The composer Kaija Saariaho on sexism in classical music

The composer Kaija Saariaho on sexism in classical music


norman lebrecht

November 06, 2013

Kaija Saariaho’s speech at the McGill University on November 3rd:


As a Finnish, left-handed woman composer I represent several minorities, a subject that I would like to briefly discuss here. After having gone through many battles during my early professional years I felt that the equality of women in music was advancing.

Therefore I have not spoken about this publicly for many years. Recently, however, there have been polemics generated by statements coming from public persons and even the head of the highest music education institution in France, arguing that there are several natural reasons to explain why women are not suitable for conducting. This made me understand that today, 30 years after my own battles, young women still have to experience much the same everyday discrimination I went through.

In reading more studies about our recent history in this matter, I have understood that the situation is not slowly getting better, but that the improvements seem to have stopped a while ago. In politics, economy, research and culture in general, women still have to find their place. This is a matter of custom or habit and of familiarization, and in many fields we have been able to change these customs already.

I feel a strong necessity to act against the deeply commercial society and a world vision perhaps too univocal because predominantly controlled by men. We need more real, profound human culture, not only the popular mass consumer culture, which is invading the planet and which is mostly profit-driven. All over in the world, we need to pay more attention to how we educate our children, to teach them to grow up into empathetic and caring human beings. We need to incorporate more of the brainpower of women to create a diverse, multidimensional society.

Exactly how to realize this, I don’t know. Nobody wants to be evaluated for things other than their actual skills. But I would like us all to realize (or, to be reminded) that the situations in which we make the evaluations are never objective and that our judgments, however rational they seem to us, can always be colored by our biases.

Institutions such as McGill University are primary venues, well-equipped to strive for equal rights and possibilities in all the fields of study. Please continue this work by encouraging and supporting a rich human future, a future of diversity AND equality.

Thank you.


h/t: Anssi Karttunen


See also:

Why Scandinavian women make the rest of the world jealous

Click here.


  • Linnea J Priest says:

    She is correct!

    • David H. says:

      Except for those many cases in the western world, where the law required a woman to get the position, while a better male candidate was available.

      I’m not denying sexism exists, but it comes both ways these days.

      But feeding on the cliché of the suppressed woman always gets you points in our funny times.

      Reality and the self made perception of it, they can be quite different.

      • tigerprawn says:

        The times where a woman got the job instead of a more qualified man are a minuscule percentage of the times where a man got the job because the boys felt uncomfortable with a female candidate, the boys let their biases influence their reaction to the female candidate so that she was judged unfairly, or because the boys never thought to seek out a female candidate.

        • Totally Serial says:

          [citation needed]

        • David H. says:

          Nice mental construct, but reality is different.

          • EMD says:

            Hi David,

            I have twice been in specimen groups for musical jobs: once an organ scholarship audition, once a position for a vacant composition lecturer. Each case had one female and three male candidates. Each case had only one competent male, two dreadful males and one really rather superb female candidate. In each case, the pretty good male got it over the outstanding female. Only a year later in each institution, this decision was regretted.



          • David H. says:

            Hi E,

            I have been in selection panels for musical and musical academic jobs five times. 3 out of 5 cases a sufficiently qualified woman had to be given the job over a better qualified male applicant, due to the legal implications. In one case a man got the job, because no woman had applied. In the last case an about equally interesting and equally qualified woman and man each were the two final candidates, and the law tipped the selection toward the woman then.

            Overall about 75% of the applicants had been men. 4 out of 5 jobs went to women.

            Maybe we have to agree to disagree, based on our different personal experiences.

    • Lauren says:

      She is right indeed. A word of caution to all: David H. trolls this blog for anything having to do with women and trots out the same misogynist, tired argument every time. I have learned not to waste time or energy on people like this – they just want attention and there is literally nothing you will ever say to change the hearts and minds of these sorts of people. Ignoring them is the best bet.

      • Totally Serial says:

        Well, you know , you could actually do your part and satisfy your (or other’s) burden of rejoinder by refuting his argument instead of poisoning the well by christening him a “misogynist” and advocate that others disregard his arguments therefore. But it seems like your “lesson” of “not [wasting] time or energy on people like this” is just a convenient little excuse to get yourself out of satisfying that burden.

        There are good arguments to be made on either side. So far, you’re not making them.

        • Lauren says:

          I have tried this tacit many times before with David H and a few others on many previous threads. If someone asks the same questions over and over again and are given myriad answers from myriad sources that should satisfy any intelligent and rational person yet they still bang on the same drum, they are no longer worthy of responding to directly. Having read the entries of others here who support my position, I do not feel as though I can add much so you can read through them and take in the experience of others (or not) as you please.

          I do find it interesting that any mention that a woman may have a real issue with systematic discrimination seems intolerable to a small and extremely vocal sub-set of men who take hyper-sensitivity to a whole new level. Once privilege is gained it is then expected, this, sadly, appeals to be human nature. Then, sharing power or perks feels like losing something or being hard-done-by (for some) by those in power positions. This is true in the case of classical composers and conductors and it is true in life generally.

          Sexism, like any other “ism” used to create inequality based in nothing but empty tradition is low-brow and counter-productive to forward-thinking people – this is why I no longer engage a few individuals on this blog.

          I hope that answers at least part of your inquiry.

          • David H. says:

            You are free to show us the alleged “systematic discrimination”. So far you have failed to do so. Claiming is not showing. Opinion is not fact.

      • David H. says:

        The one who is trolling is you, because you go ad hominem and have no argument.

        It’s very interesting to watch, and I see it everywhere and repeatedly: how women do hate one thing like the plague: If someone questions their birthright to the victim role in the gender discourse. It’s a very interesting sociological phenomenon.

