Subconscious Sexism and Classical Music
The most shocking thing about this week’s presentation to me was the fact that so much of the sexism present in the world of classical music is still so prevalent. I think that most of us like to think that while we do not live in a world without sexism, we do live in a world where sexism is relatively rare and contained. But in the classical world, a woman was first named conductor of a major orchestra only nine years ago! To me, it was genuinely amazing that it would take so long for a woman to come to such a position. Even more extraordinary was the closed audition. The idea that the people running these orchestras were so sexist, quite probably subconsciously, that the number of women hired by them went up twenty-five percent when they held auditions behind a screen really surprised me. I think that these behaviors force us to look at our own behaviors for similar things we do subconsciously.
One notable example of this phenomenon is women in the industry itself. While they may be just playing politics, many seemed to feel that there is very little sexism in the classical music industry. But the statistics on the number of women hired before and after orchestras behind screens tell an entirely different and extraordinarily hard to debate story. If these screens increase the number of women hired by twenty-five percent, there’s simply no way that these women have never experienced sexism. I think there are similar gendered trends in popular music today. In class we looked at Katy Perry’s music video for “California Gurls,” a video that was quite obviously hyper sexualized. That video was designed for Katy Perry, and I think resonates with some of the mentions female classical musicians made of having to use sex to sell their music.
Overall, I think the lesson to be learned here is that we should watch ourselves more carefully for small, subconscious sexist behaviors. None of the things I’ve mentioned were necessarily overtly, obviously sexist; I would be quite surprised if one of the people in charge of auditions for one of these orchestras came out and said they thought that women can’t play music as well as men. But subconsciously they do, and I think there’s a real lesson there for all of us.