Women, Women's Studies, Music and Musicology: Issues of Pedagogy and Scholarship

October 1, 1989

Born from the political women's movement of the late 1960s, the academic discipline of women's studies is now twenty years old. In its two decades of existence, the field has generated a tremendous amount of influential scholarship. Almost every issue of The New York Times Book Review or New York Review of Books features advertisements touting the current abundant offerings in women's history, women in culture, gender studies, and other subfields of women's studies from any number of university, trade, and independent presses. The Women's Review of Books, appearing eleven times a year, is devoted solely to reviewing titles by and about women.

A further indication of the stature and success of women's studies is the number of journals—easily over 150, based on a cursory review of the 1988-89 Ulrich's International Periodicals Directory—which provide forums for the burgeoning scholarship within this interdisciplinary field. Some journals are sponsored by particular organizations within an older field, such as Gender and Society, the official publication of Sociologists for Women in Society. Others, like Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society, are independent. And new journals appear each year; e.g., Indiana University has just announced its Journal of Women's History.

Although some 500 women's studies programs currently exist in American colleges and universities, the establishment of this field of study has not been easy. Its continued existence and growth are neither assured nor to be taken for granted. Even when backed by the legitimacy of journals and publications, practitioners of the field still encounter much resistance and even open hostility to their work. In its examination of the canons of western civilization, its investigation of the social construction of gender—that is, our culturally defined, or "constructed," notions of maleness and femaleness as opposed to our biologically determined sex—and its questioning of the nature of power, importance, and objectivity, women's studies remains problematic for those who believe in the ideological innocence of their work. Yet detractors, even if they are not conversant with the field's scholarship, would be hard pressed to ignore the influence women's studies has had on all facets of the academy.1

As an indication of the far-reaching influence of women's studies, the 1988 meeting of the American Musicological Society included an evening panel discussion concerning feminist scholarship and its implications for musicology and teaching. It was an unusual offering; AMS rarely deals in the pedagogical realm. Furthermore, musicology, like some of the sciences, has been a discipline largely resistant to the questions posed by women's studies. Offerings by music departments are rare in women's studies programs. And, as a result, scholarship on women's musical experience or music's contribution to gender construction often receives little recognition in women's studies' forums.

This was the year, however, when the AMS call for papers specifically stated that the program committee would welcome the opportunity to schedule sessions related to "feminist issues and the study of musicology (e. g. the influence of sexual stereotyping on historical formations)."2 The program committee made good its claim. Besides this evening panel, there was an entire paper session chaired by Jane Bowers on "Feminist Scholarship and the Field of Musicology" (her paper appears elsewhere in this journal), and a number of papers in other sessions showed the direct influence of two decades of feminist theory and scholarship—e.g., Suzanne G. Cusick's "Francesca Caccini's La Liberazione di Ruggiero dall'isola d'Alcina (1625): A Feminist Misreading of Orlando furioso?" Two open meetings sponsored by the Committee on the Status of Women were lively, and gave evidence of concerns by the female constituency of AMS for issues of equity in hiring, promotion, academic support, and graduate education.

Attendance at the panels and open meetings was heartening, often consisting of standing-room-only crowds of women and men. A number of colleagues remarked to me on the contagious esprit engendered by the offerings; one went so far as to say that these sessions were the best AMS had offered in years. If this meeting proves to be more than a one-time willingness to include new ideas, then the discipline of musicology, as reflected in AMS, seems ready to meet the challenge of the 1990s.

The panel discussion was the brainchild of Ruth Solie, although she did not take part once she secured its place on the conference program. The three panelists, James R. Briscoe, Elizabeth Wood, and Susan McClary, and the chair, Susan C. Cook, all have published in a musicological subfield of women's studies often called—for want of a better name—"women in music." Briscoe compiled the Historical Anthology of Music by Women (Bloomington, 1987). Wood, author of numerous articles and reviews as well as a novel, Mothers and Lovers (New York, 1987), is currently at work on a biography of composer Ethel Smyth. McClary, besides contributing to this panel, also gave a well-received paper on "Constructions of Gender in Monteverdi's Dramatic Music." And Cook has edited a collection of 19th-century French song for the Da Capo Women Composers Series. All four speakers supplied bibliographic handouts (provided in a shortened version at the end of this article) showing their reliance on feminist research and criticism in many different fields.

