Wherefore art thou, wherever?

We’ve been going about this all wrong!

We need to locate a big, fat disgusting pig with a slobby bimbo dog face.  Then we can ask this unprofessional disaster herself where her wherever is.  (Full disclosure: it’s possible that she will drop to her knees to show us.)

Except . . . she doesn’t have her facts.  So we might be out of luck after all.  Whoever can tell us, then, where her wherever is?

Whither wherever?  We may never know.

[Libby Nelson, “Here are all Donald Trump’s insults to women that Megyn Kelly asked about.”]

Then and Now, Selfie and Other

A diptych  frequently circulated online:

Moon Bathroom








This has nothing to so with sex or gender.  It is about how things have changed over time.  The image is not sexist, or misogynist, because it does not represent all women.  It is just one example.   It is comparing then and now, not men and women.  And especially not grown-up, lionized, male historical figures with well known identities to young, anonymous, fictitious women.  It is just one example.  This image is not representative of women as a whole [sic], and you are sexist to say that it is.  The image does not target any behavior that is specifically feminine [sic].  It is just an accurate example of what women do.  It is just true that girls and women spend a lot of time in the bathroom and take a lot of selfies; ergo, they take a lot of selfies in the bathroom.  That is just logic.  Plus, it would be just the same if it was [sic] a picture of a guy taking a selfie.  But guys just don’t do that.  I know, because I use the men’s bathroom, and I never see them taking selfies in there.

Women are a conglomerate as members of the female sex.  Your comments do not represent women as a whole [sic].  You can’t just give one example, like, what if we compared Betty Friedan with Justin Bieber? That’s not a counterexample, because it is not based in statistics.  Using a handful of feminist women [sic] that fit your criterias [sic] is not indicatory [sic] of our society.  You need to use statistics and prove your point.  (And remember, the image of Armstrong and Selfie Girl is just one example; it does not make any point about gender.  It’s just like if you said all black men are rapists.)

And don’t over-analyze.  The image is not academic and has nothing to do with semiotics, “the gaze,” identity, anonymity, or “representation.”  It has nothing to do with women in general, because it does not represent all women. Your [sic] just hiding behind big words, in some intellectual fantasy that has no connection with reality.  By the way, your analysis is misguided, and you are miseducated too.

You are looking to be offended by everything you see.  You’ve created enough straw men to distract all of the wicked witches [sic] monkeys. It isn’t my goal in life to memorize as many fairy tales as possible.

[I am not making this up.]

Diptychs circulated infrequently online:

Diptych White Men




Dpitych Hefner




Diptych Street Harassment





Diptych Lolita




Diptych Massacre







This has nothing to so with sex or gender.  It is about how things have changed over time.  (Etc.)


Neil Armstrong et al. (1969)
Paul Ryan et al (n.d.)
Hugh Hefner et al (n.d.)
Robin Thicke et al. (2014)
Puerto Rican Day in Central Park (2000)
Shoshana Roberts Street Harassment (2014)
Sue Lyon in Kubrick, Lolita (1962, based on 1955 novel)
Pharrell Williams, “It Girl” (2014)
Montréal Massacre (1989)
Still from Elliot Rodger’s video “selfie” made before his Isla Vista Killings (2014)

“Moving At the Speed of Thought”—Or, A Drop of Liquid Sunshine

[dedicated to Alice, with gratitude]
Peter Sellars On Art, Ethics, and Opera*
Department of Music at Princeton
March 30, 2013

[I remember one year ago today: temperature in the 60s, or 70s even, blossoms effortlessly and joyously emerging.  Today, I see a crocus here and there, a mangled snowdrop, and the spring seems elusive still, hard won.  But the birds persevere, beckoning into the next season.]


Peter Sellars—I first heard tell of his legendary Adams House swimming-pool extravaganza thirty years ago when I was a freshman and years later had something of a fit when I saw his Cabinet of Dr. Ramirez during my first years of graduate school—darts in and begins by honoring his hosts, referring to musicology as a “place to create a zone of integrity,” saying that “the story behind the story is going to save the world.”  He describes the value of many minds, rather than a single authoritative one, and speaks in favor of reciprocity and inclusion.  He acknowledges the physical body that creates the music and describes Bach’s as a “music of questioning,” noting that the texts of Bach’s works are discussed less fully than are their ostensibly abstract principles.  I think of the lecture hours my undergraduates and I have been spending just upstairs considering the norms and questions that inhere, but do not quite cohere, in Bach’s chorales, stripped of their texts and contexts.

