House of Sweden commenced International Women’s Day with all eyes, and ears, on women in the music industry.
The panel, “Gender in Music,” an extension of this month’s Washington Women in Jazz Festival, which features women performers from Sweden and D.C., invited music scholars and enthusiasts to discuss issues of gender and the underrepresentation of women in specific genres.
University of Gothenburg associate professor Dr. Cecilia Björck said education is the first way of achieving equality.
And although George Washington University jazz studies lecturer and jazz vocalist Alison Crockett agreed, she said she witnessed many women discontinue music after they received their education.
“One of the frustrating things I see is that people in the schools have a more equal scene, but when it’s out of the school, it’s more difficult for people to establish themselves as professional musicians,” Crockett said.
Crockett, who began her music career as a singer, and traveled around the world singing and teaching, was aware of this divide between gender in music when she wanted to become a well-rounded musician.
“As a woman and a working musician, that’s a very different aspect than just being the girl singer,” said Crockett, who mentioned she also wrote her own music. “I am a composer. I am an arranger. I am a performing artist.”
Björck presented her observations on gender in different musical genres in her doctorate study, “Claiming Space: Discourses on Gender, Popular Music and Social Change.”
Björck’s study followed 71 music students from the ages of 16 to 19 for one year, exploring behavior and assumptions in a diversity of genres, including pop, rock, jazz, early music and vocal ensemble.
Björck said her observations depicted that popular music objectified women the most, and was described as “normative masculine,” or dominated by men. The vocal ensemble, however, was “normative feminine,” meaning the voice as an instrument was often associated with women, and was seen as the most vulnerable role.
Though vocal ensembles have been associated with women according to Björck’s study, Crockett does her best to stress the science behind it.
“I try to stress to my students and people around me how the actual vocalism works,” Crockett said. “It is a job. It is something you must know how to do.”
The most gender neutral, Björck said, was the early music or jazz ensemble genre, and put both men and women in a more or less equal playing field.
But while the female jazz ensemble members in her study were considered cultured and educated, the males in the jazz ensemble were seen as “effortless” musicians despite having worse credentials, Björck said.
So how does one make sure women are given a fair shot, despite stereotypes and categories? How does one make sure women still pursue music despite these stereotypes?
Amy K. Bormet, founder of Washington Women in Jazz Festival, pianist, vocalist and composer, moderated the panel that followed Björck’s presentation, which included an array of seasoned musicians and educators.
Carminati said finding women who stay in the music realm after their education is another challenge.
“We’re constantly talking about how do we get more women,” Carminati said. “How do we keep girls interested? How do we tell girls they are capable, and find spaces for them in areas where they feel like they don’t belong?”
Carminati said this is the responsibility of all musicians, educators and scholars.
“It’s not just the school that can do this,” Carminati said. “We need to change or culture. We need to recognize the value of girls and women, as well as recognizing the value of boys and men, but trying to really treat people equally.”
Mentorship is also really important in guiding young women to continue their pursuits in music, Carminati said.
“When we work one-on-one, we recognize the students that are at risk and we give some time to them,” she said. “This is something we can all do. Identify someone who really needs support, and see to it that they take advantage of opportunities.”
Björck said a major way to help aid equality in music is to explore the different roles in different genres.
“In my study, when they talk about how to be on stage, in some genres and some situations, there are readymade positions and ways to be that you can very easily slip into,” she said.
“In other genres, there are no such readymade roles. What you can do, from an educational perspective, is have these workshops where you can try out and open up to new roles, new behaviors and new kinds of performances so [we can change] these very narrow or nonexistent roles.”
Brittany Britto is a graduate student and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.