        • Cynthia Katsarelis says:

          The “interesting social phenomenon” is that when a man who is perceived to be less qualified lands a job over other guys who are perceived (or perceive themselves) to be more qualified, the result is not ascribed to gender or any state of being. “He’s got better connections.” “He’s got family money behind him.” “He’s better at fundraising and the non musical part of the gig.” “The search committee really wanted a non American…” Etc., etc. Supposedly, pretty much anytime a woman is hired, it’s because of “gender favoritism” regardless of the fact that CAMI and others carry only 1 women for every 100 or so men on their conducting roster, Tanglewood generally only had one women in the conducting fellows, and typically a non American, etc. (I haven’t kept up with Tanglewood in recent years, if they are more accepting of American and female talent now, hooray).

          The real social phenomenon here is the resistance to women in the profession, and the rather vociferous denial of that reality. If all were equal, female conductors and composers (in contemporary music) would be represented at roughly 50-50, just like most of the major orchestras are at, or close, to 50-50 in their membership.

          • Lauren says:

            Excellent reply!

          • Totally Serial says:

            I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but hiring is not a stochastic process: employers do not randomly select from the pool of applicants until all positions are filled, nor does the pool consist of every and all members of the population, resulting in a distribution equivalent to the distribution of the population as a whole. By your logic that a 50-50 sex distribution should exist in the realm of conductors, roughly 25% of all conductors would be children (persons under 18) as well.

            Your “evidence” of the resistance to women in the field is the seeming lack of women therein that would represent sex distribution in the population. Even granting that the entire field of classical music shared an animus toward women and forcibly barred women from entering whatever classical music professions exist, that’s an effect, not a cause— the burden now lies on you to show concrete examples of employers denying a woman a position in this field because of her sex (e.g. all other variables of her performance as compared to others considered she was not selected because of her sex). If you do not satisfy either of these conditions, you’ll sound just as silly as the Goverment-did-9/11-and-faked-the-moon-landing conspiracy theorists, and in addition you’ll have the added bonus of demanding an entitlement for women by advocating for more women to be selected for jobs on the sole basis of their sex.

          • Cynthia Katsarelis says:

            Fact: when I looked at the conductor rosters of the 5 largest artist managers, there was roughly 1 female conductor to every 75 or so male conductors. At the same time, I was seeing strong representation of young women conductors at some of the conservatories, many workshops and summer programs. That reflected (it was a decade or so ago) a clear disproportionate representation. It reflects a high level of rationing.

            If I started naming names of institutions that are wretched about women conductors, I’d be writing for the next week. And I’d destroy any chances of being hired in the future.

            As for composers, a lot of composers make their living in academia. Interestingly enough, even though public institutions do have to keep records in accordance with Affirmative Action, these institutions can point to their vocal and instrumental faculty to show that they have women faculty. These numbers let these institutions continue to hire male only conductors, composers, and deans.

            It is indeed an interesting social phenomenon that so many are so willfully blind. Is this coming from the legions of insecure male conductors and composers?

          • Cynthia Katsarelis says:

            Total Serial, your denial of the problem puts YOU closer to the category of climate deniers and 9/11 conspiracy theorists. There’s a wealth of data on the issues that hold women back in certain areas, especially leadership. We aren’t sociologists with all that data at hand, we’re musicians. The best we can do is share experience and a few articles we’ve read here and there.

            You are most welcome to study sociology to get that data you’re demanding. Alas, I’m going to study Beethoven and Daugherty.

          • David H. says:

            Cynthia, you are wrong about that. Women have less interest particularly in the leadership majors in music education, like orchestra conducting. Your first effort should be to find out and work on improvements, why women are less interested in doing so. You would have to do so with an open mind though, without premeditated conclusions, that men are to blame for this and anything alone.

          • Cynthia Katsarelis says:

            “You would have to do so with an open mind though, without premeditated conclusions, that men are to blame for this and anything alone.”

            Aha! Maybe, possibly, we are coming close to a point of agreement. I don’t blame men as a class for holding back women. Some of the very worst people upholding the status quo in the profession are actually women! Yes, there were some prominent conducting teachers (and I think composition as well) who were dreadful, and something needed to be done about it. But the overall problem is that of culture. And there are many dimensions to it.

            If culture is the problem, then the change comes by acknowledging the problem, and fixing the iniquities. When culture tells you that conductors and composers are male, then it takes a particularly open mind to see the talent of women.

          • James Koenig says:

            There are various topics competing here– and many issues mixed in with the discussion. After a while, whether you do it sitting or standoing, it becomes a “pissing contest.” (If not that, something akin to hitting your head against a brick wall. It’s astounding to hear someone say “Women have less interest in the leadership majors in music education, like orchestra conducting.” “Group speak”– as in “they all….” is ignorant and prejudicial from the start.

        • PJ says:

          I’m with Lauren here. David H, you’re trolling, meaning that you’re making the same pathetic statement over and over again without giving any arguments, yet accusing others of lacking arguments where they are presented in the most clear form. Read Saariaho and get a sense of wisdom. Good luck.

          • David H. says:

            PJ, I’m giving arguments. And I ask questions. The replies are insults or silence. Go down in this blog and see all the missing answers…

            Almost nobody on the other side of the debate seems to have good arguments, but opinions are in inflationary supply. My sense of wisdom would be not to engage the self-righteous ideology driven crowd.

          • Cynthia Katsarelis says:

            Plenty of us have arguments and most of us have actual evidence. The listening skills of some folks just aren’t very strong. Some “know” the truth and don’t want to be confused with the facts and the actual experience of other people. It is too challenging somehow, thus reality gets filtered out.

            For example, supposedly I’m a victim for noticing that no women were auditioned or interviewed for 8 positions in my region. But guys aren’t victims when they “lose” jobs to supposedly “lesser qualified” women being protected by some fantasy law… Example 2. Guy 1 loses to Guy 2, Guy 1 “knows” he’s more qualified but he doesn’t ascribe the loss to a state of being. Guy 1 loses to Woman 1, and suddenly it’s because of her gender.