[Three hundred sixty-four days and nineteen hours ago, in a theater across campus, I picked up my bass clarinet to sound the first notes of my opera, Weakness.]

Sellars speaks of ritualization, cooperation, reciprocity, inclusion, and the involvement of the “congregation” (audience).

[Weakness concerns trauma and healing, and the entire process of putting the work together was blessed by mutuality and cooperation even as it was bedeviled simultaneously by thoughtlessness and disregard.  The final two weeks of preparation go beyond the expected pre-premiere strain, past the irritating but inevitable underfunctioning and jockeying, to insupportable dysfunction and outlandish aggression.  And, as I warned at the time would happen, the damage is still resounding a year later.  I have spent much of the last twelve months lathering, rinsing and repeating, but despite all my elbow grease and scrubbing, my opera remains grimy.]


Mr. Sellars—I think it’s time I call him Peter—speaks of the St. Matthew Passion: “Two weeks ago you thought you were going to change the world, and now you are standing around a tomb. What happened in these last two weeks?”

[Indeed.  One year later, I am no longer surprised that a staging of the unspeakable conjured up more of same offstage, but I do still mourn it, and I think how after all this time, I am still recovering from the trauma attendant upon the trauma.  I marvel at my profession’s expectation of constant activity (often confused with productivity, which is not at all the same thing) and the disinterest in addressing what has been damaging in favor of getting the next gig and making another mess.  My naïve youthful belief in the academy as a sanctuary for contemplation, in the arts world as a setting for what Keats called “a vale of soul-making”—

—But here I veer dangerously toward taking others’ inventory, which is never a good idea, so I’ll just leave it at this: In a conversation with a cherished colleague, months after the beauty and horror that was Weakness, I found myself saying, “You say you have not had a moment to reflect in the past few months, and that is all I have been doing; you have reached outward, while I have been looking inward.”]

Peter speaks of the Passion inspiring one to look inward rather than outward.  He speaks of Dorothy Day—I mentioned her to Charles just yesterday, and though I know little of her, she has always intrigued me with her compassionate Catholicism, so different from the one I was indoctrinated into and to which I am now violently allergic—and her growing dissatisfaction, many years ago, with the “emptiness” of the worlds of arts and politics.

There is talk of mutual dependency and of Haydn and Mozart constructing a model of democracy in the configuration of the string quartet, where every voice is essential.  “What would equality look like?  What would it sound like?”


Later I thank Alice, who invited Peter, for making space for these words and thoughts.  She and I acknowledge, again, the dangers of discussing openly the ubiquitous and pressing topic of trauma.  I say, realizing it for the very first time as the words exit my mouth, that I have encountered more resistance, even retribution, in response to performing trauma onstage than I have when I have addressed the topic in scholarly prose.

Peter has spoken about his staging of Handel’s Hercules  in Chicago—coincidentally, a work I first heard and fell in love with a month or so ago—and how the performance was attended by veterans and complemented by discussions of PTSD; he stresses (no pun intended)  that  the opera was meant to inform the understanding of PTSD rather than the other way around.  One veteran heard a countertenor for the first time—David Daniels, to be precise—and described the sound as “blood coming out of his mouth.”

[Years ago, Tom taught me a Druidic expression: “Wisdom makes a bloody entrance.”  Perhaps its exit is also messy.  I excised the line from my libretto, for it perplexed my collaborators, who, while sensitive and knowing, fortunately came to Weakness from their own experience rather than mine.  I appreciated their input, and I return again and again to that saying as I try to imagine my next work.  I am currently editing and polishing the documentation of Weakness, so that I may share it with others in audio and video format.  Nevertheless, I am leery of mounting it again, of risking that the trauma story may engender yet more trauma.  I have had enough bleeding for now.  Perhaps it is better to leave my four years (and more) of labor aside.]


Peter says, “Bach is an incredible composer of disappointment” and recognizes what it means to live “with your idealism in such a state of profound despair.”  The first and only performance of his St. Matthew Passion was “ a mess,” and Bach, realizing his work was not meant for the milieu in which he found himself, “put it away for the rest of his life.”  Somehow this bad news is good news to me, much more so than the familiar narratives of dominance, of success, of triumph over adversity.

