Warning!!! White Guy Writing About Women in Music Macho, Macho Music

Perhaps we should simply change our ways instead of assuming things will get better with time for females in music…

Dorothy Donegan

Dorothy Donegan

There was a kid I met at jazz camp while in high school. He told me about a workshop he attended by a legendary jazz-trumpet player. At some point a woman stood up and asked a question about improvising. The clinician’s answer was simply, “Chicks can’t play jazz.”

Since college, I’ve seen talented female recording engineers and producers subconsciously forced into studio management positions or out of the field completely by men who served as their mentors or peers – never getting the same respect or opportunities as their male counterparts while learning (or even after mastering) their craft.

As a teacher, I’ve seen fellow teachers (male and female) over-emphasizing reading music to young girls while assuming they can’t or don’t want to improvise, compose or play off the page – because they’re “timid” or “shy” or “self-conscious”.

I could go on and on listing all the subtle (or not-so-subtle) discouragement girls and women already experience on a daily basis in their pursuit of creating music. But instead, here’s a little story that will help put things into context…

A fourth-grade girl started taking piano lessons from me. We worked on jazz and classical at the time. She showed flashes of being a great improviser. She auditioned for her new middle school when she was in sixth grade and made the top big band. I decided to go listen to her band’s first jazz festival. When I showed up the whole band was sitting on a ledge eating lunch. From right to left, there was a group of 20 boys sitting side by side eating their lunch and acting like middle school boys. On the left was my student (the only girl) about two feet from the last boy in the line. Two more feet to the left sat the band director – a guy. That scene really stuck with me. She was really excited to be there because she loved the music so much. But seriously? Name one other class in a public school besides a jazz band that would have that boy/girl ratio.

Fast forward thirteen years. This same student was finishing her senior year at the University of Miami’s jazz program after getting a full scholarship in jazz piano along with many other accolades. I was there for her senior recital. I stood outside the jazz piano prof’s room waiting to say ‘hi’. A student was waiting for his lesson and we struck up a conversation. Eventually, I read over the list of students on the teacher’s door. I checked it over a couple of times and asked the kid, “Do you notice there is only one girl on this list of nearly twenty names on the door?”

He looked a little confused like he had never noticed. And said, “I guess.”

I said to him, “This isn’t OK. You can help fix this as you go out into the world and play music – either on the bandstand or as a teacher.”

He looked dazed as he probably thought, “This isn’t my problem, dude.”

Thirteen years later and nothing had really changed.

It actually is his problem and it’s all of our problem as men in a male-dominated field. Until we give girls, women and all people who don’t look like us equal respect and opportunity from a very young age to contribute and elevate their voices; then our art will be restricted because we will lack the context, competition and perspective from our peers to help us find and see ourselves more as we are instead of who we think we are or want to be – the most essential element in creating honest and quality art.

So guys, let’s open the door. Check ourselves in every situation we find ourselves in when dealing with female artists, engineers and students. Let’s let the girls jam when they are 6, 8, 10, 12 and 14 – and not assume that they won’t be able to improvise, compose, MC, DJ or run a recording session on par with the boys. Let’s assume they will and can do great things in these areas. Don’t wait until they’re older and you are attracted to them or until they have braved enough years of being the only girls in the band.

We need to start today, everyday.

  • BASTA!

    Men: more geniuses and more damaged goods. Comes into play when we focus on either. “Chicks can’t play jazz” is a crude approximation, but no cruder than “chicks don’t shoot up schools”. Somehow I sense that the author wouldn’t find the latter problematic at all.

    • @disqus_z2rtRkIKaf:disqus There is plenty of proof that girls and women can play jazz – it was not a crude approximation, it was simply false. And any of us who have been in the arts have seen men consistently only show interest in females as musical peers when there is an attraction. Not that there’s anything wrong the attraction or wanting to help because of it. But to be totally oblivious to inclusion until someone has that feeling, is a little blind to themselves and the divide in opportunities they have blindly contributed to. There is no proof that more men are geniuses and that we have more damaged goods. If we go by our history books, then I see your point. But anyone who has been in the music business long enough knows there are many more geniuses floating around the world than will ever be known to the masses. Life has challenges for both men and women obviously. But the path to improvising and playing creative music was more accessible and encouraging to me than my female counterparts. That is a simple fact that has been researched and proven countless times.

      This is a site that is often visited by kids and minors, so the “thinking with dick” line and “shooting up schools” is out of line with the audience and discussions that should take place here. If you would please edit those lines out and make your point in a more appropriate way, I would appreciate it. Otherwise, I will have to remove the post. As the author of the post, I find that your choice to make this personal and political with somehow comparing opportunities in the arts to getting unfair “credit” for something as horrible as shooting up schools a stretch and not worthy of a response other than that line of discussion is best served in other venues online.

      • BASTA!

        “If you would please edit those lines out and make your point in a more appropriate way, I would appreciate it.”

        Working on it. Will edit this comment to post my response here once I’m done with that.

