The Woman in the Music (On Feminism as Theory and Practice)

October 1, 2000

The Woman in the Music 1
(On Feminism as Theory and Practice)

At night in any kind of light, in twilight, candlelight, lamplight, and worst of all by moonlight, it becomes bars! The outside pattern, I mean, and the woman behind it is as plain as can be.

. . . As soon as it was moonlight and that poor thing began to crawl and shake the pattern, I got up and ran to help her. I pulled and she shook, I shook and she pulled, and before morning we had peeled off yards of that paper.2

On the occasion of revisiting Adrienne Fried Block's 1974 CMS article "Women and the Profession in Higher Education,"3 I'd like to consider some of the changes in issues and approaches of work in feminism, women's studies, and gender studies in music.4 In particular, I want to highlight both theory and practice (politics and social action), not so much by filling in historical or conceptual gaps, but by considering the implications of balancing claims of sexual equality and equity on one hand with claims of difference and sexual specificity on the other. In so doing, I want to call attention to the problematic but strategic gap between practice and theory. A "reactionary" vigilance toward the continual placement and displacement of the double standard is a lopsided situation. The translation of "theory" into "practice," and vice versa, calls for a feminine ethics that embodies the participation of women and a "female genealogy" that recognizes and honors connections to the "feminine."5

Specifically, the limits and focus of "the political" are more pragmatic, persuasive, and heuristic, a difference in the degree rather than in the kind of portrayal. As I have suggested elsewhere:

Questions of how to settle on consensually constructed bottom lines or standards of interpretation, of how to negotiate competing claims, are not unrelated to how we decide who is hired, who gets tenure, or to questions of parity, equity, and self expression. Implications change when we relate "consensus" and "standards" to the process of acknowledging the illusion of replicability that underlies standards, the communities which benefit from particular standards, or the reality of different systems of values.6

Changing the focus of concern has implications that are or can be crucial for all.


I. Theory and Practice

Feminist theory is central to critical and cultural theory. Its strategies and rhetorical traditions of interpretation have implications for biography, genre, reader response, discourse and intertextuality, psychoanalytic approaches, new historicist, cultural and media studies, and deconstructionist and post-structuralist interpretive practices. In constructions of class, race, ethnicity, and nationality, feminist (and gay and lesbian) theories work not only to expose the dilemmas of authorship and self-representation, but also to understand human conditions and regulatory practices.

Theory is historically and culturally situated, as is its practice. Feminist theory has both textual and social aims: to destabilize the constitution of woman as presence and essence, and to expose and critique the social effects of, and undo, the asymmetry of power relations that perpetuate the subordination of women and asymmetrical excesses of power.7

The gap between activism and theory manifests as a tension between concerns central to women and women's lives and those of theory. Issues of "women's affairs," bear upon choice and equity on all levels of society, work and social climate (e.g. eradicating sexual harassment), child care and child rearing, balancing family and work, professional advancement, styles of living, teaching, and writing. The concerns of gender studies and feminist theory include the work necessary to expose systems of oppression, reconfigure categories of gender and sexuality, and thereby dismantle stereotypes and asymmetrical (binary) assumptions.

The extreme views of both conservative and radical positions on gender matters show that serious issues are at stake. On one extreme is the position that gender is illusion, a smokescreen, a made-up excuse; on the other, the position that reactions to lived experience are completely determined or predicted by gender—that is, gender is essence, and in essence, everything.8 In a middleground—in reality—however, each individual has a unique relationship with and (re)articulates the socially constructed aspects of gender.

Moral and ethical consequences accrue to the violence, even if unconscious, of unquestioned norms, ideal representatives, and totalizing strategies—reserving the ideological masculine for the universal and human.9 Allowing for a dialectical or mutually implicative relationship between equality and difference, between essentialism and social construction, opens to the potentiality and reality of different and multiple sexes, genders, and sexualities. The problem is that assimilation of multiple differences may swallow subversion without replacing oppressive power practices and differentials.


II. Music and Feminism's Rhetorical Traditions

Discourse about structural relationships in music has tended toward a separation of people and art, of mind and body. The structural is made separate from the non-structural; the symbolic and metaphoric are cut off from the literal. The great and the exceptional are made larger than life, and therefore distanced from the human and personal. The systematic stands as prior and foundational. Without falsifiability, the isolated details assume an outsider status, in a defensive position at odds with logic and reason. The passionate is suspect; it is permissible in art and in the artists who make that art, but not in the descriptions which communicate that art. These divisions extend further to the chasm between what we feel can be experienced subjectively and what we are able to establish empirically. Crossing from one side to the other is hazardous and rarely institutionally sanctioned.

What are the various positions we as reading and listening subjects can, or are directed to, occupy? How are these positions culturally, socially, and historically—and I would include, compositionally and analytically—constituted? Can we refuse to adopt a subject position the text constructs for us, or is rejection impossible; that is, does repudiation of a subject position necessarily involve some identification with it?10

Feminist perspectives draw on different rhetorical traditions and critical practices of reading and analysis and on a variety of ways of expanding and delimiting a text.11 "That woman" in the music can:12

(1) change focus or emphasis so as to discern meanings not previously seen or that have been submerged or obscured (many of these meanings may be less accessible or less socially acceptable). Changing the "subject" can disengage narratives of the "great man" and its neighboring consequence, the deification of singularity.13 Refusing perfection. Similarly, a movement from female/feminist heroine to feminist reading shifts from an object-centered discourse to one that implicates mental and social conditions.