Peter talks about one’s “moral standing as an artist,” and while that is a difficult notion to explore without seeming righteous or judgmental, without seeming to congratulate oneself, and without denying the real, tangible, practical matters of survival that can be so far removed from the luxury of the proscenium, he manages somehow to inspire rather than to preach.  Likely this is in part because he himself moves between the palaces of culture and glitterless venues in a way that many of us only talk about.  He expresses a desire for all of us to resist the “gossip and infighting in the classical music world,” saying that “we are actually here to do something much bigger.” 


It’s one of those days when I marvel at the way strands and shards weave together unexpectedly, offering solace and inspiration when they are most desired, in ways that could not possibly be anticipated.  Peter talks of magic and transcendence, but all I am seeking is awareness, good faith, and perhaps a bit of company in cultivating a more equitable and nurturing space for us all.  Afterward I say to Alice that these are the most worthwhile almost-three hours I have spent in this building this year.  I can’t help but feel sad that such conviction, such searching, is the startling exception rather than the norm, that this talk seems so out of the ordinary in our profession, but it’s a glimpse, at least, of something more expansive and generous, more aware and committed, and I am beyond grateful to hear some of my own values reflected and affirmed.

These simultaneous sensations of dark and light, of desolation and hope, remind me of a Hawai’ian expression Riley taught me: “liquid sunshine.”

March 31: the anniversary of the closing of Weakness.  Also, Easter, a holiday I appreciate without really celebrating.  The birds continue to beckon, and I think they might win out at last, for a while.  I think of the volunteer chorus members who contributed so much to Weakness a year ago today, and especially of the family of three with whom I have become friendly.  Yesterday they sent me dozens of candids they shot as we put Weakness together.  I looked at the images as at the record of a dream, tearing up just a bit.  Maybe I’ll give the chorister-alums a ring today and see what they and their new puppies are up to.

Gangplank-225x300“The speed of thought”: the speed of my thought, I see, is slow, its path recursive, its destination hidden.  Sometimes it feels less like a path and more like a gangplank.

March 29: I attended Emi’s show, a musical about gender-neutral parenting. As we began working together, I explained that I do not really care for musical theater’s syntax or aesthetic, but that I was happy to mentor her, and to my surprise, I was pleased to dip my ear in to this world.  Her songs are incisive, thoughtful, brave, and moving—youthful and idealistic to be sure, but also more mature and ethical than what I hear from many middle-aged artists.  It’s this sort of blossoming that keeps me motivated as a teacher.

April 1: a good day to post at face value.  Time to listen to the birds, head out,  and see what sorts of blossoms are popping up.


*”Moving At the Speed of Thought” is another phrase of Mr. Sellars uttered in this same discussion, exemplifying the content in the form of his improvised paragraphs.  “On Art, Ethics, and Opera” was the title of his talk.


What is Classical Music’s “Women Problem” Problem?

Chewing on the many issues raised by
“What Is Classical Music’s Women Problem?” by 

Formerly posted elsewhere by Barbara White, October 11, 2013

Thank you for calling attention to this issue, for covering it with nuance, and for including counterexamples. This eruption has an all too familiar shape: there is the A theme (inane offending statement), the B theme (understandably outraged response), and . . . well, not a lot of development. Recapitulations abound though: Twenty-five years ago Rolf Smedvig, trumpeter with the BSO, claimed that women lacked the equipment to play brass instruments, and there was outcry; in 2013, despite certain improvements in circumstances, the nature of the discussion itself has not changed all that much.

The very question, “Why aren’t there more female conductors?” shapes the discussion by implying that there is a clearly identifiable cause for underrepresentation and that the interviewee himself possesses a sophisticated and worthy understanding of a complex societal problem; this invites him to express his unconsidered biases and just make something up. When posed to a (specific) male figure who, it appears, has had no incentive to consider his male privilege, and who does not care about the underrepresentation of women in his field, the response is more a script than an exchange: a man exposing his inadequacy by claiming (yawn) that women are “weak.”

Consider a different question: “How do you go about fostering equity and respect in the workplace to make sure that the profession can ascend to the highest possible level?” I don’t for a moment think the esteemed gents cited here would start waxing poetic about diversity and inclusion, but it would take a step away from these unwitting invitations to proclamation one’s incomparable virility: “Why no women? Because my penis rules! Only I can wield the wand!” (Yawn again.)