            Am I the only one seeing the double standards here? (I’m also seeing a lot of conductor ego and entitlement that women must not display, for a set of cultural reasons).

          • James Koenig says:

            Ultimately, it’s not so much about Saariajo specifically as it is about the topic at hand of sexism in classical music. You can like Saariajo and New Music in Finland or not– And, yes, anyone with her amount of prominence has somehow gotten a strong support system behind her. She is the “anointed” for sure. The fact remains that classical music is about as feminist as the Vatican. There are advances for sure– but what is so threatening about women getting equal opportunities in education, ensembles, on the podiums, etc.? That DOESN’T mean that things are handed to women (or men) because of gender. It means that if someone of any gender or sexual orientation or whatever has the skills and charisma to “lead” they get the opportunities. Women can’t “have it both ways.” And men can’t dominate as if it’s in their genetic right. Music — classical music to be specific– is not all a romantic Poly Anna story about the cream rising to the top. It’s about skills, and luck, and backing, and politics, cronyism, systems and power structures, and a lot of stuff that isn’t always pretty. (Schubert died penniless in his thirties.) There are wonderful composers, conductors, performers who will never have the opportunity of the major ensembles and performing venues. They contribute as much to music as the “anointed” of any gender. And those who are truly gifted– in whatever arena– are grateful for their good fortune at having the opportunity to share their gifts on a bigger stage, because there are gifted composers, conductors, and performers who don’t get the opportunity. Sometimes that’s because of gender bias or gender advantage– both M and F. All that being said, someone should take the programs of the top 25 orchestras in the United States over the last 50 years and analyze how many members of the ensembles are men, and how many are women. They should also analyze the programming and see what percentage of compositions are by female composers? I believe it justifies Saariajo’s comments. (You might argue that there aren’t as many female composers– but that also justifies Saariajo’s statement.)

          • Lauren says:

            PJ: You can see from the threads below that I tried to warn people with good reason not to engage with pointless circle-jerking with those who just want to spread misogynist manure. Clearly, other seem to enjoy this sort of discourse or didn’t heed my warning and got sucked in. The British rock band Supertramp put out an album in the 1970’s called CRISIS?, WHAT CRISIS? featuring a man in a chaise lounge, under an umbrella, sipping a cocktail in the middle of a post-catastrophe, and completely oblivious on the cover. Some of the posters on this blog remind my of that. The only thing to do is either laugh at them or ignore them. Engaging in a serious conversation is a frustrating exercise in futility.

  • David H. says:

    Also she is misrepresenting the Mantovani case. He was SPECULATING (not too wisely maybe) about possible reasons, why WOMEN do NOT APPLY for conducting studies. He was not against women conductors. He was wondering why they don’t apply for it.

    It’s not surprising that discussions on this particular topic always end in farcical caricatures of the original meaning.

    Most of the suppression of women exists in the heads of women only. In our liberal Western societies. Finland leading the bunch.

    You are a woman and want to study an “male-dominated”** engineering subject at a European university? Choose among many support programs and grants. You are a man with the same ambitions? You are on your own, good luck…

    etc. etc.

    ** it’s the language that gives away the ideology behind it. “Male dominated” or “avoided by women like the plague”?

    • tigerprawn says:

      “You are a man with the same ambitions? You are on your own, good luck…” No, you are not on your own. You get all the default support that goes along with being in the privileged class: teachers that assume you are a good fit for the career that you want, a society that assumes you are a good fit, classmates that look and act like you, the good old boy hiring system that is based on who you know rather than what you know, textbooks that focus on the accomplishments of people who look like you, etc.

      Put yourself in a woman’s shoes to try to understand. Or if that doesn’t help, put yourself in the shoes of a male nurse? But that’s not quite the same because the female nurses would be nice to you, whereas the males in “male-dominated” fields are often unwelcoming to females.

      • MWnyc says:

        “Put yourself in a woman’s shoes to try to understand.”

        Tigerprawn, I’m afraid that many men genuinely can’t put themselves in a woman’s shoes (metaphorically speaking). It’s literally unimaginable for them; they have no way of conceiving what it would be like.

        If they could, I’d wager that, for one thing, rape would be far less common …

        • Totally Serial says:

          So what you’re telling us is that men are incapable of comprehending the experiences of women, a group of people who are (excepting physical differences) no different than men as far as their brains (and their for their minds and consciousnesses) are concerned? Or are you trying to tell us that women’s minds have a special neurology that we feeble men just can’t understand?

          But hey, let’s use your logic: no woman would be able to apprehend men’s experience. They will never know what it’s like to be sent off to war, having to work 40+ hours a day to bring food to the table, having children forcefully taken from them in custody battles, etc.; it’s literally unimaginable to them, they being unable to understand these experiences.

          Also, in re rape, I have bad news for you: people, including men, are very well aware that rape is bad, including rapists, who knew this prior to, while, and after attacking their victims. Rapists are not the class of people who understand that nothing their victims (in potentia) have done is an “invitation to rape.” Rape is the product of criminal compulsion, not masculinity, and to impute criminal behavior on the entirety of the male race because of the actions of rapists (who constitute a percentage of people that do not have moral restraint and couldn’t care any less for what the law says or whether or not their actions will infringe on the rights of others) is, well, pretty sexist if you ask of me.