(2) be the effect of radical discursive forms.14 As a check or counterforce to the discourse it tries to displace, Helene Cixous and Luce Irigaray claim "the potentiality of a feminine language" (l'écriture féminine),15 the autonomy of a female voice and the possible and desired specificity of women's writing. This "language" characterizes the writing effects of a text, not the gender of the writer. Links to woman/women emerge in the articulation of "difference" within the difference/otherness rendered by dominant systems of power. Irigaray's "textualizing of 'woman''' is not an emphasis on specific women or a construal of the universally female. Thus, l'écriture féminine is more than a playfulness and pleasure in/of the literary. A feminine body defined structurally, not biologically. Naomi Schor describes Irigaray's articulation of the possible shifts of "mimesis," from "deluded masquerade" to "a canny mimicry" to "a joyful reappropriation of the attributes of the other that is not in any way to be confused with a mere reversal of the existing phallocentric distribution of power."16

In music, the specificity of "presence" is further layered through temporality and performance, and in the experiential effects and interactions of "textual voices" filtering through their characterizations in language.

Not without risk, separatism can be a deliberate strategy. There are inherent problems in the issue of "woman's" discourse: "woman" encapsulated within quotes, figures, yet is intertwined with and displaced by, the discourse of the text. The appearance of identity is moving and changing rather than fixed.

(3) effect a strategically oppositional procedure and/or reversal of roles, ironic positioning, "over-emphasis," even caricature; reading against the grain.17 Changing negative evaluations to positive ones. Eschewing confession or reclaiming its power; reconfiguring the association between feminine quality and limited speech.

(4) configure self-reflexive and alternate forms of engagement or relationship, i.e., utopian visions, dreaming, female genealogies.18 Including hybrid forms of argument, reflection, quotation, description, narration, meditation, analysis, space for the accidental (the overheard, the detail, the unruly, the mis-steps and mistakes), the collaborative, the ethical, and the spiritual.

(5) sound a music body. A sound body that is not simply instrumental to (aesthetic) consumption.19 Reclaiming male fantasies of the feminine, countering the tendency to read the woman's body (women composers and artists) as the body of the work.20 Voice as bodily dimension and "grain" of the music21 folds with the character of interpretive voices: biographical, autobiographical, music-structural-technical, performative, genre-based, sensory-experiential, human-relational.22 "Plural selves" emerge, insist on identity, and thus change the basis and contexts for the construction of those identities.

This mobility relates to problems with reifying sound as "body" or sonic aspects of music as "natural" or as "essence." Bruce Horner has argued that the properties of sonority are intimately linked with "specific practices of producing and signifying with sound," rather than with any idealizing of "musical essence" defined in terms of properties of the "medium of sound".23 (Music "structure" is no less exempt from this situation.) Yet the form/matter problem positions "the feminine" outside binaries, thus erasing it as a formative principle. Going "outside" inside discourse (finding a voice within systems of dominance) is a process whereby "this emergence of the outside within the system calls into question its systematic closure and its pretension to be self-grounding."24 Going inside out is to witness and affirm new meanings of sexual difference.

Clara Wieck Schumann, Romanze Op. 21, No. 1

The opening passage of Clara Schumann's Romanze, Op. 21, No. 1 (see example 1) presents a haunting double neighbor-note pattern [E-vol40id771-E-G/F (E), brackets]. A recurring "signature" sonority [B-D-F-A-C-E, circled patterns] emerges first as expressive, even anguished accented passing tones (or double-suspensions) extending from the neighbor pattern. This melodic-harmonic gesture (the sonority is an implied "half-diminished six-five" chord) becomes the figure through which measures 9-18 transform and extend measures 1-8 (see esp. mm. 11-14).25 The relational processes of these recurrent gestures and sonorities (especially in their textural and leading-tone contrasts) suggest analogues of interiority (and phantom doubling) in language, image and movement, and expressive effect.


Example 1. Clara Wieck Schumann, Drei Romanzen, Op. 21 (1853-55), I, mm. 1-21.



One cannot divorce the technical and expressive play of rhapsodic line and recurring harmony in this passage from ways of hearing and construing their relational behavior and dynamic character. How do music-historical issues and receptions distinguish and nuance particular aspects of music and its experience? How does music embody and call forth such particular nuances and receptions?26

Attempting a reading of the life of Clara Wieck Schumann (1819-1896) is to select from a multitude of aspects:27 the emotional situation of a child in complete silence until age four (speaking in full sentences a few years later) with soon-to-be-divorced parents; the (heart)break of being separated from both of the women that she knew, her mother, divorced and only permitted to keep her until her fifth birthday, and her nanny since birth, lost that same year due to dismissal. Music was a refuge and solace. She later wrote of the consolation offered by music, the relief it offered from pain and tragedy. Music created a place for her "to be" (an "outside within").

She juggled multiple public and private roles throughout her life: performer with a professional career as concert pianist and teacher, improviser and composer, and wife/mother who ran the household. Ten times pregnant, she delivered eight children over thirteen years between 1840-1854. She presented Romanze I to Robert on his birthday (June 8, 1853) having completed an extensive concert tour. During this time, given Robert's increasing mental problems, she attempted to protect him from public criticism but also had to deal with his criticizing her playing of his music and her role as a woman musician. Later, she dedicated the Romances to Brahms when they were finally published in 1855 or 56. It is consequential that many discussions of Clara Schumann (including her self-descriptions) focus on her work as concert pianist rather than as a composer. How close or intensely did she have to live with the metaphors she created?

What happens when music is not of the body of woman, when it is more than simply presentational? Is this possible given the multiple ways music has been understood as an expressive and/or cultural phenomenon, or given the variable relationship between music and language?

(1) Individual and collective voices. The successions of two-measure melodic ideas link contrasting textures: measures 1-2 a rhapsodic, gypsy-like melodic line (scale degree vol40id771), and measures 3-4 a harmonized chorale. Relationships ensue between an individual voice (melody doubled in thirds, mm. 1-2) and the denser chordal texture (mm. 3-4) with its collective-social implications. Measures 1-2 convey an outer or exterior persona (m. 1) in relation to an inner psyche (the circled dissonant sonority, m. 2), distinguishing outer and inner manifestations of "self" (over a pedal A).28 In measures 3-4 the collective texture moves with greater urgency (weight and seriousness), and encapsulates the "inner" psyche within its boundaries. The "repetition" at measures 5-6 joins with a lengthened "chorale," now in C major (m. 6-8).