And why is this called a “women problem”? (I know this may not be the author’s title.) Could NPR instead dare to title this article, “Gender discrimination persists amongst prominent male conductors”? Or, “Misogyny hinders excellence in classical music”? Or, “Male privilege still enjoyed by highly paid time-beaters?”

It is heartening to read, “I would like to hear the women in our community speak up as well, without fear of embarrassment, contempt or retribution.” And there are those of us who do speak up and write about such matters; I am only one who has done so. But the sad reality is that, in addition to the necessary burden of some of us (some women and a few men) taking on a second shift by addressing and resisting unequal treatment, those of us who advocate for equity do experience retaliation every day. And women are socialized to downplay the intransigence of inequity, encouraged instead to internalize the Ayn Randian notion that those who are tough enough will succeed and those who speak up about discrimination are just whiners—to focus on individual will and determination instead of systemic mechanisms that render some more equal than others. Ask a woman in a male-dominated field whether she has experienced discrimination (another one of those cocked questions), and see whether she checks the box yes or no. It’s another script, and a reply of, “No, no, not at all; I’m too strong for that” is positively reinforced. So, inviting women to speak up without fear is laudable but may—although this is absolutely inexcusable—cause even more harm to women. Even in 2013.  Sad but true.

For example, here is another prominent conductor speaking on the dearth of women in the field, ten years ago: “I personally feel that accepting the role of powerless victim can become a self-fulfilling prophecy and I am unwilling to even entertain that concept!” Who was that? Marin Alsop. It was posted on her site in 2003 as part of a
reply to the question, “Have you ever experienced prejudice as a woman in a field dominated by men?” It’s still there.

Faculty To “B-word”: “Toodles!”

In an unsurprising development yesterday, the combined faculty of all United States institutions of higher learning voted to terminate employment of any scholar who had previously uttered the word “b—h.”  This sweeping reform applies to utterances in the classroom and outside; to loud statements and to soft, tentative ones alike; and to self-scolding.  The intercourse at the First National Epithet Caucus was cool, calm, and collected, the discussion genteel, peppered with academically appropriate expressions such as “gentlemen” and “esteemed colleagues.”  Tea was served, with an herbal option available.  There were gluten-free muffins, and no one complained about the taste.


The meeting was inspired by an online discussion regarding the famous and little-known “Salaita Affair,”  in the course of which a bravely anonymous faculty member advised, “Perhaps a better way to look at this is to rely on George Carlin’s old comedy skit about ‘seven dirty [sic] words.’ In short, don’t use them to maintain civility.”  The subtlety of this recommendation was appreciated by all, and there was a unanimous vote to adopt the “Carlin Standard” as a measure of civility on campus, which promised to ensure that all language would remain harmonious for all.

Namaste Bitches

Music faculty from across the country did not mobilize, become heated, or express concern about the proper procedure for citing Miles Davis’s “B——s Brew”: they’d always been puzzled by the title’s grammar anyway, and there are plenty of other Miles albums to work with.  Women’s studies professors did not raise questions about assigning B—-s, B—-s and B———–s: The Guerrilla Girls’ Illustrated Guide to Female Stereotypes.  


No faculty member asked for special dispensation for a colleague who had called him or her a “b—h”: there was no report that they had later discussed the matter, learned from it, agreed that the term was counterproductive, and had gone on to teach a gender studies seminar together.  Indeed, since any remedy and/or rapprochement would require both parties to utter the verbum non gratum, it seemed moot.

No professor who, upon being appointed chair of his or her department, had anointed himself or herself “Head B—h,” mentioned the possibility of reclamation or destabilizing meaning.  There was no panel on socialization or Stockholm syndrome.

Not Always B---- Coffee Mug DETOURNEDThere was no concern about addressing the reality that coarse and crude language is ubiquitous in the culture at large or that expunging it completely could make it difficult to discuss important matters.

B--- NFL Tweet detourned

It was agreed that the 🙂 be included in all communications henceforth, which will allow Tweets, blogs, text messages, peer-reviewed articles, tenure statements,—as well as notices of disciplinary action—to remain free of any appearance of antagonism.  All applauded demurely at the Smiley Initiative, which promises to ensure a “positive, welcoming, fair and open environment” for all members of the higher-education community.  (A subcommittee has been appointed to develop a technology that will enable the Smiley Initiative to be used in face-to-face meetings.)