  • Mark Stratford says:

    That’s an extremely witty opening line 😉

    “As a Finnish, left-handed woman composer I represent several minorities”

  • Even though the complaints of the gentlemen here have some foundation, what Ms. Saariaho says is true. Recently composer Kristin Kuster posted an opinion piece in the New York Times with parallel ideas which I preserved in my blog ( Saariaho is successful and a true artist of the highest caliber. However, it is worth observing concert programs and conducting positions everywhere to know that her observations are true. The reasons may be deeper than simple social corrections can solve in a generation. Women also internalize these prejudices and debate them with themselves vis a vis their relationships with men. We must still try to change this, and we are trying, and we will solve it.

    • Steve says:

      ” it is worth observing concert programs and conducting positions everywhere to know that her observations are true.”

      but surely not applicable Proms commissioning, or the instrumental line-up of Music Theatre Wales which (for what it matters) has a higher ratio of women than men. I’m sure there are other examples.

  • I am a woman composer. I often feel the pressures of being a minority in my field. Pressures to be taken seriously, pressures to create powerful music that could never audibly be linked to the hand of a woman, pressures to be more ominous and to reach higher decibles- as if my music is screaming to society, “Yes, I am a woman, but I AM STRONG.” I think the question here is “Why do I have to scream for you to hear me?”

  • Cynthia Katsarelis says:

    I’m glad that she spoke up. I was in conservatory 25 years ago and I thought things would get better’ they haven’t. The idea that “the law” helps women and is getting us hired over qualified men is a significant joke. Women conductors have to be at least 20 times better than the guys. If you’re merely 10 times better, tough luck. I’m sure it is similar with women composers. There is absolutely no “affirmative action” for women conductors and composers in the professional realm. It boggles the mind why there is still such resistance; gender does not matter to the audience or the musicians, so where is this resistance coming from?

    • Patrick says:

      You’re “sure it is similar with women composers”? What makes you so sure? And why is it, then, that the most successful female composers, such as Kaija Saariaho and Unsuk Chin, are not twenty times better than “the guys” (as if all male composers belong to some ridiculous misogynistic clique)? And I’m speaking as someone who actually likes Saariaho’s music, by the way. This victim mentality is unworthy of a true artist.

      • Cynthia Katsarelis says:

        “This victim mentality is unworthy of a true artist.”

        It isn’t being a victim to tell the truth. When I was at Peabody Conservatory, Catherine Comet was Resident Conductor of the Baltimore Symphony, the conducting class was 50-50 male-female, and we had three women composers on the faculty, Jean Eichelberger Ivey, Judith Zaimont, and Ellen Faye Silverman. I definitely got the wrong idea about “equality” in music and how it depended only on one’s work. Upon graduation, it took little time to see that Tanglewood, Aspen, and the artist management companies were severely rationing the opportunities for women conductors. And I can only imagine that it’s no cakewalk for composers either.

        It is such an odd thing to have so many guys take all the trouble of writing on this blog to scream that the experience of women is different than … well, our actual experience. What an odd lot.

        • Patrick says:

          Well I’ll defer to your knowledge of gender politics in the conducting world, but of course people are going to feel indignant when you make comments like the one above! Composition is a challenging and highly personal undertaking. Needless to say competition for commissions and opportunities is high, regardless of your gender.

          It is insulting (and, if I may say so, complete rubbish) to be told that your achievements aren’t worth so much because there is a woman out there, ten times better than you, who wasn’t given a fair shake. Almost all competitions require anonymous submission nowadays (perhaps as they always have, I don’t know). It’s no cakewalk for any composer.

        • PJ says:

          Don’t despair, there’s quite a lot of us who hear you and are passionate about the cause for greater equality in the music world. It’s maybe us who should scream a little louder…

  • Graham Lack says:

    “…pressures to create powerful music that could never be audibly linked to the hand of a woman…” Sorry Rebekha, but to use a musicological word, this is, with respect, ‘tosh’. All you are doing is promulgating a misconception that [classical] music sounds in some way male and that women have to “scream”, as you put it, in order to be heard. Hardly the right call to arms for the distaff side, and it flies in the face of so much recent academic research. Without wishing to promote my own cause as a composer, but drawing nonetheless on the experience as Jury President of two recent international composition competitions, all I can say that of the 285 and 637 entries respectively, there remains no way to tell which were works penned by women, not in stylstic, harmonic, rhythmic or melodic terms, nor with regard to compositional language or gestural reference. The juries were not all male, and all members were composers. Should we then have asked ‘the’ question?

    • That’s exactly the problem. As a woman, I strive to not sound like a woman in my writing.

      • Graham Lack says:

        So how does a woman sound? Or women’s music? Sorry to be stupid, and I’m not being disparaging…Neque cuiquam mortalium iniuriae suae parvae videntur…

        • Even though it is subtle and beyond definition, I think there is a sort of macho aesthetic in a lot of new music — especially of the more modernist variety that still dominates continental Europe. One might attend the ICMC and SEAMUS conferences (two professional societies devoted to computer and electronic music) and take decibel readings for all the performances and do a gender comparison. Even with such a simple test, we might find significant contrasts. In any case, I can well imagine young women composers feeling fears about sounding feminine in schools dominated by men. I’ve seen all the male bonding that often goes on in the new music world. The women’s concerns here are justifiable.

          • David H. says:

            “I think…”

            “I can well imagine…”

            Just Projections maybe? Conjecture, based on preconceived deliberations?

            Women have existential fears and feel they have to deny their personality in order to be successful? Guess what men have. EXACTLY THE SAME.

            The difference is, that men have no “evil system” – as unrealistic and a thing of the past it might be in our western societies today – to blame for it.

          • Patrick says:

            Decibel readings… congratulations on an unfathomably asinine comment! How would Morton Feldman fare? Is Bent Sørensen’s music macho? How about Debussy’s? Graham Lack has it right.

          • Debussy and Sørensen haven’t written any electronic music, and Feldman almost none, so yes, the sound of it would be very soft indeed……

            The vehemence of the denial by several men commenting here is in itself revealing about the new music world.