The "expressive" program continues in measures 9-18: the inner psyche (the half-diminished sonority) comes to the fore in a new context (initial and asterisked sonorities of m. 9), encounters an illusion (a memory?29) of freedom and free play (mm. 11-12), questions that illusion (mm. 13-14), and takes it up again, allowing for the subsumption of the interior sonority (m. 15, asterisk). In calling attention to themselves, both initial gesture and interior sonority cannot escape distortion and transformation (mm. 15-18).30

(2) Physical engagement and embodiment. A performer (especially one with smaller hands, as I have) confronts the stretching and physical awkwardness of playing through the combined neighbor and half-diminished sonority of measure 15 (asterisk) and of negotiating the strangeness, distorted and disjointed variation of measures 15-16 in measures 17-18. In that stretching is a feeling or physical embodying of these measures as at once the place of separation from, and the path of return to (and recollection of), the opening in measures 19-20. At the same time the sound conveys a quality, a longing beautiful in its own world: for a memory from which emerges a "desire" or impulse (m. 17) to break constraints or the chains of others.

(3) Ambiguity of figures (double images?): F as neighbor to E and/or E as consonant passing tone between F and D? The journey of a neighbor-note figure, EF(E) in many qualities, guises, and levels of projection, and in the context of both linear pattern (m. 1) and simultaneity (m. 2). Is the return to E a stable chord note in m. 1 (do vol40id771 and F return to E?) or is E a passing tone between F and D (in mm. 1-2)? F's multiple relations to E link with the suspension (or passing-tone) sonorities: in the C major area as scale degrees vol40id771-vol40id771 (m. 7) and as plagally colored neighbor in m. 8 (c: ivvol40id771). The associations grow more complex in mm. 9-18: does F associate with vol40id771/vol40id771 and B, prevailing as large-scale viio7 (linking mm. 8, vol40id771-F, with m. 18, vol40id771-B) or does E link with C major (m. 8, C-E) connecting with its chromatic counterpart, the V7 of d minor in measures 11 (vol40id771-E) and 15 (E-vol40id771/C and vol40id771-E)? Which associations are primary; which secondary, and what are the implications of these differences? A different "sense" or quality of delay than that stemming from tonal goal orientation?

The associative layers and suggestive double meanings continue through the B section now in F major with E in varying contexts. The climactic passage of the final A1 section overlaps the repetition of A (see example 2) with an extension and registral sweep to a multiply-positioned doubling of E and F in measure 101 in an expansive rendering of the opening melodic pattern (E-vol40id771-E-G-F-E). The tonic closing (m. 105-12) takes on the figurative character of the B section: A now sounds like or becomes a memory of B.


Example 2. Clara Wieck Schumann, Drei Romanzen, Op. 21 (1853-55), I, mm. 95-112.



(4) Romance as genre. The nineteenth-century literary romance was mythic in quality, touched by an idealized world (and therefore distinguishable from the novel): life subsumed into fantasy and dream, life simultaneous with art and with passionate desire and sexual life. The German Romanze was an instrumental composition of similar lyrical character.31 To claim or assume that the "composer's voice" of this music romance is Schumann's projection of herself is to cut short the resonance of her text. Her "gift" to Robert, also embodies the possibility of our hearing her speaking about his world and about "him" (as "other"?) in that world. What changes if the subdominant harmony is "doubly heard" as a composer's working out of a feminine (otherly, inexplicable) space in a tonal world; or if its background is a projection of her voice, a phantasmatic portrayal of female authorship, inseparable from a fantasy of feminine dimensions of male authorship. Finding/making a "place" in an unfamiliar world?32

Wimsatt and Beardsley, writing in 1946, coined the term "intentional fallacy" to refer to the mistake of evaluating a literary work by reference to the author's intentions or biographical history, and of assuming that the work takes its meaning from aspects "external" to the text.33 Their antidote was the notion of a literary autonomy, the text as a world in itself, subject to its own laws and internal logic, and thus subject to distortion if made to follow principles or ideologies "external" to itself. An "updated" formulation of the intentional fallacy is that an author's statement can constitute evidence for an interpretation but cannot be "determinative" of that position. However, the "persona" in "written" musical texts (scores) is configured differently and multiply in performance and by a performer.

Recent debates have shown that no single perspective can claim a privileged status. Artists intentions link more to the function they hope their creations serve and that function also emerges from interpretation and context.34 When gender is taken as category rather than as practice, the problem is the seeming fixity of musical structure in the face of changing "perspectives" of sexuality or gender.

The distinctions of gender, sex, sexuality do not reside in fixed categories but rather in the set of practices that organize the regulatory and institutional relationships between sexes, genders, and sexualities, and the different ways these relationships affect women and men. Judith Butler, writing about the "citationality" of gender in her book, Bodies that Matter,35 has argued that gender and sexuality are complex, multi-layered performatives. They can be used as markers for emphasis and as foils against which one or others react (as "quotable" position and practice). The citationality of gender provides a perspective from which to both enact and reflect on experience, linking activism and theory, analogously blurring the boundaries between being and becoming, yet allowing the theoretical and political potential of both engaged and reactive modes of behavior. Postmodern in direction and impulse (challenging universals and stressing the local and particular), citationality posits a continuum of play, of agency and of identity, enacted and performed, and yet reflective and choreographed. In this aspect, gender locates in and draws on material conditions, on the play of action and condition, agency and constraint, individual identity and community. Through ironic strategies of positioning, understatement, and exaggeration, texts and readers can (re)contextualize without subscribing to implied ideals and values.