As the terminations were effected, there was no uproar.  Petitions did not circulate.  Neither boycotts nor strikes took place.


As classes began this week, students were not ill-served by finding that the vast majority of their courses were unstaffed due to the termination of the “b-worded.”  It has been confirmed that there are seven professors in the nation whose records are clear and who retain their positions; they have agreed to increase enrollment in their courses in order to accommodate the students whose mentors are no longer available.  It is not yet clear how this reshuffling will affect grading policies or the implementation of new measures aimed to curb sexual assaults, which are being proposed at many universities.

Students’ assigned work this week, in tweet and text-message format, frequently featured the new expression “WTF,” said to be an acronym for “Wow, that’s fabulous.”  However, other interpretations have been proposed, among them “Whoa; très freaky,” and “Wonderful!  They’re free.”

In response to IAmNotMakingUp’s tweet to all the nation’s faculty asking for comments, the response was a unanimous 🙂

—Guest Post by Rosie Router



Hartwig HKD, The Seven Raven. (Click on photo for link.)

Symbolism of the Raven: from The Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids:

Raven is a contrary spirit. on the negative side, Raven represents the profane, the devil, evil spirits, the trickster and thief, war and destruction, death and doom, the void.

Yet in many cultures Raven also represents deep magic, the mystery of the unknown, death and transformation, creation, healing, wisdom, protection, and prophecy.

Raven is both the symbol of the sun, and the symbol of a moonless night. She is the birth giving light in the center of our galaxy, and the black hole in the center of the universe, to which we are all traveling to our eventual extinction.

Raven is the fatal touch of the Calleach in winter, the wisdom of Odin, the vessel of prophecy given to a seer, the mighty protector of the Western Isles, and the healing message of an Indian shaman.

Raven is a complex bird, both in nature and in mythology.

See also Courtney E. Martin, The Violence of Humiliation, at onbeing.org.

—Rose Marie McSweeney

From One Egg To Another

It’s nice to see you here in the æther, Brad, and to read your “We Are What We Think.”  It’s been a while, and we do not really know one another, yet I’ve always thought you a fellow good egg, so I shall presume to speak freely, as one egg to another.  When I read your comment, I begin to dream about what it might be like to think of gender issues as simple and as something that could be gone beyond.  The thing is, I don’t have that luxury.  Indeed, #SomeOfUs, at some times, might experience the inverse: as if every mince of meat in the pie is wrapped within a tight crust of gender socialization.  All the veggies and spices are held in check; it’s hot and uncomfortable in there.  I observe how frequently constructions like, “it’s not just gender” come up.  (Again, socialization: I myself included a formulation not entirely unlike this in my earlier text.)  If I had a dollar for every time I read, “it’s not just gender,” I’d have . . . $0.73 on the dollar.

think what you are(I’ve had this détournement on hand for some time.)

I think we also think what we are.  Moreover, depending who holds what sort of power and how much, we are effectively what others think we are, whether or not we think so.  One could run around like a chicken with her head cut off if she continued to be and think this way.

This is my vantage point: rather than nibbling on the gender aspect as the chicken in the soup, I drink it in as the stock.  It’s always there, hydrating (or drowning) the rest of the ingredients, and it has caloric, if not always measurable, effects.  I often refer to the “second shift”—a term that has been used to describe women’s domestic “homework,” completed after returning home from the workday.  But the shifts are more than two: as “the gender” (a term a colleague applied to me once), I have a second shift in managing the chromosomal matters that come up from day to day.  On the occasions when issues of equity threaten to affect my performance and/or well-being, my third shift—seeking remedy—commences.  The price for all this is high.  Often the dishes go unwashed.  For days at a time.

I am intrigued by what you write in your 2007 essay, and I am sorry it was not embraced for more traditional publication.  I especially appreciate the inward-lookingness, which is all too rare in the contexts and culture(s) you describe.  Many of your stated concerns intersect with my own.  Along these lines, I have been conceiving of a project to do with the intersection of ethics and the arts—perhaps less frighteningly described as values and the arts.  My dream is to foster more attention to the implicit habits of mind that stock our soup and thus to the more explicit, if still unquantifiable, fruits and poisons of those habits.  Perhaps there is more discussion to be had on this topic.  Ironically, although gender is one of the main factors—if not the only one—that led me to reflect on values and ethics as related to artistic activity, the requirements presented by my many shifts preclude my moving forward on this endeavor at the moment.  It’s too bad, because I think such a project would contribute much to the field and its culture, and I would like to make such a contribution.  Maybe someday.

