3 Ways to Promote Equal Opportunities for Women in Music
In the visual arts, it is now perfectly normal for male and female artists to create freely regardless of their gender identity. Even the theatre environment has become more open-minded in this respect. The music scene is still not that open in many places: the mere mention of (in)equal opportunities is like a red rag to a bull in certain circles, and feminism or gender are dirty words. Many beer rockers (but perhaps also many jazzmen or classical musicians) still break out in a cold sweat at the mere thought of "a woman in a band", and some promoters think that being progressive and creating equal opportunities means dedicating a separate stage to women at festivals. Whether you feel like a girl, a guy, or otherwise, in the music world, you simply keep running into certain seemingly "natural" truths and rules which were set by men, but which are often kept in place by women themselves in fear of losing the achieved status. What has to happen for these power patterns to finally disappear and for people to be free to make music?
1. Do not categorise qualities and abilities based on gender
The idea that we are all born with certain personality traits and abilities depending on whether we have a penis or a vulva may look seductively clear, but when you think about it, none of that just emerges on its own. In the beginning, there are about twenty years of systematic and thorough education and general social "massage", where people are indoctrinated into "feminine" or "masculine" behaviour patterns – from a young age, girls are taught to be soft, gentle and caring, while boys are told to be tough and assertive. Individuals are supposed to become the "right men" and "right women" – otherwise they are threatened that they will not succeed in relationships and on the career market.
That is why even today we can still hear that "girls can't compose because they have no imagination" or that "boys can't play the flute because it is a delicate instrument". But as we can see all around, the practice is far from this black-and-white theory – people are all different and everyone is unique, regardless of their biological sex (not forgetting other variations such as non-binary gender identity, transgender, etc.). So, let's open our minds and encourage children to do what they enjoy, despite convention – and let's not be told that "drums are for boys because boys are/should be tougher" or "piano is for girls because it makes them look graceful and fragile".
2. Do not put the cart before the horse
"There aren't enough good female guitarists because girls aren't interested in guitar – they've had their opportunities for a long time." This argument is used a lot. But it's really not that simple. There are still not that many female guitarists because just opening the door officially isn't enough. The fact that there are not enough women in certain musical fields has deep historical and social causes – and the mechanism of ingrained ideas, prejudice and fears of losing the autonomous "male" territory has quite a lot of inertia. It will take some time before the long-standing exclusion of women from (not only) music education and practice is redressed.
It's not easy for women to enter what was once exclusively "male" territory when they risk ending up, at best, as an admired rarity, at worst as a lonely female Don Quixote feared by men as competition. And that's where many women really reconsider their choice in order to preserve their sanity and life energy. When women no longer have to fight prejudice, endlessly defend their competence and endure a stream of more or less astonished or questioning comments, there will be many more female guitarists, brass players, conductors, composers and sound engineers.
3. Listen and share
Generally, if someone feels disadvantaged, they feel that way for a reason, which the other party is probably unaware of. So it's not very constructive or fair to laugh the whole debate off, claiming that it's all nonsense and that the problem doesn't exist. It is better to try to imagine the situation in reverse: how might that person feel when their position and their interest are constantly questioned because of their body, and when they are always reminded where "their place" is, and told what they cannot, must not or definitely should not do if they want to gain some kind of status and popularity?
Yes, it definitely happens to men in relation to activities traditionally seen as "feminine" and the threat of losing their masculinity also works as a pretty strong manipulative argument there. But it's good to remember that the situation is not entirely symmetrical. Throughout history, women have been consistently excluded from education and technological development, which is why 'masculine' is still seen as the norm in many ways and 'feminine' as a kind of deviation from that norm.
Sticking with examples from the music industry, musical instruments used to be designed primarily for male bodies – only later smaller models were developed, classified as "special" or "for girls". Men are referred to as "composers", while women are defined as "female composers"; similarly, an all-male band is simply a "band", while a group made up of women must be described as a "female band", etc. This concept, where a woman is actually just "Adam's rib", turns the supposed symmetry of "male vs. female" completely on its head and places women in a hierarchically inferior position.
While there are countries and areas where the idea of equal opportunities works well in practice, the situation is still far from ideal in many places. It might take a bit of time before some men stop feeling like their masculinity is threatened and are willing to share "their" musical territory. And it will also take some time before some women dare to venture into these spheres without feeling that they are losing their female identity and that they are doing something peculiar that goes against the social norm or even against "nature".
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