        • @BASTA! I’m sorry but I can’t figure out why you feel the need to come on here trying to direct personal insults with terms like “patriachy-shame” when that has not even been discussed in my post or the comments. I understand you have a bone to pick and I totally respect that, but this is a simple matter of opportunity. I read the whole article you included in your link and not just the one paragraph… Even people who have spent generations studying this who were quoted in the article can’t agree. So you and I are not going to come to a conclusion in the discussion. Plus, IQ as an intelligence indicator is falling out of favor with many modern psychologists. We could both fire studies back and forth to help make our case. But we are really talking about separate things. In creative arts there has been a blind spot to how we invite young girls into the opportunities. It is well documented and you especially see it when you teach girls from four years old and up and how they are steered towards certain aspects of musicianship. In the classical violin world boys often get steered away from that world in the same way – for similar reasons. At my school and the places I’ve mentored young people for many, many years – when given the same opportunities and encouragement; the girls get just as many full scholarships, recording contracts and touring opportunities as the boys… They sound just as good. They aren’t being propped up by FB announcements hyping them as all-girl anything… They can shred and deserve every bit of the accolades they get. I agree that falsely giving credit to bands and musicians because of their gender (or any other reason is wrong) and it often ends up harming the people that are being propped up the most in the end. So my solution to this as a musician and a teacher has been to get the girls involved early and often, make sure they can shred and then they will be rewarded for their merits and not because of any other factor. This is simply about music, opportunities and how we as men can improve the art-forms we care about by making sure the competition is real and diverse. Hearing everyone’s story and encouraging them to tell their story at the highest level possible from the earliest age possible is what art is all about in my opinion. Let’s leave the patriarchy-shame talk to the forums where people debate these things. No patriarchy-shame (or other types of shaming) necessary to make changes in how we help young people perform at the highest possible level in creative arts.

          • BASTA!

            I’m sorry but I can’t figure out why you feel the need to come on here
            trying to direct personal insults with terms like “patriachy-shame”


            Patriarchy-shaming is what you do in your post. Rhetoric like “it’s all of our problem as men in a male-dominated field” is called patriarchy-shaming; that’s the term for it, not an insult. Admittedly what you wrote isn’t extreme patriarchy-shaming, rather a mild example of it, but still.

            Even people who have spent generations studying this who were quoted in the article can’t agree.

            This means there is evidence both ways, which means it is not true that all evidence is your way and none my way, which was your original position.

            Plus, IQ as an intelligence indicator is falling out of favor with many modern psychologists.

            Larger standard deviation among men is actually observed in just about any measure. It would be an extraordinary occurence if intelligence or talent were an exception, and there is a body of evidence that intelligence is not. Yes, there is a modern trend of attempts to discredit methods that yielded this evidence.

            In creative arts there has been a blind spot to how we invite young girls into the opportunities.

            I have seen a lot of overcompensation for this “blind spot” at all levels of teaching, so much so that I find the blind spot largely mythical, and the myth political. More specifically, I find it to be the same myth of the Incredible Shrinking Girl that was pushed within general education during the 90s, met with pushback there (mainly from boys’ parents), and found refuge in more hermetic environments like musical education.

            In the classical violin world boys often get steered away from that world in the same way – for similar reasons.

            … and? I am not asking whether you admonish female violin teachers to elevate insufficiently elevated voices, but I would like to ask you if you are aware of anyone doing for boys in classical violin world what you do for girls in jazz. I used to play violin.

          • I have appreciated your opinions, but I’m going to have to end this comment thread. If anyone felt or perceived shame by the comment “it’s all of our problem as men in a male-dominated field”, there is nothing that can be resolved or moved forward by a discussion online. This statement is not shaming anyone – even mildly.

            The “evidence” you are seeking in “your way” vs. “my way” is never how I presented my original argument. We can try and catch each other in our words but who does that really serve? There is no way my original statement pertaining to girls can play jazz at a level as high as boys “my way”. It’s something that I’ve seen every day for several years. If “your way” says that it’s a fact that boys are inherently more capable of playing creative music at a higher level than girls, it simply contradicts everything I’ve observed for nearly 20 years of working with kids. I can’t get on-board with it.

            I’m really sorry that you have seen or maybe experienced an overcompensation to the “blind spot”. That sounds really rough and I wouldn’t wish that on anyone. Thankfully, I think the approach I’ve been taking the last several years hasn’t held back or harmed any boys. It’s simply been – recognize the “blind spot”, get rid of the blind spot and move forward. The boys all have solid careers in music or still perform regularly and respect the women who do the same. They were never held back or effected by the opportunities that girls were given. They are only better because they interact and collaborate with the girls from a young age and it’s positively effected their music. It’s all positive as far as I can tell and no victims of overcompensation have been observed or reported after several years. If this feedback changes, then I would obviously adjust my ways to make things equal – which seems to be what you were implying isn’t happening.

            To dismiss our field as hermetic when we know that all education, teaching and learning in any field is influenced by all factors of life is a little short-sided. I have never worked with you, so I’m not sure you are able to assume that my approach is hermetic. I pull from all possible fields if I feel it will give the students and chance to gain from the information. Again, twisting my desire to focus on the original content of the article and my comments being music-related instead of comparing school shootings, unresolved wiki articles and thinking with genitalia to a “hermetic” accusation serves no one who may be trying to improve their teaching, parenting or learning by reading this conversation.

            The 90’s were a long time ago. There has never been any influence of your “Incredible Shrinking Girl” movement on what I wrote in either the post or comments. It’s not my ambition to hide any movement like that in my closed-off, hermetic world as you suggest. It’s just years of playing and teaching music with men and women – listening to their stories and how they think it could be better for everyone by being more inclusive and encouraging from the start… All with no shaming of the patriarchy/matriarchy or overcompensating.

            There are plenty of discussions by violin teachers in teaching forums and conferences on the messages they send to boys and how they can adjust the signals they may be sending blindly. I’m sure they’ll work it out. It’s going to take a long time to include parents, teachers and role models. They are now becoming aware and will make the adjustments it takes to make everyone feel like they can give it a go and welcome. It’s not my instrument or expertise, but I keep an eye on the discussion so that I can learn from the process and apply it to venues I work the most in.

          • BASTA!

            Thank you.

  • BASTA!

    So you decided to erase our whole discussion rather than just close the thread as you announced you would. Not cool. You could have at least notified me in advance so I could save it.