I remember that Paul told me about your blog when I was diagnosed with cancer, and I think we were experiencing life-threatening illness at the same time.  Perhaps there is something to the notion that such an experience can clarify and distill one’s values and goals.  Although that sounds cliché, for me one aspect of such reorienting may be that clichés cease to feel so clichéd; that values feel more urgent, more communal, less rarified.  Of course, I do not know whether this was your experience, so I would be curious to know.  For my part, I fired up the still and started on the moonshine some time before my diagnosis, so I was already under the influence of thoughts about impermanence before I met my tumors.  As I get older and continue breathing, I debate whether I want to spend my remaining years stirring against the current, or whether it would be more useful to twirl over to the blender to make gazpacho instead.

You mention “the sense of protection and entitlement that leads to an unhealthy insularity.” #NotAll would choose to reflect, and openly, on this sort of privilege and its effects.  I suspect we might have some similar thoughts about the current political, cultural, and academic climate.  My eyes have been opened of late as I have learned more about the experiences of adjunct faculty across the country, as well as of tenure-track and tenured faculty who teach at institutions that permit less hermetic luxury.  And there are the recent threats to academic freedom, which seem to be arising at regular intervals.

As a fellow presumed good egg, perhaps you will be interested to hear that such a sense of safety and ease is is largely foreign to my experience.  My sense is of disenfranchisement and exposure to the elements—so much so that my saying even this much may well open me to professional risk.  Even though I am a full professor with a distinguished record, I do not believe my tenure to be secure.  I know that I do not have access to academic freedom.  My environment is not insular; on the contrary, I travel largely on my own, outside the clubhouse.  This is a shame and a shock, for such stability is one of the great perks of knocking oneself out as a junior professor (the others, of course, being able to work at home in pajamas, and having good health care if and when the overwork catches up—if that is, one thinks materialistically about such matters).  And I fear not only for my job security, livelihood, and wardrobe, but for my overall well-being and my very survival.  Stirring against the current takes a toll.  Again, it is an unquantifiable one, but it can be deadly in various ways, both literally and metaphorically.  I’m only joking about the pajamas, of course: it’s the vocation itself that draws me.  And so I am sorry to find that, even after paying my proverbial dues—plus the gender tax levied on top—I am hindered from “contributing to the field,” as we say when we advocate for our mentees in all those letters of recommendation, thwarted in my efforts to share the wisdom I have gained along the way.


In the stream of your self-reflection, you write, “I could also hide behind the tired excuse: ‘I’ve already written/said/discussed this before, so why drag it out and bore everyone again?’ Been there. Done that.”  That is another difference.  I  sweat in the heat but am denied the license to get out of the kitchen.  I do not have the luxury of choosing not to be bored, or electing not to bore you.  As with life-threatening illness, one cannot take a break from gender disparity and disrespect.  Moreover, crafting a productive response to counterproductive circumstances is much harder than writing a dissertation or compiling a portfolio for promotion.  (Hmm—perhaps we could give tax credit to junior professors for gender duty?)  I’m damned if I cluck and damned if I don’t.  Instead, in order to survive, I must continue to cough up eggs even as my limbs are being chopped off.  How long before there are none left to sacrifice?  It’s like The Giving Tree, which I cannot but call “The Tree of Codependence.”  Or like the Monty Python’s disembodied knight.  (He perseveres, armless, to scoff at his opponent: “Chicken!”)

I’m not exaggerating when I say that it is worse than cancer.  Much worse.  I strode to my mastectomy, but I trudge to the concert hall.

In regard to the nature of the concert hall and thinking outside the box, I believe this matter too to be deserving of attention and inquiry.  I agree, in 2014, about the restrictions you identified in 2007.  But I have to play prep cook first and ask, whose box is it?  And how do those who have yet to make our way in step outside of it?   (By the way, hasn’t the fantasy of “thinking outside the box” become rather boxy itself since 2007?  Funny how that happens.  Times have changed.  Do you agree?  Should we at least ask the chicken’s name and make sure she’s got room to stretch?)

Do I remember correctly that when you came to the Princeton conference some years ago you performed solo, something kind of folky?  I remember having a resistance to that, in a way that will not surprise you given what you write/wrote in your essay.  And that’s a good experience to have.  I would not have the same response today, I bet.  What  might it mean that “something folky” is what puts someone off in the concert hall in the ivy?  (Or perhaps that was someone else.  It’s been a while.)