        • Steve says:

          the notion of women’s music sounding different is comparable in naivety to the claims put forward about gay composers writing music which sounds different from their straight counterparts.

      • josquin2gerald brennan says:

        “That’s exactly the problem. As a woman, I strive to not sound like a woman in my writing.’

        The your music will never sound honest.

        Don’t blame “men” for that.

        No offense intended. But that attitude needs to be nipped in the bud. To hell with anyone who doesn’t like you for “sounding like a woman”. Do you really want to appeal to these imbeciles?

        • First let me state that I love your comment. Truly.

          Every artist has to sell out, right? I have music that is written for deeply personal release and consumption, and then I have music that is written in the hopes of creating revenue. Masculinity creates revenue.

          • MWnyc says:

            I like josquin2gerald’s comment, too. (I also like his choice of screen name.)

            Rebekah, when you say, “I have music that is written for deeply personal release and consumption, and then I have music that is written in the hopes of creating revenue. Masculinity creates revenue”, could you unpack that for us a bit?

            In the music that you write for the purpose of earning money, what, in terms of the notes and directions that you actually put on paper, constitutes that masculinity? How is it different from the music you write for personal release and consumption? What qualities – or what musical material – in the personal music seem more feminine/less masculine to you? And what in your experience has shown you that the latter music is less sellable then the former?

            I don’t doubt you, but you’ve evidently come to these conclusions through experience. I don’t know – and maybe, as a man, I can’t imagine – what that experience might be or how you’d work it into musical material.

            Damn, I wish I had an online magazine and money to pay you (and others) to write an essay about this. I think a lot of people could learn a lot from it.

  • XC says:

    Dave H: – “Most of the suppression of women exists in the heads of women only. In our liberal Western societies. Finland leading the bunch.”

    But why limit your condemnation to Western societies? Surely, if the “most of the suppression of women” is simply a manifestation of women’s imaginations, then all worldwide societies are at least equally at fault as those in the West. For example, when women “imagine” being shot for trying to go to school. Or for just TALKING about education. And when women “imagine” that they are being prevented from driving, making their physical freedom wholly dependent on their male relatives, chauffeurs, and guardians. And when women “imagine” having acid thrown on their bodies and being set fire on unsubstantiated (male) accusations of misbehaviour.

    The suppression is real. It may not always be as obvious as the extreme examples I’ve cited, but it pervades our world culture and in my experience, it is certainly also evident in the workplace. It is exhibited in attitude, in expression, and yes – in REAL, not conjured, actions. That is why REAL programs such as EEO exist to support the employment rights of not only women and minorities, but ALL workers. These programs can’t prevent all exhibitions of discrimination amongst employees but they are necessary to set standards for respectful behaviour and attempt to assure that employees are being evaluated and hired/fired on the basis of their abilities and experience, not for their gender, appearance, etc.

    And yes, because I know you’re wondering: I’m one of those wackos who also believes that Neil Armstrong DID walk on the moon. Craaaaaazy!!!

  • “As a Finnish, left-handed woman composer I represent several minorities”

    love it!

    and she is so right, what an inspiration!

    check out my cool showcase!

  • rob says:

    Her first mistake was playing classical music, it’s like learning Typewriters in an age of Computers. It will continue to be pushed aside like the niche genre it is. It surprises me anyone even listens to the Beatles anymore, they surely werent listening to 50yr old music from 1914 when they wrote their “hit songs”. Leave it in the past, there are plenty of women musicians, DJs and producers making great modern music. Stop whining about your failed business model you decided for as a career.

    • Laura S says:

      You’ve clearly missed the difference between formal/art music and the “popular mass consumer” music Saariaho refers to so neatly in her discussion. If you do a simple search for her on google you will find that :

      1. She is a composer, so doesn’t ‘play’ music (or does but it’s not her primary vocation)

      2. She studied at, lectured at and has firm ties with IRCAM (the research institute that DEVELOPED much of the synthesis technology that is used in modern music production by these popular figureheads you praise so highly. “Classical” (or at least formally trained) composers and acousticians are owed an enormous debt by the entire Electronic music industry for their pioneering work in electro-acoustic technology, much of which has been assimilated into electric instruments, synthesisers and DAWs/plugins/VSTs and all other modern music creation tools.


      3. What you refer to as “Classical” music sounds very different today when compared to 100 years go, or indeed even 20 years ago.

      Art music has developed and modernised stylistically in its own way, parallel to, and not always in juxtaposition with popular music. The sole difference being that it is a sincere, human expression of culture, not one driven by profit.

      Unfortunately many women in the popular music industry have their talents exploited and end up being used as rather sexy trojan horses for largely male-owned corporate entities to peddle their brand identities and marketing strategies from.

    • James says:

      You don’t even seem aware of your own ignorance. Typewriters in an age of Computers– You obviously don’t know the difference between “classical” and “pop”/commercial music, and you clearly don’t have an inkling of Kaija Saariaho’s music. From your comments about Beatles to business models you display arrogant ignorance.

    • David H. says:

      The Beatles were entertainers. What has their habit of not caring about 50 year (or older) music to do with anything? Great music makers were aware of tradition and historic styles.

  • I would be inclined to support such a statement as this if it wasn’t for Nadia Boulanger and her insanely talented sister Lili.

    That said, I would be very interested in what exactly makes a piece of music “feminine.”

  • Kaija established her career at Ircam, an institution that has brought many men to notoriety (about 30 I would guess,) but almost no women. In fact, I think Kaija is the only one. I’m not sure of the details, and welcome corrections, but I believe her husband was the Director of Ircam in the early 80s. He would let her in at night after hours to use the studios. The works Kaija wrote under those circumstances became some of the best known in the computer music genre, and some of the most famous of all the work produced by Ircam. Without that back door, night owl opportunity, it is quite possible that Kaija would not have developed her career, and we would be without one of the very best of modern composers.