III. Practice (politics and social action)

"North Carolina Lily." Quilt, Pink and Green with Fancy Edges, c. 1930. The quilter, Mary A Jarzynka, Nebraska, 1893-1937. Married August Zocholl. 3 children, Clifford, Ednya (Adina), and Sylvia.

She was a talented seamstress and made clothes for all her family, as well as bedding, table linens, wool and flowered yarn-tied comforters and down pillows. Her quilts were an art form and means of expression.
Sylvia Zocholl Kielian, January 2000, writing about my grandmother.

After more than a week we still don't know why [Jill] Behrman disappeared during a mid-morning bike ride, what did or did not happen to her, or who could have abducted her or why.
We fear for the young woman's safety. Our hearts ache for her parents, family, and friends.

Mike Leonard, Bloomington Herald Times, Tuesday, 9 June 2000.

I stood your foolishness long enough,
So now I'm gonna call your bluff. . .
Ain't gonna play no second fiddle 'cause,
I'm used to playin' lead.

Bessie Smith (1898?-1937), Blues, 1924/25.36

These seemingly unrelated statements bring theory to real-life experience and people, and vice versa. They link the body and soul of creativity and care, the anguish of gendered acts of random violence, and the potential and the problems of agency with particular individuals. They suggest that critical strategies of reading between the lines and in the margins are also pertinent for the field of practice, for finding common ground at the intersections of experience.

Adrienne Fried Block's essay, "Woman in the Profession in Higher Education" issues an invitation to pursue a "new kind of homework" by being aware of laws designed to eliminate discrimination in the academy.37 These aim to ensure "equal access to all benefits, adequate numbers of women faculty and administrators as role models, and thus equal expectations of work fulfillment."38 Statistics, however, can be read with comparable doses of pessimism and optimism and are but one measure of material conditions and climate.39

According to College Music Society 2000 data, student enrollment in higher education music programs was approximately 310,619, divided 44% male and 56% female. Music teaching and research faculty number 33,944.40 The status of women in various disciplines in the musical academy may be comparable or worse than general percentages summarized by Block in 1974.41 One aspect discussed by Block in 1974 is apropos twenty-five years later: the higher on up the academic ladder, the smaller the percentages of women are. For example, in 1998 the Society for Music Theory had 1075 members (95% reporting). 52% were students (37% women, 63% men) and 43% were tenure track or tenured faculty (25% women, 75% men).42 More broadly, though women's earnings overall show a 62.5% increase from 1979, the pay gap between men and women still exists in 2000 with women earning on average 76.5% of what men make.43 Such inequities, coupled with the continued lack of female role models, are injurious to the experience of both men and women. Inequity fuels and draws from experience in other ways as well.

Some of the very energies that drive the academy—a passion for knowledge, the "empowerment" of expertise, have non-constructive inclinations: the isolation of dedication can fuel non-collegial and anti-social behavior; the regulatory practices that preserve disciplinary practices are slow to change exclusionary attitudes, glass ceilings, and ivory towers. These practices deny benefits (adjunct teaching in some parts of the country can be sheer exploitation), space for family and child-rearing, and opportunities for interaction of family and work. The pressures of corporate mentality are no longer in the background, demands beyond reason can take over personal life ("work is primary and life outside the workplace must be squeezed around the edges").44 Community and informality (spontaneity) are uneasy partners in the neighborhood of competition and accountability.

Changes in feminist and gender studies in music have followed: from the development of courses and materials on women and music (a recovery stage known as cultural feminism) to a situation now where feminism and its approaches are more often coupled with others. Less a separate entity, feminism incorporates forces of class, race, gay and lesbian studies, ethnicity, nationalism, colonialism, age, media, and technology. Hybridization is now one mode of transition.

What produces the tendency to forget, the complacency, the dangers of watering down the potential of theory and social action? The "feminization" of a discipline (when women in its ranks become a majority, as recent developments in certain disciplines, such as English, might suggest) is not unrelated to "ghettoization" (a situation in which a group is isolated, then devalued and dismissed). In both situations, configurations of power can persist and marginalize. Students may be "apolitical" or less anxious to foreground gender; alternately, a stance of neutrality may preserve or underlie more subtle but pervasive imbalances.

Feminist positions on action and theory affirm and deal with women's action, agency, and/or subjectivity in different ways.45 At one extreme, the claim is that gender oppression negates women's capacities for autonomous choice and rejects or denies the possibility of individual resistance. From this perspective, according to feminist writers Catharine MacKinnon and Andrea Dworkin, pornography is central to the subordination of women because it eroticizes dominance and the sexual domination of women by men.46 Pornography is a negative pejorative term: regarded differently than erotica, it conveys a sideways judgment that the material is offensive, even disgusting (and such determination depends on the observer). Along similar lines, sexual harassment is discrimination arising from the dominance of women by men. Women or "subjects," as "feminized" or "aestheticized," are objects for masculine desire and fetishistic gazing. And this position allows little possibility of resistance or critical spectatorship.

In contrast to "victim" feminism, "inversion" feminism (and role reversal) incorporates the role of self-realization, self-direction, and individual resistance, but in a context that is often unclear or rarely specified. Relatedly, feminism based on the utopian potential of the essential differences of women from men may also avoid understanding difference as socially constructed or even as "internalized" sources of oppression. Oppression itself is thus regarded as a pressure or obstacle external to these differences rather than as an internalized and constraining force. These strands of feminism do not recognize how systems of oppression often allow for "room for maneuver" or token examples, so as to prevent any real change in the system.

Similarly, invoking utopian visions, the liberal idea of agency, as if separate from social interaction, connects with the tendency to abstract women from ongoing processes of human interaction—such feminism may suggest idealized or gender-neutral solutions. The prevailing or unspoken assumption is often that a capacity for self-definition and determination is or should be comparable to that of the members of more privileged groups.47 From this perspective, the accepted view is that social scripts can be rewritten simply by the relevation that an alternative description or interpretation is possible, however, by changing the discourse or by the sheer force of will. This attitude leads to lonely and frustrating endeavors because the underlying rules do not change.