Fast forward to 2014, last night’s gig: I was ticket-seller for the Thursday-night Ceilidh here in Cape Breton.  There is a sign at the entrance to the Sessions Lounge that says, “Beer Belly Boulevard.”  Local musicians, mostly amateur, and (“and,” not “but”) supremely skilled and devoted; their music is moving and inspiring.  I got a $5 tip!—from a hulking, very drunk man who called me “sweetheart.”  I tried to refuse the money, suggesting he reallocate his funds to the bartender who was working for minimum wage and tips, but he firmly pushed the bill into my hand.  (Given his disinhibited state, I didn’t think it would be productive to undertake a discussion on his unwanted largesse.)  A fleeting moment, but neither simple nor beyondable: a physically intimidating man refused to accept that I would not accept his money and assumed license to address me with a term of infringement.  I toyed with the thought of disclosing to him my salary, whether the $0 per Ceilidh I get for taking tickets or the vast sum I receive for my multiple shifts at the university.  (In an immaterial sense, I am no longer sure which is more lucrative.)  Instead I took the colorful fiver and bought my duo partner a Bud.  Then I joined in the weekly jam session and played some jigs and reels on my bass clarinet, swimming along with the circle of generous and welcoming local virtuosi.  At ease.

And now, I must take my leave.  There is a very nice man across the room who has just cooked me an omelette.  (It’s actually French toast, but sometimes you gotta break an egg to make sour-grape lemonade, eh?  If I can’t catch a break, I’ll take poetic license.  With maple syrup.)

I am curious: how have your thoughts crystallized and/or shifted since your 2007 essay?  Anything new?  And to the larger—here I use such a word advisedly—issue: how is your health?  Good, I hope, in all ways, small and big.  (And let me know if you do not self-identify as a good egg; it’s not for me to say.)

—Posted by IAmNotMakingThisUp

Which is Worse: A Dull Knife, or a Sharp One?

“Our brains have evolved to help our bodies find their way around the world on the scale at which those bodies operate.”
—Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion

To Richard Dawkins, DSc, FRS, FRSL:

Following up on your recent Twitter Conference on rape rankings, I wonder whether you might be willing to answer the following questions.  Your reasoning ability is much needed.  One of your conclusions follows:

Dawkins Rape Tweet ScreenshotFollowing up on this, and taking advantage of the copious space afforded off-Tweet, a few questions follow.  I would like to get at some of the subtleties of your point of view—ones you could not have expressed in a mere 140 characters.

Ranking Rape

1.  Which is bad and which is worse: to agree to go on a rape date without being informed that it is to be that sort of date, or to be held at knifepoint and raped by a stranger without being informed ahead of time?

1a.  Which rape date is worse: one with someone you have met in a bar and never have to see again?  Or one with an acquaintance you will see in evo-bio class on Tuesday?  Or one you were introduced to by your best friend?

1b.  Which is bad and which is worse: to be threatened by a dull carving knife, or a sharp serrated knife?  Or to submit to the rape in order not to be cut?  Or to be cut and raped both?  And if so, by which knife?

1c.  Which is bad and which is worse: to dress up, go on a rape date and have a nice dinner first, including fine wine?  Or to dress casually, go on a rape date and get raped before dinner and drinks?  Or, to go on a rape date and later be interrogated about what you drank?  And wore?

1d.  Which is bad and which is worse: to be raped by a classmate and receive little or no assistance from campus authorities?  Or to be raped by a stranger and receive little or no support from the legal system?

1e.  Which is bad and which is worse: to be raped by several young men in your school, and for them to put pictures and/or videos on the Internet, and, as a result, to take your own life at the age of 15?  Or to be raped and take one’s own life right away?

1d.  Which is bad and which is worse: to be raped by your partner?  Or by your mother’s partner?  And does a pregnancy resulting from either experience change the ranking?

1e.  Which is bad and which is worse: to be sexually assaulted (without penetration) by one’s father at 6, or to be raped (with penetration) by one’s uncle at 3?  (Those are ages, not times of day.)

1f.  Which is bad and which is worse: to be sexually abused by a distant family member and to keep quiet about it for decades?  Or to be ostracized by the family when you at last choose to speak out?