    This makes it all the more ironic to see men here making the usual jeering comments about what a woman composer sounds like. It will be some decades before we even have enough literature to definitively answer this question. In the meantime, we might turn to the many women Gothic novelists, and to painters like Georgia O’Keefe and the writings and work of people like Judy Chicago, or the Susan McClary’s several books to sense the different perspectives that might evolve.

    It is certain that we are witnessing a historical movement that will continue. Women musicians are assuming positions of leadership, and are creating a wide-reaching cultural metamorphosis. By returning the feminine to humanity, they are giving society a new identity, and a deeper understanding of human consciousness that will very likely profoundly transform the world of music.

  • K.Osberg says:

    I am a female composer.

    I have to say, though, I have found the most effective way to deal with sexism is simply to ignore it. I don’t mean that we should allow the behavior to continue, but I mean we should never view the opportunities we receive through the lens of “because I am a woman” or “in spite of the fact that I am a woman.” Such a lens creates a gender-based distinction where there should not be.

    When confronted with prejudiced, sexist or even somewhat misogynistic persons (not always male) in my field, I ask them directly for them to tell me the reasons for their behavior, action, attitude, etc. which is bothering me. This acknowledges your perception of their negative actions and puts that person in a position where they have to state a response.

    Anyone interested in keeping their job will never say “because you are a woman;” if they do, you can file a complaint. If they cannot come up with a response to your question, you can simply tell them that if there is no reason for the behavior, attitude, etc. then it makes no sense for it to continue. This puts you back in a position of power and holds them accountable.

    It has not been easy for me to learn this, but since I have things have gone much better for me in the department. If you do not expect, tolerate, encourage and/or justify gender-based motives, they begin to lose their power.

    I am a woman, but I am also a composer. In my professional world, I only accept behavior that I would expect between composers. Not as woman to woman, not as man to man or woman to man, but as expressive artist to expressive artist.

    • Gerhard says:

      Wonderful statement. Thank you!

    • Ehkzu says:

      Speaking not as a musician but as someone with a degree in Sociology, this is the most astute comment in this thread.

      People in positions of privilege–male, white, rich, a certain ethnicity, etc.–often are not really conscious of their “leveraged” status. They usually believe it’s a reflection of their individual merit.

      So when you accuse them of acting privileged, they’re outraged and often accuse you of wanting to discriminate against them. Here in America, privileged white conservative Christian males have cultivated a mythos of somehow being in a persecuted minority–a culture of aggrievance.

      But your response works the levers perfectly.

      Reminds me of something I read in Miss Manners’ Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Behavior–a book about conversational judo masquerading as an etiquette book. Someone wrote into her newspaper column (reprised in the book) to say that while she was flying somewhere on a business trip, an older gentleman seated beside her engaged her in conversation, culminating in his asking if she were a “career girl.”

      She was offended but didn’t know quite what to say. Miss Manners replied that she was loathe to jump to conclusions over the crevasses of age and gender, and so encouraged her Gentle Reader to respond in the spirit she hoped the question was intended…and then ask, in turn, whether the silver fox was a “career boy.”


      In the world of music, isn’t it the case that the extreme gender disparity in symphony orchestras diminished radically when most orchestras adopted blind auditions for selecting new players?

      I realize that’s a lot harder to do for conductors, but it’s close enough for the stats to be comparable.

      It is true that especially in some academic contexts, efforts to reverse centuries of different sorts of discrimination have resulted in reverse discrimination. But the fact of instances of reverse discrimination hardly refute a tendency towards gender discrimination in general. Conversely, an overall pattern of gender discrimination across all human societies, while not proving that any one setting in any one society involves such discrimination. at the very least it should be acknowledged that gender discrimination pervades human institutions.

      No one on this thread has mentioned the underlying cause of this: the fact that six million or so years ago our ancestors came down out of the trees and adopted a terrestrial existence. There is no sexism among arboreal primates; while sexism is universal among ground-dwelling primates. The reason is simple: the only real defense against attack by predators in the tree canopy is to disperse rapidly. On the ground, though, you can’t retreat like that. A point defense is required.

      Thus among Baboons, for example, when a leopard attacks the alpha male takes point, with the beta males (all of whole are jonesing for the alpha’s top slot) at his shoulders. The females protect the babies and the males protect the females. The males are bigger, stronger, and more aggressive. They are not smarter or more skilled. It’s just specialization, same as you’d find with, say, an ant colony.

      When leopards aren’t attacking, the alpha bosses around everyone else–male and female–at the price of being expendable. A baboon troupe can’t afford to lose a single fertile female, while a few fewer males make little difference.

      But with highly skilled professions today, the problem women have is that a lot of men, mentally, are still out there on the veldt, on the lookout for nonexistent leopards, meanwhile expected to get kowtowed to in exchange for that. But women also have the problem of being, as a whole, less aggressive than men.

      This has nothing to do with culture. It has to do with testosterone levels and the development of secondary sexual characteristics in any special of mammal that is sexually dimorphic.

      The problem is that aggressiveness has nothing to do with talent. Yet time after time after time, the gig goes to the most aggressive, rather than the one who could do the job best. That doesn’t mean that someone utterly incompetent could get a gig requiring great talent. But among those who are in the ballpark, it’s hard for selection committees to choose the most talented when there’s a disparity in aggression. They often confuse wanting the job more with being able to do it better–especially when the selection committee is mostly male and/or the females buy into the mystique–prevalent in our society–that desire trumps talent to a degree.

      • There is an error in your premise. Orangutans are arboreal and display significant sexual dimorphism. Females average 100 lb, while flanged adult males can reach 260 lb. Sexual dimorphism in orangutans is much larger than in humans. We see the dangers of essentialism in the form of reductive biological concepts.