In certain circumstances and conditions, these various positions and orientations of feminism have been vital, and will continue to be needed. Interrelating agency, conditions of constraint and identity, and the formative role of discursive practices and social construction in shaping the self in communities, allows a movement forward "in transition," we are actively aware and more than simply products of the systems and texts around us.

Why multiple feminisms, genders, sexes, sexualities? Because all of us need alternatives to describing experience from the, or a, "man's" perspective; men are not the measuring stick for what is acceptable. Living life and listening from the margins and at the edges offer the chance, as Pauline Oliveros once urged, to "restore balance of power between all beings; oppose secrecy with matter-of-factness; initiate fact-finding; open the door and make it safe to cross the threshold; [and recognize] the higher purposes of culture—the evolution of consciousness."48 Despite gains made, the media continues to objectify women and men and to promote single standards, rather than locating qualities and differences in whatever the color, size, shape, age, ethnicity, and sexual identity. How might each individual's unique enaction of and relationship with gender and sex be respected? The challenge is to connect a "philosophy in the feminine" with the theory and politics of identity, gender and sexuality—multiply or alternately feminine, masculine, lesbian, gay, bisexual, heterosexual, androgynous, hermaphroditic, cyborg, or other-worldly (alien)—empowering without denying or diluting their respective particularities, freedoms and communities.

To return to the opening epigraph, perhaps one reading is to envision the dramatic liberation of the "woman behind the wall-paper," one that allows the female narrator (as both identified with and distinct from "that woman") to revise the way she reads and experiences the wallpaper:

"I've got out at last," said I . . . "And I've pulled off most of the paper, so you can't put me back!"

Without spiritual and material, social and aesthetic changes, however—without changing the conditions of speaking and of what is said—such freedoms and revisions remain imaginations and contradictions bound to a text.49 The "other" escapes through the cracks and hides outside. Music brings forth these gaps and dialogic interactions between performance, reading, and experience. The similar and ongoing imagining and materializing of the reciprocities of sexual specificity have the potential to transform and empower the theories of practice, and the practices of theory.

1I am grateful to Rika Asai, Linda Dempf, Jeffrey Magee, and Ruth Morrow for their comments on an earlier version of this essay.

2Charlotte Perkins Gilman. "The Yellow Wallpaper." [1890; 1892, New England Magazine] Reprinted in The Captive Imagination: A Casebook on 'The Yellow Wallpaper', ed. Catherine Golden. New York: The Feminist Press, 1992, 24-42 (34 and 39).

"John laughs at me, of course, but one expects that in marriage. . . . He has no patience with faith, an intense horror of superstition, and he scoffs openly at any talk of things not to be felt and seen and put down in figures. . . You see he does not believe I am sick!" (24)

[As a reader, I'm like John to the extent that I refuse to listen to or hear such stories; and also like John to the sense that I internalize that which does not hear.]

Charlotte Perkins Gilman was a leading American feminist writer of her day. Her late nineteenth-century fictional story tells of the psychological breakdown of a woman. Confined and forbidden to work, the woman studies (and revises) the atrocious yellow wallpaper of a large attic bedroom, and subsequently moves more deeply into "madness." The story had autobiographical roots in Gilman's own life. Now part of the feminist and cultural "canon," it has received readings from many different points of view (see note 24).

3College Music Symposium 14 (Fall 1974), 61-66, reprinted in this issue. Moreover, Block's long-time advocacy of women on levels of both theory and practice is exemplary; see her work on composer Amy Beach: Amy Beach, Passionate Victorian: The Life and Work of an American Composer, 1867-1944. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998.

4The diversity of ongoing work in music is evident in the varying emphases of the five conferences on Feminist Theory and Music:

(1) Toward a Common Methodology. University of Minnesota, June 1991;
(2) A Continuing Dialogue. Eastman School of Music, June 17-20 1993;
(3) Negotiating the Faultlines. University of California, Riverside, 15-18 June 1995;
(4) Feminist Theory and Music 4. University of Virginia, Charlottesville, 5-8 June 1997;
(5) Feminist Theory and Music 5 [An International Conference on Music in relation to Feminism, Women's Studies, and Gender Studies], with the Eleventh International Congress on Women in Music sponsored by The International Alliance for Women in Music: New Century Perspectives. London, England, St. Mark's and Rosary Halls on Old Marylebone Road, 7-10 July 1999.

Also see the Bibliography of Sources Related to Women's Studies, Gender Studies, Feminism, and Music listed at the website for the SMT Committee on the Status of Women:

5The call for a feminine ethics is that of French feminist scholar and philosopher, Luce Irigaray. According to Luisa Muraro, Irigaray's idea of female freedom and "female genealogies" (a world of men and women together) has both a "vertical" dimension, including women's genealogical relation to the mother and relation to the divine, and a "horizontal" one, of sisterhood. See Luce Irigaray, An Ethics of Sexual Difference, trans. Carolyn Burke and Gillian C. Gill, 1993; and Muraro's essay "Female Genealogies" in Engaging With Irigaray: Feminist Philosophy and Modern European Thought, ed. Carolyn Burke, Naomi Schor, Margaret Whitford. New York: Columbia University Press, 1994, 317-333.

6See my "Invoking Motives and Immediacy: Foils and Contexts for Pieter C. van den Toorn's Music, Politics, and the Academy." Nineteenth-Century Music XX, no. 3 (Spring 1997), 253-278.

7"Decentering definitions of the real woman, the total woman, the eternal feminine is, after all, the project of feminism" (194). Susan Gubar. "She in Herland: Feminism as Fantasy." In Charlotte Perkins Gilman: The Woman and Her Work, ed. Sheryl L. Meyering. Ann Arbor: UMI Research Press, 1989, 191-202.