1g.  Which is bad and which is worse: to witness a man without understanding or compassion opine on grades of rape in 140 characters?  Or for him to publish more than one 140-character statement?  Or more?  Or for these micro-statements to get so much news coverage that you cannot but see him everywhere?

1h.  Which is bad and which is worse: that inhumane acts such as sexualized violence continue to be tolerated, or that a prominent male intellectual, whose speciality lies elsewhere, chooses to focus on degrees of suffering rather than degrees of misdoing?  Or, just to leave the discussion to those who are equipped to undertake it?  (To “go away,” one might say.)  And, if he is taken seriously on the topic of rape, does that mean we should believe what Jenny McCarthy has to say about the link between vaccination and autism?  And should we all be making appointments with homeopaths?

1g.  Which is bad and which is worse: to opine on the significance and degree of others’ suffering without listening to what they have to say themselves?  Or to deny others’ suffering altogether?  Or to consider oneself irreproachable by virtue of one’s (ostensibly) superior intellect?

Dawkins Tweet X Y

1h.  You say that you can reverse the “X and Y”—that is the rape date and the aggravated assault—and retain the same logic.  Might one contend then, that “acupuncture is bad, and that homeopathy is worse?”  And that neither is commendable?  And then reverse the X and the Y?  Could one say that sudden death is bad but slow, agonizing death is worse, and then reverse that?  Or that death by 1000 cuts is bad, but by 1001 is worse, or maybe the opposite?  Could one say that one offensive tweet is bad and two are worse and reverse that too?  That confronting inhumanity before death is bad and that finding it the afterlife too—hypothetically speaking, of course—would be worse?  Or would the afterlife, even in the presence of others who scorn compassion and mutual understanding, have other advantages that make the big picture worth it?

Semantics, Virtuality, God, and Delusion 

Dawkins Rape tweet 2

Richard, please tell us what, in this era of virtuality, “go away” means.  If there is an “away,” must there be a “here”?  Are we to assume that “here” is where you are?  If so, most of us, statistically speaking, are likely “away” already.  And to confuse matters, I have a hard time thinking of the sofa on which I sit as anything but “here,”  though if I expend some effort, I can understand that to you it may be considered “away.”  Where, then, am I to “go”?

Richard, do I understand correctly that your experience of sexual abuse was rendered innocuous because you did not believe in evil (and, presumably, God)?  You mention that your schoolmates suffered (more) at the hands of the same offender while your “mental trauma was soon exorcised.”  Does that mean that God, not the human being who did the “fondling,”  sexually abused these children?  And if God does not exist, who sexually abused these children?  Who is responsible for their suffering?  (Extra credit: can you explain your choice of the word “exorcised”?)

Describing your resilience, you write, “Thank goodness, I have never personally experienced what it is like to believe – really and truly and deeply believe – in hell. But I think it can be plausibly argued that such a deeply held belief might cause a child more long-lasting mental trauma than the temporary embarrassment of mild physical abuse.”

So, Richard, why are you speaking out about degrees of sexualized assault?  And why are you comparing the effects of different sorts of rape if you yourself were so unaffected by your childhood experience?  If your trauma was “exorcised,” why do you think rape is “bad” and can be even “worse”?  Can’t those who have experienced rape access your form of “exorcism” too?  Isn’t the real offender, not the sexual predator, but God?  And since there is no God to hold accountable, does that mean that rape does not exist?

And how is it that your brain is helping your body find its way around the world?  Does it help you find your way around Twitter?  Maybe your brain could help me figure out where I should go to learn to think. I would like to think better.  Although, like you, I hold a doctoral degree and a professorship,—albeit without such a public profile—I am not sure that my Ph.D. in Music Theory and Composition qualifies me to compare different degrees of rape.  But you appear to know better than I do about applying one’s training in unexpected areas.

Richard, please critique the following statement:  “As an eminent evolutionary biologist, Richard Dawkins has become known as a public intellectual.  As an eminent evolutionary biologist and public intellectual, Richard Dawkins compares varieties of sexual assault in order to rank them.  As an eminent evolutionary biologist and public intellectual who compares varieties of sexual assault in order to rank them, Richard Dawkins unwittingly exposes the limitations of logic.”

I like to think that your brain can help my brain help my body find its way around.  I will appreciate any assistance you can offer.

Oh—one more question:  Can you define “syllogism” for me?  Is it something like “solipsism”?



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