        • Ehkzu says:

          We also see the danger in believing that the exception disproves the rule–something frequently asserted (with varying degrees of explicitness) by those with a faulty grasp of scientific method–particularly when they have an ideological agenda that runs contrary to scientific findings. There is also a perpetual dialectic within science between “lumpers” who see the broad forces shaping things and “splitters” who prefer to focus on the historical particulars. They’re all scientists who know how to do the painstaking observational and experimental work of science, to be sure. But, that said, the great innovators tend to be lumpers, while the folks that prove the innovators right or wrong tend to be splitters.

          Lumpers see the value of splitters. Splitters often see lumpers as defective splitters.

          Nature is complex (duh) with historical exigencies working in a perpetual dialectic with evolutionary convergencies. Sexual dimorphism is driven by the terrestrial group dynamic I cited, but it is also driven independently by sexual competition–same thing that gives us the male peacock and the dimorphism of male lions (plus their manes).

          It is true that orangutans are different. But not only in their sexual dimorphism. They also differ from all other anthropoid apes and I think all (or nearly all) other primates in general in being solitary as adults rather than social–especially the males, who spend a lot of time trying to dominate other males in order to get access to females.

          But in looking for the causes of the pronounced sexual dimorphism in humans it would be logical to look at other species that live socially as we do and also forage socially, as we also tend to do.

          I don’t think any biologist would assert that humans are descended from non-arborial primates–or that the arboreal primates we are descended from were sexually dimorphic in anything like the way orangutans are.

          Our own sexual dimorphism coincided with our descent from the trees onto the ground of the East African savannahs, around six million years ago. On the ground it’s easy to see the need for just the kind of sexual dimorphism humans display, in situations that play out every day with other ground-dwelling primates. And even here, note that the least dimorphic ground-dwelling apes, the bonobos, live in the environment least similar to that of our own ancestors, while the babboons live in the most similar one and show the same dimorphic physical and behavioral traits we do.

          It is always possible to oversimplify nature and evolution. It is also always possible to undersimplify.

          As Einstein said, “Explanations should be as simple as possible–but no simpler.”

        • Ehkzu says:

          I can validate Saariaho’s observation from a wildly disparate circumstance: photographing children in the third world. My spouse and I are scuba divers who usually go to tropical countries to dive. Mostly I take underwater photographs along with landscape panoramas and photos of daily life there.

          And I have consistently observed if you photograph children in mixed groups of boys and girls, only your first photograph will show any girls. All subsequent ones will only show boys crowding and jostling with each other to be the center of attention, either making the V sign or striking martial arts poses.

          This is as true in the Bahamas as it is in West Timor.

          Boys also tend to dominate discussions in mixed-gender classes in school, even though girls’ grades are if anything higher.

          So this behavioral dimorphism says nothing about actual talent, and everything about aggression.

          But it doesn’t explain why the percentage of women players in symphony orchestras soared when those orchestras adopted blind auditions. That pertains to sexism–and to why the dearth of female conductors has nothing to do with any lack of talent among women for conducting.

        • Many arboreal species like golden lion tamarins and wedge-capped capuchins display high levels of male aggression. Sexual dimorphism in primates is obvious, though the generalization that it is predominates in terrestrial species due to the nature of their environment is shaky. Sexual competition exists as much in the trees as on the ground, even if smooth-talking male homo-sapiens want to tell us they are entitled to special privileges because they chase away the lions living down the street.

          After mating, females have the most investment in their offspring in more than 300 non-human primate species (with the exception of some monogamous species where the father cares for the offspring.) Females use more energy for metabolic processes associated with reproduction, such as lactation and pregnancy, which accounts in part for their depressed body size.

          In the German-speaking world, orchestras long avoided women members, claiming that they would take maternity leave and thus damage the orchestra. The Vienna Philharmonic used this as a reason to exclude women until 1997. I address this form of biological essentialism in this article:

          • Ehkzu says:

            You’re conflating the near-universal of male sexual aggression with the dimorphism needed for group defense on the ground. Kind of ironic for someone who campaigns against reductionism to be displaying such a blatant case of it.

            What this demonstrates is that the radical feminists who dismiss sexual dimorphism as a patriarchal plot and minds-in-the-19th-century Germanophones who won’t hire women in symphonies–and those who see “essentialism” behind every bush–are all united in their abuse of biology to score ideological points.

            Men and women are different–but not in ways that justify hiring dimorphism in most professions, and even where they do (as with the ATF agents guarding the President who must be able to lug him down a flight of stairs), straightforward work-appropriate gender-neutral tests are the way to go.

            In this case, this disagreement is doubly ironic since we’re arguing the same side of this issue, in agreement with the author, that the gender disparity of the conducting world is shameful–particularly in a world that prides itself on being a cut above, say, the zeitgeist of the average construction site.

          • Cynthia Katsarelis says:

            “particularly in a world that prides itself on being a cut above, say, the zeitgeist of the average construction site.”

            I just love this. Thank you so much for your perspective from a sociological perspective; it’s greatly appreciated.

          • I’m conflating nothing. Your argument has notable inconsistencies which are clearly obvious. And there are no lines clearly separating sexual aggression and the evolution of defensive mechanisms in species. They are deeply integrated.

            Our shared end while disagreeing about scientific reductionism isn’t so ironic, because there have been far too many conclusions made about appropriate human behavior based on poor and selective scientific studies, especially involving gender. As in the case with maternity leave I cited, some jump to conclusions when these sorts of arguments are made so they should be carefully discussed and vetted. This doesn’t mean there aren’t good scientific studies, but it means we should carefully question them, and take careful note when clear omissions and inconsistencies are noted, as in your notably undocumented arguments.

