Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Music and Women

As I was reading on the effect of appearance and sexual appeal to sell records and gain professional opportunities in the music world, especially classical, I was shocked.  Then I took a moment to think and realized that I had seen this discrimination when it came to singing everywhere.  When searching for videos of people with good voices on YouTube I always come across at least one video which has a title describing how shockingly good this persons voice is because they are so unattractive to the general population.  A famous example of this bias based on general aesthetic is every one's shock at Susan Boyle's beautiful voice.  She came onto the X-Factor show in the UK and her voice took the world by storm.  Everyone was shocked because she was an older woman who most people did not find traditionally attractive.  Her popularity didn't last more than a year because she did mostly covers and not original work, but still her initial break was shocking simply because of how she looked.  And of course as I now search her one of the first things to come up is the word makeover.  The need for artists to immediately get a makeover to maintain popularity is exactly the problem that is occurring classical music.

Another thing I was horrified to read was the instance of sexual advances by men in powerful positions on the women trying to make it in their field.  As a women raised by caring parents I am aware that this happens more than it should in a lot of career fields, and I knew that it occurred in the theatre world more often than in others.  But the classical music world often seems pure to me because of the sound of the music.  And yet women put in these positions often feel like they have to respond to the advances to get the endorsement they need from the man in power because, as we have been shown, women who are supported by wealthy and powerful men tend to make it farther in their craft.  The article about Mozart's sister in particular got to me because she had the potential to also be a fantastic composer, but her ambitions were squashed by her father and brother.

It is interesting to me that a lot of the successful female musicians of the earlier time period were from families of musicians.  People that I have met often refer to musical talents such as rhythm and tonality to be genetic and innate, and it makes me wonder if that stigma is because those born to musical parents are typically encouraged to explore those same interests, whereas a woman born to a merchant in that period may be taught an instrument for manners but would be taught to find a wealthy husband as opposed to gaining talents of her own.  And if a boy was born to a merchant he would probably also be discouraged from music, but if he showed a knack for it he would have more of a chance to pursue it.

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