible. (The amount of training that would be needed . . . ) I do not see this changing unless individuals and groups really take responsibility—a familiar term—and, more fully, unless enough of us really desire gender equity and fruitful exchange—and all the yummy fruit when the harvest comes.  In order to foster a better climate for women, we need to recognize that such an endeavor is in the best interest of all, to value a community in which one individual’s success is no longer seen as another’s loss, to pay as much attention to how we do what we do as how much of it we do.  I myself have been considering leaving the profession, or changing my relationship to it—in my late 40s, knowing it is my calling and that I am at the top of my creative abilities (thus far), with many more pieces in me, and devoted as ever to the next generation—specifically because the values I see espoused in so corners of the composition world have revealed themselves as  abhorrent and destructive.  It’s not only about gender, but it plays itself out in dishonorably gendered manner, and someone in my position must ask whether such an environment will permit one’s gifts and offerings to be of use. The fact that in saying this, I place myself, not others, at professional risk, says much.  The fact that I, having been fortunate in so many ways, am still asking the question of whether it is worth persevering says more.

It is disheartening to observe how “the woman composer question” keeps flipping back to page one, without much recognition of previous chapters.  I observed this in what you correctly term “the rather unedifying recent debate about women conductors.”  It is encouraging that your article, despite its brevity, takes into account historical context.  More frequently, though, the public discussion on this topic seems to rewind again and again to pose the first question that would open the first meeting of the first seminar in the first semester of a life’s work on being a human being and a composer.  (And even, the response to that opening question may be interrupted when the kindergartners barge in and exclaim, “It’s time for recess!  Where’s my cookie?”)  It’s unfortunate that there is not more continuity and depth in such discussions, though it is understandable.  Perhaps that is something you, in your position, could cultivate.

Is it possible to dream a world of composition and music where we place mutual respect and the greater good at the top of our priorities, where we all remember what we don’t know and remain open to one another’s experience?  I would like to think so, but I have yet to see a quorum on that.

Ok, that is more than a few thoughts.  Thank you again for your thoughtful and good-willed attention to the topic.

—Barbara A. White

Life Is Long

“Life is short; play with your dog.”
—Joe’s bumper

“Life is short; play with your human; they’ll give you lots of treats.”
—Joe’s dog

“Life is long; write everything down, and get Netflix.  Don’t forget to vaccinate.  Watch out for those death panels.”
—Joe’s mother-in-law

“Life is long.  Take ‘er easy, but take ‘er.  Teach your kids lots of tunes.  They’ll be grateful, and they’ll make lots of friends.  If your hands get tired, they’ll come by to play the music you taught them, and they’ll pass it on too.  Others will travel from afar and be envious of your deep roots and rich culture.  (Some of them won’t leave.)  And remember all your funny stories, because they’ll love hearing them.  (Make sure to tell your son how much you love his biscuits and lemon pie, and he’ll make them for you every chance he gets.  More often than for he makes them for his girlfriend, but she won’t mind.)”
—Joe’s folks

“I am awake.  Life is suffering, but not to worry.”
—Buddha

“Life is great.  May I have more ice cream?  (Why am I asking?  Of course I can!  I’m a Prince.  Life is great.)  You!—get me more ice cream.  You know, one of these days I’d like to go for a walk outside.  How do I get there?”
—The young Buddha

“Boy, do I wish I hadn’t written that book. . . .  It won’t die.  Now they’re using it as a guide to business.  Ah, que buffone!  I guess those wannabe Princes don’t know it got me sent to prison.  And can’t they tell it’s <satirico>?”
—Machiavelli

“Life is a mystery.  Light the fire, smith the metal, and you’ll have a poem.”
—Brigit

“I’m not sure; there is a new life policy coming into effect.  Go check with that young man who’s all over the news these days.  You’ve seen him; the one with the long hair and sandals.  He has lots of followers.  Sheesh, this celebrity culture is really getting out of hand.”
—St. Brigit

“Life is short; play with your dog.”
—St. Francis

“Be good.”
—God

“It is what is is, and it sounds beautiful.”
—Finn Mac Cumhaill

“Not so fast.  Wait for Nietzsche. (And what are you doing here anyway, Finn?  You do not exist.)”
—Kierkegaard

“It is not what it is.  Well, maybe what I said isn’t it . . .”
—Schrödinger

“God is dead.”
—Nietzsche

“Nietzsche is dead.  Um, God, can I have a treat now?”
—God’s dog

“Life is in and out and up and down.  Make sure you give your humans lots of chances to pass the time: go over to the door every few minutes so they can drop what they are doing and open it for you.  They love that.  You can tell, because they give you treats after.  Or before, depending on your perspective.  Plus, they even make videos and show them to people all around the world on that weird flat fishbowl thingie they’re always hunching over and swearing or laughing.  (Hence my suggestion about the door.)  So try to do lots of outlandish things so they’ll get lots of likes.  I dunno how it works, but no matter; I’m up to my tail in toy mice and purple haze thanks to the royalties.  You should come over some time; we’ll party.”
—Schrödinger’s neighbor’s cat

“There, there.  I hear you.  I send my compassion.”
—Kuan Yin

“Happy 82d birthday, Grandpa!  Can you remind me who won the 1947 World Series?  I always forget.”
—Joe’s daughter

“The Yankees beat the Dodgers.  (That’s when they were the Brooklyn Dodgers.)  Seven games.  Jackie Robinson played for the Dodgers.  I hope the Red Sox will win just once in my lifetime; it’s been since before I was born.  That Darned Bambino.  (Not you, Bambina.)”
—Joe’s father-in-law, Giuseppe

“Wasn’t that the first year Jackie Robinson played with the Dodgers?—Ergo, the first World Series with a desegregated statius?  In the Coliseum, they would have called that intermisceo.  That reminds of something funny . . .”
—Joe’s husband, Professor of the History of the Culture of the Economics of Roman Sporting and Comedy 

“Wow, you must have read my History™!  I said that long before we became æther-Friends™.  No, you didn’t do research?  Are you sure?  You seem to know a lot.  I guess you must have a prodigious memory.  Anyway, moving on. . . .  But wait, are you sure?  Really?  Okay, okay.”
—Dr. Jay

“You’ve been in here a long time.  You really should get outside.  You already posted and still you keep revising.  Plus, your list keeps getting longer.  Blagues are supposed to be pithy.  If you confuse ’em, you’re gonna lose ’em.”
—IAmNotMakingUp (to me)

“What are you going to do with your one wild and precious life?”
—Mary Oliver

“Um, are you guys done?  Can we play fetch now? [Diabolical laugh.  Wag wag wag.]”
—Joe’s dog

—Posted by Rose Marie McSweeney