The International Alliance for Women in Music (IAWM) Blog

Peggy McIntosh’s “five interactive phases”

Posted in Susan_Borwick by iawmblog on May 9, 2010

Almost thirty years ago, Peggy McIntosh of the Wellesley Women’s Research Centers spoke on incorporating women into the college curriculum at one of the first national conferences on women’s and gender studies.  My, how attitudes and possibilities have changed since 1983!  Yet McIntosh’s ideas still offer a lot.

Let me apply McIntosh’s “five interactive phases” or gender-informed attitudes to women and music:

Phase 1.  Womanless music
People in this phase simply don’t address the fact that women are in music.  Their values tell the story of men in music as if only men exist in music.  For example, they present music history as if women have had no part in it—no Hildegard of Bingen or Joan Tower.  Musicians in phase 1 are now rare, yet they remain powerful.  Thirty years ago, they were the vast majority.

Phase 2.  Women in music
In the second phase, a few extraordinary women who succeeded in a man’s world are accepted as having value.  Madonna, Amy Beach, Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel—these are seen as proving that, if a woman is talented enough or fortunate enough, she can earn importance.  The implication, though, is that most women are not talented or fortunate enough.  Many musicians today are stuck in phase 2.

Phase 3.  Women as a problem or issue in music
Emotions define phase 3.  Some, typically women, are angry or hurt or frustrated—that is, emotional—about the way women are treated or not included.  Others are angry or frustrated—that is, emotional—that some people raise gender issues at all.  Opinions collide.  Feelings are heightened.  Some younger women today (“third wave”) see older women (“second wave”) as sitting in phase 3.  “Why are they so angry?”

Phase 4.  Women as music
In this phase, people are so fascinated with women and music that they center on them.  “Women and music” courses illustrate this phase, for they provide a way for women to be the subject of study in a curriculum otherwise almost devoid of them.  Some phase-4 people spend much of their career in the world of women-and-music: teaching women and music courses, advocating for women and music, providing models for other women to enter music and succeed.  They find fulfillment in phase 4.

Phase 5.  Women and people of color and all multiplicities of identity are given equal status in music
Nowadays this last phase is a goal rather than a reality.  It is the inclusive world of music, and it allows for musical merit to determine success.  Trust me, our world of music shifts greatly in phase 5.

McIntosh points out that a flipflop in attitudes takes place between phases 3 and 4:  Women are fully valued in music in the last two phases.  McIntosh also points out that we move back and forth from phase to phase, rather than climb a ladder through the phases.

Since 1983, Peggy McIntosh’s work has grown into the related world of multi-cultural and gender-fair curricula.  Women in music have, too, as we’ve learned to apply our experiences as women to those other groups who have been excluded from fully participating in music.

Susan Borwick is a musicologist, theorist, and composer teaching at Wake Forest, and she’s also the Secretary of IAWM. Her areas of specialization include women’s and gender studies, and spirituality and the arts. She blogs about teaching “women and music” in a liberal arts setting.


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