Briscoe entitled his comments "Mainstreaming Women in Music History Teaching." He noted that while his major research emphasis is not women composers, his primary career goal has been the teaching of music history at the graduate and undergraduate levels, an activity that led him to a central question in women's studies:

I found myself lecturing on "the canon" left and right, leading discussions based on textbooks that never mentioned women as composers, as original creators. And yet, two-thirds of the students receiving this wisdom were women, many of whom actively aspired to a profession in music. Why, I puzzled, was I providing no immediate role models of persons of their sex? And why, where the young men were concerned, was I not leading them to a needed openness of mind? Wouldn't the best of them be teachers, too?3

Briscoe's commitment to teaching beyond content led him to accept responsibility for providing necessary models of successful women composers and performers. His own survey of music appreciation and music history texts uncovered a discouraging situation, with women's accomplishments typically summarized in a paragraph or even a mere sentence. Thus teachers wishing to rectify the situation must do much of the work on their own through the use of supplementary materials such as Bowers & Tick's Women Making Music (Urbana, 1986) and Diana P. Jezic's recent offering Women Composers: The Lost Tradition Found (New York, 1988), which is coordinated with tapes available from Leonarda Productions. Briscoe also noted two forthcoming books of interest: K. Marie Stolba's The Development of Westem Music: A History, whose author promises to stress the activities of women, and Karin Pendle's Women and Music: A History that will be coordinated with the Briscoe anthology.

The rest of Briscoe's talk provided a working model of integration showing how he has brought the contributions of women into the course syllabus and the classroom. He shared a slice of his syllabus on the early romantic era in which he pairs the work of Felix Mendelssohn and Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel, Clara Wieck Schumann and Robert Schumann, and Frederic Chopin and Maria Szymanowska. He admitted that the romantic period lends itself well to such mainstreaming. However, he stressed that Hildegard of Bingen's life and work present a vivid picture of medieval monasticism, that the Baroque comes to life through the inclusion of Barbara Strozzi and Francesca Caccini, and that the career and music of Elisabeth Jacquet de la Guerre can typify music at the court of Louis XIV. In conclusion, Briscoe argued for the centrality of mainstreaming in opposition to those who would protect the "Great Man" paradigm, or to those feminist scholars who avoid seeking relationships with the mainstream.

Wood's comments, entitled "Feminist Re-Thinking: Women, Music, and Women's Studies," showed her experience, a different one from Briscoe's, of teaching music and gender courses within a women's studies program. She noted that much of feminist scholarship and discourse has eluded current thinking about women in music, stating:

We continue to operate within a conservative methodology, whether compensatory or contributory, that is not necessarily feminist and not specifically female. Rather it tends to relate and relocate women to the accepted canon of great artists and great works, without necessarily rethinking or reexamining, to quote from Myra Jehlen, "the way certain assumptions about women and the female enter into the fundamental assumptions that organize our thinking."4

Thus Wood devoted the rest of her talk to answering the question of how feminist postmodernism challenges the way we think about both "women" and "music." For example, feminist theorists, such as Catharine R. Stimpson, now disregard dualistic notions of culture, such as high/low or elite/popular, and call for scholars to study everyday life, the vernacular or "the poetry of the present." Such a view challenges hierarchies, origins, and representations of "the real" in order to generate more accurate representations of past and present and the diversity of culture and experience.