8The term essentialism describes "a belief in a true essence—that which is most irreducible, unchanging, and therefore constitutive of a given person or thing." See Diana Fuss. Essentially Speaking: Feminism, Nature & Difference. New York: Routledge, 1989, 2. The charge of essentialism refers to appeals to a pure essence outside the boundaries of the social and thereby to assumptions of totalizing symbolic systems that subjugate women. It links the body with a "pure, pre-social, prediscursive space" (5). It is often opposed (problematically) to "constructionism," a network of effects continually subject to discursive practices and sociopolitical determination. From a constructivist perspective, essence is itself a historical construction and self-evident categories (like "man" or "woman") are the effects of discursive practices. According to Fuss, the relation between these perspectives is problematic because essentialism is also a social construction that is in some sense "essential" to a constructivist operation. By now the essentialism/anti-essentialism positions in American and French feminism have specific contexts of reception.

9By ideology, I refer to Andrew Goodwin's description of "forms of consciousness" (social-cultural beliefs or expressions) that work to sustain existing power relations which are "systematically asymmetrical. . . [i.e.,] meaning in the service of power". See his Dancing In the Distraction Factory: Music Television and Popular Culture. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1992, 158.

10For example, see the discussion of the Chaminade sonata in Marsha Citron's Gender and the Musical Canon. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1993, Ch. 4, "Music as Gendered Discourse," 120-164.

11"Text" in this context describes something to be interpreted as a text, i.e., a work under consideration by a critic. Intertextuality refers to the multiple ways that one text is or can be linked to other texts. Barthes distinguished between readable ("lisible") texts as conforming to prevailing codes and conventions and writable ("scriptable") texts as unreadable ("illisible"), evading or rupturing the intelligibility of the text. See M. H. Abrams. A Glossary of Literary Terms, 4th ed. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1981, 199-200.

12I can refer only to a small portion of the work by a growing number of scholars; see in particular, collections edited by Solie; Cook and Tsou; Brett, Wood and Thomas; Barkin and Hamessley; Blackmer and Smith; and Pendle.

Ruth Solie (Ed.). Music and Difference: Gender and Sexuality in Music Scholarship. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1993.

Susan Cook and Judy Tsou (Eds.). Cecilia Reclaimed: Feminist Perspectives on Gender and Music. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1994.

Philip Brett, Gary Thomas, and Elizabeth Wood (Eds.). Queering the Pitch: The New Gay and Lesbian Musicology. New York: Routledge, 1994.

Elaine Barkin and Lydia Hamessley (Eds.). Audible Traces: Gender, Identity, and Music. Zurich and Los Angeles, Carciofoli Verlagshaus, 1999.

Corinne E. Blackmer and Patricia Juliana Smith (Eds.). En Travesti: Women, Gender Subversion, Opera. New York: Columbia University Press, 1995.

Karin Pendle (Ed.) Women and Music: A History. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1991.

13See for example, Susan McClary. "The Undoing of Opera: Toward a Feminist Criticism of Music." Forward to Catherine Clément, Opera, or the Undoing of Women, trans. Betsy Wing. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1988, xiii-xiv; Ruth Solie. "Changing the Subject." Current Musicology 53, 1993; Marion A. Guck. "A Woman's (Theoretical) Work." Perspectives of New Music 32, no. 1 (1994), 28-43; and Fred Maus. "Recent Ideas and Activities of J. K. Randall and B. Boretz: A New Social Role for Music." Perspectives of New Music 26, no. 2 (1988), 214-223.

14See Barbara Page. "Women Writers and the Restive Text: Feminism, Experimental Writing and Hypertext." Postmodern Culture 6, no. 2 (January 1996):

15See Renée Lorraine (Cox), for one discussion of the implications of this type of writing in music: "Recovering Jouissance: An Introduction to Feminist Musical Aesthetics." In Women and Music: A History, 331-340. Essentialism is different from, though problematically linked with l'écriture féminine (see note 6).

Luce Irigaray celebrates love between women and the exploration by women of lost maternal connections. Also see Helene Cixous, "Laugh of the Medusa," trans. Keith Cohen and Paula Cohen. In New French Feminisms, ed. Elaine Marks and Isabelle de Courtivron. New York: Schocken, 1981, 245-264; and Julia Kristeva's essay on maternal figure and myth, "Stabat Mater" in The Female Body in Western Culture: Contemporary Perspectives, ed. Susan R. Suleiman. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1986, 99-118.

16Naomi Schor. "This Essentialism Which is Not One: Coming to Grips with Irigaray." In Engaging with Irigaray, 67 [57-78].

17Martha Mockus. "Queer Thoughts on Country Music and k.d. lang." In Queering the Pitch, 257-274; and Janice Mowery Frey. "Elaine Barkin: Active Participant." Perspectives of New Music 31.2 (1993), 252-63.

18For a discussion of feminist practices of compassionate re-visioning and dreaming, see my "Of Poetics and Poiesis, Pleasure and Politics—Music Theory and Modes of the Feminine." Perspectives of New Music 32.1 (Winter 1994), 44-67. Also see, Suzanne Cusick. "On a Lesbian Relationship with Music: A Serious Effort Not to Think Straight." In Queering the Pitch, 67-84.

19Feminist theory has also noted the connection between the aesthetic contemplation of autonomous texts and sexual oppression that derives from theories of "male gaze" in visual contexts. See Mary Devereaux. "Oppressive Texts, Persisting Readers, and the Gendered Spectator: The New Aesthetics," Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 48, no. 4 (Fall 1990), 342.

20Suzanne Cusick. "Feminist Theory, Music Theory and the Mind/Body Problem." Perspectives of New Music 32.1 (Winter 1994), 8-27.

21Joke Dame. "Unveiled Voices: Sexual Difference and the Castrato." In Queering the Pitch: The New Gay and Lesbian Musicology, 139-154; and "Voices within the Voice: Geno-text and Pheno-text in Berio's Sequenza III." In Music/Ideology: Resisting the Aesthetic (Essays), ed. Adam Krims. Amsterdam: G + B Arts International, 1998, 233-246.

