Gender and Music
Susan A. O’Neill
The issues raised in the O’Neill article entitled Gender and Music are interesting in that many aspects of musical gendering are examined-from inclusion in musical professions, the historical assumptions about gendered abilities and appropriateness, even to the gendering of the musical instruments themselves. Immediately, O’Neill states “historically in Western culture, men have dominated the music profession and occupied positions of power and privilege.” (O’Neill, 46) Women have been historically restricted from attaining the same levels of musical success as their male counterparts through not only restriction from professional employment, but even being restricted from receiving the same levels of musical education as men. In discussion of gendering and gender differences, it is important to explore the differences between sex and gender. “The category of sex has been used to identify the sex of a newborn infant, whereas the category of gender has been used to infer the social traits and characteristics that are learned through socialization processes.” (O’Neill, 48) Therefore, one must question the differences in sex and gender within music.
I believe that in terms of historical restriction and limitations, those restrictions imposed upon women were done for both gender and sex reasons. The sex itself was restricted because of the assumed traits, and expected gendered behaviours. The gender of women is to (historically) be submissive and always composed. To be involved on the public stage in the musical profession would be to challenge and compete with men, to be in the spotlight and to be extroverted. This has historically been unacceptable, and women have therefore been largely restricted in terms of musical participation, and have primarily only had the opportunity to participate in music within the home.
One of the areas within this article that I found particularly interesting is the gendering of the musical instruments themselves. The section of ‘Masculine’ and ‘feminine’ musical instruments (51), found the findings of a research study to suggest that “the most ‘masculine’ instruments were the drums, trombone, and trumpet; the most ‘feminine’ instruments were the flute, violin, and clarinet.” (O’Neill, 51) However, in examining the historical gendering of musical instruments, the violin and flute specifically were considered to be the most masculine instruments-in fact they were considered to be obscene and inappropriate for women to play at all. Later on, O’Neill goes on to consider whether this gendering will continue forever. We have seen that historically, there has been a shift in the gendering of specific musical instruments. However, the process of gendering as a whole still exists. And I feel that in many ways, certain factors will always have a sort of gendered predetermination. For instance, it seems to be a trend that the largest and loudest instruments of a musical family are gendered masculine-eg. string bass vs. violin. In Aboriginal cultures, the music almost always includes the playing of the drum, and the women’s drums are small and handheld, and the ‘Grandfather’ drum is an enormous drum played by the men only. I feel that this gendering represents a trend that will likely not be completely erased, but as time progresses, the specific gendering of musical roles, musical instruments and musical participation.