Contemporary women's studies also addresses difference, or what separates us: the powerful influence of not only gender, but race and class as well. Wood went on to stress that not only has "difference" become a dominant emphasis in women's studies, but that the field also stresses the difference that recognizing difference makes. Literary critic Nancy Miller has asked whether a woman's experience of the world as prejudiced against her makes for thematic or structural differences in her writing. And Wood asks: "might a feminist critique ask how musical language may mirror social marginality; or if the language of music may be a synecdochic representation of class itself?" Wood stressed that feminist thinking, whether about society or musical culture, is not simply different, it is also critical, ultimately supplying a critique of what counts as evidence. Ideally, then, a feminist critique of music may bring about structural changes in systems that support the old heroic, hierarchical, and monographic models in music's historical texts and methods.

In conclusion, Wood described the kind of gender and music courses she has created in which she identifies women's historical contributions to various musical cultures and genres; explores aspects of women's creativity, spirituality, sexuality, and power; discusses cultural and historical forces that shape gender; and examines changing conceptions and practices in music as they function in women's lives and modern society.

McClary followed Wood's comments with an in-depth discussion of current issues in feminist criticism and how they impinge upon the study and teaching of music. Like the other speakers, McClary provided the context for her own interest. She stressed that she did not come to feminist studies by way of a political agenda, but rather through her own curiosity, by asking, in all innocence, questions that could not or would not be answered by her professors about why certain pieces were the way they were. For example, she once asked about a passage in a Schütz motet with a particularly erotic text set in a strangely modal fashion, only to be told that Schütz just did not understand tonality.

McClary stressed how musicologists have typically dealt with their subject as an autonomous realm, largely exempt from socially-grounded criticism. However, if we are to ask questions about human meaning, then we need to see music as a social discourse within which people articulate, impose, or reproduce ways of making sense. Music deals with questions of faith, ideals, mortality, rebellion, and class, but also of race and especially gender—including relations between men and women, as well as issues of pleasure, desire, and sexuality. McClary stressed the irony in musicology's unwillingness to tackle the topic of pleasure, even though most people—musicologists included—turn to music precisely to experience feelings of delight. Because men have traditionally been socialized to avoid confronting issues of subjective experience and the emotional, the study of music is ripe for feminist criticism that deals directly with these concerns.

McClary then provided a number of issues and questions raised by a feminist criticism of music and needing further study. First, how is gender constructed in music? How does music aid culture in showing us what it is to be a man as different from a woman? What are the musical semiotics or signs for "masculine" and "feminine"? How are power relationships construed with respect to gender, and what are the differences across time and place? How is the erotic, pleasure, and desire musically articulated and, more important, musically manipulated? In particular, with regard to musical manipulation, asks McClary, "how has tonality hooked us?" How is music, as a discursive medium, framed with regard to gender? For example, what is the association between effeminacy and musicality found in the writings of John of Salisbury and continuing to the present century with Charles Ives's disdain for "lady music teachers" and condemnation of some music as sissified? How, over time, have writers embraced and/or repudiated the "feminine"? How do composers, male and female, work within these discourses to create meaning?

McClary stressed that these issues and questions cannot be raised in a neutral way; they have a clear political dimension. Naturally, this political side creates anxiety because musicology has defined itself as an apolitical field, a kind of "objective" science. But such "objectivity," claimed in much scholarship, is one of the powerful illusions women's studies questions and confronts. Scholarship and teaching has always been political, empowering some individuals and ideas over others. Feminist criticism merely requires that political behavior be recognized. Neglecting to do so, McClary noted, perpetuates a misreading and misevaluation of music composed by women, thereby contributing to further exclusion and discouragement. "We don't really understand music if we don't address what it's trying to do or how it affects people."

In her comments, which concluded the panel, Cook returned to issues of pedagogy. She stated that both her scholarship and undergraduate-level music history teaching are informed by feminism. Cook noted that she first acted on her feminist concerns through a mainstreaming approach as discussed by Briscoe. Furthermore, she regularly addresses how music acts as a "gender prop," as a means of teaching and reinforcing existing gender roles, as found, for example, in Schubert Lieder or Bernstein's West Side Story. Almost any musical work with a text is ripe for asking "what about women or what's happening to the women?" and she stressed that these questions need, even demand, to be asked if women are to be visible—or audible—in our classes and our discipline.