22See, for example, Elizabeth Wood. "Performing Rights: A Sonography of Women's Suffrage." Musical Quarterly, Volume 79, No. 4 (Winter 1995): 606-643; and my "On Rebecca Clarke's Sonata for Viola and Piano: Feminine spaces and metaphors of reading." In Audible Traces: Gender, Identity, and Music, 71-114.

23.". . . the experience of music as possessing 'dynamic sensuous fullness' is itself a socially produced effect of specific materially-conditioned listening practices rather than a natural antidote to ideological pressures. . . By positing elements of sound as the "natural" essence of music which fixed forms silence, rather than as fully social and material, we contribute to just such mythicization [by the bourgeois culture] and its suppression of practical consciousness." See Bruce Horner, "On the Study of Music as Material Social Practice," Journal of Musicology XVI, 2 (Spring 1998), 159-199, citation from 171 and 184-85, respectively.

Caryl Flinn has also pointed out that "the notion of music—and with it, woman—so frequently becomes cast in terms of profoundly imaginary pleasures of disordered unsignifiability. . . [and risks] losing her and music to imaginary obscurity, meaninglessness and social ineffectivity." See her article, "The 'Problem' of Femininity in Theories of Film Music," Screen 27, no. 6 (1986), 61; and also her Strains of Utopia: Gender, Nostalgia, and Hollywood Film Music. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1992, esp. Ch. 2, "The Man Behind the Muse: Music and The Lost Maternal Object."

24Judith Butler, "Bodies that Matter." In Engaging With Irigaray, 157. Also see her Bodies that Matter: On the Discursive Limits of Sex. New York: Routledge, 1993. On relating conceptions of the body to this issue, see Martha Nussbaum. "Secret Sewers of Vice: Disgust, Bodies, and the Law." In The Passions of Law, ed. By Susan Bandes. New York: New York University Press, 1999, 19-62. "Disgust at the body and its products has collaborated with the maintenance of injurious social hierarchies." Countering this requires a "recreation of our entire relationship to the bodily" (32).

25The return of the opening in measures 19ff. marks an 8 + 10 + 8 grouping of phrases and defines the first section of the larger A B A' design of the piece (mm. 1-26, 27-72, 73-112).

26For a characterization of the changing interpretations of the short story, "The Yellow Wallpaper," by Charlotte Perkins Gilman (epigraph to this essay), from triumph and awakening, to anger, unconscious failings, and ironic positioning, see Elaine R. Hedges. "'Out at Last'? 'The Yellow Wallpaper' after Two Decades of Feminist Criticism." In The Captive Imagination: A Casebook on 'The Yellow Wallpaper', 319-338. Hedges considers ways in which different elements or aspects of the story have been foregrounded or left unexamined. She emphasizes that the changing interpretations continue to nuance both narrator and her story, even as story, author, and critical interpretation are unavoidably products of culture and of different political climates.

27My discussion draws from the work of Nancy B. Reich and an article by Nancy B. Reich with Anna Burton, "Clara Schumann: Old Sources, New Readings," The Musical Quarterly 70, no. 3 (Summer 1984), 332-354. This article presents new information from Clara's childhood diaries. Also see Nancy B. Reich. Clara Schumann: The Artist and the Woman. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1985. Reich found that earlier biographies of Clara Schumann omitted information or read from very different vantage points.

28This characterization originated as part of an as yet unpublished study of the cognitive-theoretical dimensions of the associative experience of music and of associative relations in music analysis.

29See the plagal figuration of the opening melodic pattern in the context of d minor in measure 11 (A-vol40id771-A-vol40id771-A) and its harmonic remnant or echo in measure 23 (not shown) and measure 95, restated and extended toward the close of the piece (shown in ex. 2).

30The melodic pattern of measure 17-18 can be heard as scale degrees in E major (primary in mm. 17-18, vol40id771-vol40id771-vol40id771-vol40id771-vol40id771-vol40id771, latent in m. 1?), in A major (secondary in mm. 17-18, vol40id771-vol40id771-vol40id771-vol40id771-vol40id771-vol40id771, primary in m. 1), and also in relation to the major mode context of the C major passage, measures 7ff. (previously as scale degrees of C major, vol40id771-vol40id771-vol40id771-vol40id771-vol40id771, G-A-G-F-E, in mm. 7-8).

Carolyn Abbate has argued that voice emerges from the disjunctions of different narrative worlds made evident mainly at or through points of discontinuity in the music. See her Unsung Voices: Opera and Musical Narrative in the Nineteenth Century. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1991, and her essay "Opera; or, the Envoicing of Women." In Musicology and Difference, 225-258.

31Notably, the first pieces of Robert Schumann's Three Romances for Oboe, Op. 94 (1849) and his Fantasy Pieces for Clarinet and Piano, Op. 73 (1849) are in A minor and feature the E-F-E neighbor figure as a significant motivic pattern. Also see New Harvard Dictionary of Music, s.v. "Romance" (Romanze). Ed. Don Michael Randel. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1986, 713 and 716; and Abrams, A Glossary of Literary Terms, s.v. "prose romance," 120-121.

32This "world" is perhaps evocative of forces in the romance novel, Wuthering Heights, written by Emily Brontë (1818-1848) in 1847. Heathcliff's life was ruled by his otherness and love obsession with Catherine (his childhood friend); Catherine's deep attachment for the savage Heathcliff was simultaneous with desire for the refined Linton. See Emily Brontë. Wuthering Heights. Preface by Albert J. Guerard. New York: Washington Square Press, New York, 1964. Thanks to Sara Albert for this suggestion.

