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.

Welcome to International Women’s Day: March 8th

Posted in Susan_Borwick by iawmblog on March 9, 2010

As we celebrate women, I’m thinking about how to organize a course that teaches about women and music—a course for musicians and non-musicians—a course that perhaps fulfills a humanities or a fine-arts core requirement—a course that in some ways is expected to be all things to all people, simply because it will probably be the one-and-only course these students take on the topics of women and music.

After a day or two spent getting the course off the ground, I try to introduce a topic that nobody in the class is expert in.  A useful topic comes to mind:

Introduce kinds of feminism, which gives the students an academic vocabulary for talking about women and music.  I like to use some of the terms in the old standard theoretical text by Alison Jaggar and Paula Rothenberg, Feminist Frameworks: Alternative Theoretical Accounts of the Relations between Women and Men, 3rd ed. (McGraw-Hill, 1993, ISBN-10: 0070322538, ISBN-13: 978-0070322530).  These terms describe some of the lenses we wear when we deal with women and gender: conservative, liberal, socialist, Marxist, women of color, global, radical.  The class learns to apply each of these kinds of feminisms—not necessarily to agree with them, but to apply them.  For example, let’s analyze this conversation:

A: “Did you know that Felix Mendelssohn’s sister composed music?”

B: “Really?  I’ve never heard of her before.”

A: “Well, women don’t really compose good music.  They create babies.  Probably if her music had been good we would have heard of it.”

[conservative-feminist lens: The difference between men and women is first of all biological]

*     *     *

A: “Did you know that Felix Mendelssohn’s sister composed music?”

B: “Really?  I’ve never heard of her before.”

A: “Well, she came from a very musical family and got unusually good musical training compared to most women of her time and place.  She was an exceptional woman, a woman composer.”

[liberal-feminist lens: The difference between men and women is first of all individual opportunity.]

*     *     *

A: “Did you know that Felix Mendelssohn’s sister composed music?”

B: “Really?  I’ve never heard of her before.”

A: “Well, she was successful—unlike her Indian servant who also composed good music.” [fictional statement]

[women-of-color-feminist lens: Differences are first of all ethnic.]

*     *     *

A: “Did you know that Felix Mendelssohn’s sister composed music?”

B: “Really?  I’ve never heard of her before.”

A: “Well, composers in the Mendelssohn family were successful—you know, they were from a well-to-do family that could afford to spend time learning to create music.”

[Marxist- or socialist-feminist lens: The differences are first of all economic (Marxist) or social class (socialist).]

*     *     *

A: “Did you know that Felix Mendelssohn’s sister composed music?”

B: “Really?  I’ve never heard of her before.”

A: “Well, European women have been able to compose and do other ‘manly’ things that Asian women never have been able to.”

[global-feminist lens: Differences are first of all global/colonialist.]

*     *     *

Students can then look for the lenses used by critics, composers, even us.  They have a tool.  They can now begin to ask questions such as “Does this music sound this way because a woman composed it?” or “What makes this music tick, in the context of the life of this composer, male or female?”  They can even role play.

This women-and-music course is becoming juicy!

__________

Susan Borwick

Susan 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.

Teaching “Women and Music” in a Liberal Arts Setting: an Introduction

Posted in Susan_Borwick, Teaching by iawmblog on January 9, 2010

Thirty-five years ago, it happened.  In my first full-time teaching job post-Ph.D., at my alma mater (full-time music jobs weren’t so rare then!), I sat on a master’s oral committee, along with three others: a choral director, a religion professor, and my mentor in music history.  I was “the kid” committee member and the only woman.

My question to the master’s student, a conductor-to-be, was simply “Tell us a little about a woman composer of your choice.”  Long silence.  “Well, just name a woman composer.”  Deadly silence.  Unbearable silence.

Then the music historian, my mentor, spoke up: “Well, women don’t really compose much, you know.  Their creativity goes into mothering their children.”

I was stunned.  Not only had the student not been able to answer a fairly broad [!] question; my mentor had had an issue with the question!  That mentor’s comment dropped my respect for him down several notches.

As a young second-wave feminist who had seen gender bias against several female students in grad school, I set about to design a “women and music” course, to educate the next generation’s musicians and their mentors about women composers, yes, and also about the dynamics behind stupid assumptions (my term!) about women and composing.

Musicians now early in your careers doubtless witness more nuanced challenges that undermine women.  I guess earning 79 pennies for every man’s dollar, U.S., isn’t all that nuanced, but let’s consider today’s more subtle challenges.  Ellen Malcolm, president of the U.S. women’s political action committee Emily’s List, describes today’s U.S. political scene as “corridors of power where more attention is paid to the tap of a woman’s high heels than to the ideas she champions; reporters who waste ink and airtime discussing women’s clothes instead of their character; the men who call themselves liberals but always seem to reach back into their network of guys when an opportunity for advancement materializes.”

In music, the nuances involve not knowing or including music written by women; choosing texts and methods that hardly allow for discussion of women’s compositional creativity; devaluing musical contributions that are by or about a woman; measuring a female colleague’s or student’s feelings as her “problem” rather than her frustration at the different treatment she experiences compared with her colleagues who are male.  All of us, men and women, carry these biases as cultural baggage.

In the face of the politics of today’s educational scene, then, how can we organize a “women and music” course that is academically viable and effective?  After all, we’re in an art whose participants often, perhaps usually, identify with being a musician above even being gendered.

I’ve found that including the powerful politics of gender—even beginning a women-and-music course with a theoretical model for gender politics—allows students and instructors to sit in our discomforts, whatever they may be.  Including musical politics at the get-go sometimes offends the music majors while making the liberal-arts majors more comfortable.  It’s a good place to begin.

__________

Susan Borwick

Susan 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’ll be blogging about teaching “women and music” in a liberal arts setting.