Cook went on to describe how her concerns about women's experience and activity, and in particular the needs of her female students, have influenced not only what she teaches, but how. With regard to finding the how, she stressed her reliance on the book Women's Ways of Knowing, jointly authored by psychologists Belenky, Clinchy, Goldberger, and Tarnle (New York, 1986). In this study of women's educational development, the authors describe how women—as different from men—come to know in stages, moving from silence and lack of a voice, to recognizing authority, to finding inner voices of subjective self and reason, and then moving to an integration of earlier stages. The last chapter focuses on teaching, stressing a model of the teacher as midwife, who helps all students to find their own answers and to give birth to their own ideas.

Cook went on to discuss how this book caused her to seek out other studies of feminist teaching and to question what it means to be a woman in an institution originally designed by and for men.

As ethnomusicology has shown us, music systems are microcosms of societal beliefs and structures; so too how we teach—everything from classroom structure and how chairs are arranged, to lecture format versus discussions, and to testing methods and assignments—sends messages about how we choose to exercise power and authority. Furthermore, through other classroom behavior and management, such as whether we consciously call on men and women equally, whether we give equal time and recognition to both, whether we allow men to interrupt us or others, or whether we discuss and expect inclusive language in writing, we also choose to make women visible or invisible in the classroom, regardless of course content.

Her concern for her students' learning process within the classroom demands her attention to other aspects of their lives outside the classroom. She recommended On Campus With Women, published by the Project on the Status and Education of Women of the American Association of Colleges, which covers topics ranging from scholarship opportunities to the prevalence of date rape. "These realities—whether women feel safe to come to the music library at night to study, whether they've been the victim of violence, and the like—affect how [well] they do in our classes."

Cook's comments were followed by a period of lively discussion as panelists and audience members addressed a number of the issues raised by the speakers. Since the Baltimore AMS meeting there has been another propitious sign indicating our discipline's good and serious intentions towards women and women's studies: the appearance of the long awaited CMS Report No.5: Women's Studies/Women's Status. A project of the CMS Committee on the Status of Women in Music, the Report was edited by Nancy B. Reich, the Committee's chair. Women's Studies/Women's Status provides a wealth of information, which deserves more complete coverage than can be given here. As its bifurcated title implies, the volume provides a meticulous annotated bibliography of recent scholarship on women in music or pertinent to the field, compiled by Reich, coupled with a statistical study written by Adrienne Fried Block, providing a detailed, and often disheartening, look at women's status in the profession. (Reich's bibliography includes discographies and holdings of special collections as well as a separate checklist of selected films and videos compiled by Barbara English Maris.) Although some of the statistics in the second half are neither pretty nor encouraging, the extensive bibliography and the publication itself, coming on the heels of the AMS overtures, speak to the real presence of new ideas and concerns in the study and teaching of music. The field of women's studies has much to offer us all as scholars and teachers; it can only enrich and enliven our field, and that is something to celebrate.



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1For excellent discussions of issues surrounding the nature and future of women's studies, see the special section "Women's Studies at Twenty" in The Women's Review of Books 6 (February 1989): 13-22, with individual essays by noted scholars and teachers such as Catharine R. Stimpson, Florence Howe, and Johnnella Butler; and "Valuing and Devaluing Women's Studies," Academe: Bulletin of the AAUP 75 (July-August 1989): 35-40.

2"Baltimore—1988 Call for Papers," AMS Newsletter 17 (August 1987): 2.

3All quotations from the panelists are taken from their unpublished comments, which they graciously shared with me.

4Myra Jehlen, "Archimedes and the Paradox of Feminist Criticism," Signs 6 (1981): 575-601.

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