33A corollary of the intentional fallacy is "the affective fallacy," the mistake of assuming a text's meaning can be described in terms of its effect on the reader. See Abrams, "affective fallacy" (4) and "intentional fallacy" (83). Also, see William K. Wimsatt and Monroe C. Beardsley. "The Intentional Fallacy," reprinted in Wimsatt's The Verbal Icon: Studies in the Meaning of Poetry. New York: Noonday Press, 1954.

34See for example, Ethan Haimo. "Atonality, Analysis, and the Intentional Fallacy." Music Theory Spectrum 18, no. 2, 1996, 167-199; and the review by Edward D. Latham in Music Theory Online 3.2 (1997). Also Richard Littlefield and David Neumeyer. "Rewriting Schenker : Narrative, History, Ideology"; and Marion A. Guck. "Analytical Fictions." Both reprinted in Music/Ideology: Resisting the Aesthetic (Essays), 1998.

35Bodies that Matter: On the Discursive Limits of Sex. New York: Routledge, 1993.

36Bessie Smith, The Complete Recordings. Vol. 2 (1924-25). New York, NY: Columbia Legacy, 1991 (C2K-47471). Lyrics:

37The Roe vs. Wade ruling legalizing abortion was decided on 22 January 1973. In 1974 President Nixon resigned; some 1000 colleges and universities offered women's studies courses; more than eighty had full-fledged women's studies programs. 1975 saw the ending of the Vietnam War with 56,559 Americans and many more Vietnamese dead. The 1990s saw the publication of Susan Faludi's Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women (New York: Crown, 1991, a study of anti-feminism in the media), as well as the Gulf War of 1991 (35,000 of 540,000 troops were women). Also see Laura Meyer. "A Feminist Chronology, 1945-95." In Sexual Politics: Judy Chicago's Dinner Party in Feminist Art History, ed. Amelia Jones. Los Angeles: University of California-Los Angeles, Armand Hammer Museum of Art and Cultural Center in association with University of California Press, Berkeley, 1996, 81-93.

38College Music Symposium, Fall 1994, 60 and 64. Also Barbara Payne. "The Gender Gap: Women on Music Faculties in American Colleges and Universities, 1993-1994." College Music Symposium 36 (1996): 91-102. For an update on current statistics see, for example, the website of the American Association of University Women:, especially the position papers, "Affirmative Action: Myth vs. Reality" [] and "Measuring the Distance: 150 Years of Women's Activism" []. Also see Women in Higher Education:

39The 1995 Fourth World Conference on Women ("Women, Power, and Change") was held in Beijing, China. Their 150 page Platform for Action declared that "women have the right to decide freely all matters relating to their sexuality and to childbearing" and condemned forced sterilizations and abortions. The 2000 conference ("Beijing Plus Five") was held in New York. As Ellen Goodman noted, "twenty years ago the idea that women's rights are human rights was a 'radical' thought." Today that thought is an "international cliche": honor killings, bride burnings, female genital mutilation and sexual trafficking in women are now human rights abuses. See her AP column, "U.N. Conference for Women has Good News in its Lack of Bad News," 16 June, 2000: "[T]here is the emerging international movement toward equality though many of the commitments made in Beijing have barely begun to be implemented. . . . a resistance to women's independence, especially for sexual and reproductive rights remains strong."

40No male/female division listed; see

41See, for example, the summary of gender statistics at Berklee College of Music:

42Thanks to Candace Brower, SMT treasurer, for this information on data collected in 1998 by the University of California Press database. Though the smaller percentage of women in higher ranks may in part reflect an increase in the number of women theorists over the years, causing lower ranks (i.e., younger faculty plus students) to show a higher percentage, it also shows the absence of female role models for those in earlier stages of study. 52% percent of the membership (557 out of 1075) reported faculty rank; of those, 11% reporting full professor rank (60 out of 557). At this rank, 18% (11) were women and 82% (49) were men.

43May 24, 2000 was Equal Pay Day—when a woman's wages would have caught up with a man's from the previous calendar year. Arguments in response to this insult range from outrage to justification based on lifestyle "choices" and the types of jobs held by significant numbers of women.

44Richard Crawford noted similar changes in the academy in his salute to the Paul Boylan years at Michigan. See Music at Michigan Vol. 33, no. 2 (Spring 2000), 6: [Before 1979] "Once tenure was achieved. . . [we] had a sense of being evaluated as part of a community, each member appreciated for what he or she could bring to the experience of our students and more or less free to spend our time outside school as we chose. Things are different today. . . The process of judgment is never-ending and it applies to faculty of all ranks" (6).

45E. Ann Kaplan speaks of four types of feminism: bourgeois feminism, marxist feminism, radical feminism, and poststructuralist feminism. See her Rocking Around the Clock: Music Television, Postmodernism, and Consumer Culture. New York: Methuen, 1987.

46See Catharine A. MacKinnon and Andrea Dworkin (eds.). In Harm's Way: The Pornography Civil Rights Hearings. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1997.

47Replacing white liberal feminism with a black-white binary is a generalization of non-white women. In a talk given at Indiana University on "Women and Agency in Feminist Legal Theory" in January 1997, Kathryn Abrams, stressed the pervasiveness and problematics in US law of liberal individualism for interpreting the agency of any human subject.

48Pauline Oliveros, "A UCSD Professor Speaks Up," 1995. See: [] "In order to restore the balance of power between all beings, women have to acknowledge their secret feelings, devise coping strategies to deal with men of power and privilege, bond with and support one another in dedication to evoking the most positive and creative personal and professional behavior from themselves and others in every way that is possible. Creativity at all levels of society in every possible action is the only solution to the evolution of consciousness free of the limitations of fear."

Also see other articles by Oliveros on her website:

On an activist program for women in music, see esp. her "Breaking the Silence":

49"The Yellow Wallpaper," 42. The story ends with the subsequent question: "Now why should that man have fainted? But he did, and right across my path . . . , so that I had to creep over him every time!"

7354 Last modified on October 17, 2018