            As an example of how science can be abused and featured in the arts, evolutionary biologist Randy Thornhill, author of the controversial book “A Natural History of Rape,” was a featured speaker at the Ars Electronica in Linz, Austria in 2000. He presented a lecture asserting that rape is a natural part of male sexuality, and that women should restrict their behavior to avoid this “natural” phenomenon. It didn’t matter to Ars Electronica that his conclusions were based on studies of a type of fly.

            As for the construction site metaphor, musicians in the Munich Phil often referred to the brass section as the “Baustelle” due to its crude mentality. (Baustelle is German for construction site.) My wife was the only woman in the section. She entered 11 years of legal battles when the conductor demoted her with the declaration, “You know the problem. We need a man for the solo-trombone.” As part of the trials, she had to go to a lung clinic and disrobe while various tests were conducted like breathing in an air sealed cabin and then having blood taken from her ear to see how well it was oxygenated. All very scientific, of course. Science is not just a pursuit of knowledge, it’s a system of power.

            After further tests by a court appointed trombone specialist, 11 years of trials, and years of ostracism and harassment, she was reinstated. Abuses of science are too often part of a system of oppression that women face, which is one reason why scepticism is and should be an inherent part of the scientific process.

          • Ehkzu, aside from a lack of provided documentation for your arguments, we have no idea who you are, or why you should speak with any authority. Use a real name, with links to your educational background and sociological work you have done, and provide documentation for your arguments, then I might give your ideas more credence. There is a serious lack of sociological work in musicology, so we need work from people in that field.

  • Mikko says:

    Rest assured that Saariaho has done quite well for herself.

  • Susan Ung says:

    It will take a long long time to get beyond male-oriented attitudes in the music field. It will begin to happen when we stop having knee-jerk reactions to what looks or feels “right” in this world of long held convention.

    • David H. says:

      What are “male-oriented attitudes in the music field”?

      Are you saying that women do not have knee-jerk reactions to what looks or feels “right” …

  • Mikko says:

    A Finnish magazine recently quated an anecdote of Saariaho turning up for the recording of one of her early piano pieces at the studios of YLE, the Finnish public broadcaster which had commissioned the work. She was the only woman in the room, so naturally the men assumed that she was there to work as the page-turner. I guess that was the sort of standard reaction 30 years ago that she’s talking about.

    • tapani Ookoo says:

      As a finn, as a music maker, as a small part of finnish society I just strongly assume, this story is false, crab, only a story. Saariaho being a female has certainly not caused any harm for her. I would even say, some advantage.

  • Thankfully we have David H. commenting here to perfectly illustrate the problems we are sometimes up against!

    Rebekah Stewart: I have literally (and I am using the true meaning of literal here) been told to be more of a “bad boy” as a composer!

    Of course you can’t tell women and men composers apart by style, but there are sounds and styles that get associated with “femininity” and “masculinity”, and those that are associated with masculinity are more often favoured. (Of course men whose aesthetic is perceived as “feminine” often end up disadvantaged too. Sexism hurts everyone!)

    • Graham Lack says:

      I thought this one would run and run…what sounds and styles do you understand then as especially feminine or masculine Rebekah? And do, please, be specific…I’d love to have chapter and verse, or mvt. and bar no. as it were.

      • Graham Lack says:

        My comment addressed to Emily I think, sorry about that…

        • Sarah Kirkland Snider says:

          Graham, I’ve been told by male teachers that my music is too “emotional” and that I need to “write more like a man” — in the same breath. Does that answer your question?

          • MWnyc says:


            Sarah, I’m curious: When male teachers told you that, did you ask them what exactly they meant by it in musical terms – what to change to “write more like a man”? If you did, what did they tell you?

          • Cynthia Katsarelis says:

            I think the guys would be well advised to shut up and LISTEN to the actual experience of women. The example that Sarah gives from feedback from a teacher is telling. I also know of a variety of conservatory settings where the atmosphere in the composition departments was hostile towards women. Several where unwanted sexual advances were prevalent. They aren’t all like that, but one might not know in advance. This is not usually a problem for men.

            The male “experts” on this blog telling us women about our experience is both ridiculous and quite clearly exemplifies the ongoing problem.

          • Graham Lack says:

            Sarah: no.

          • Sarah Kirkland Snider says:

            I did not ask what they meant in musical terms, but in both cases (I’ve heard this sentiment twice, from two different composers) the context was a discussion of emotional directness in 20th and 21st century music. With one composer, it was his perception that most if not all of the female composers who have found success in the past 100 years have done so with music that was either modernist/highly complex or big/bold/brash, and that none have found success purveying, for instance, the kind of melodic lyricism you find in Samuel Barber or Aaron Copland. His explanation for this was that the world saw lyricism and emotional directness as “feminine” traits — qualities which were admirable and courageous in music written by men, but might be seen as sentimental and indulgent in music written by women. For a woman to be taken seriously as a composer, he said, she had to prove herself by writing highly complex, intellectual music that avoided emotional vulnerability. In both of these cases it was very clear that the men expressing these statements were in my corner and wanted to see me succeed. Far from keeping me down, they were trying to help me navigate a system that they perceived to be unfair to women, in the best way they knew how — “the playing field is not level for female and male composers. If you want to succeed as a woman, here’s what you have to do.” Of course, if anything, it made me want to go in the opposite direction.

      • Grahm, if you’re looking for a vagina in triad, I think you will be sadly disappointed. Stylistic trends in music are generally ineffable and notoriously difficult to define. And gender-coding in music is often arbitrary. What exactly makes those cadences known as “feminine endings” that we are all taught in music school feminine? And why aren’t women supposed to play brass instruments? The Japanese never got the memo, so even most of the low brass students in Japan are women.

        On the other hand, it would be a bit boneheaded to think that the increasing participation of women in classical music will not create changes. Women have a few different perspectives, and those perspectives will very likely change the way we think about music and ultimately even how we make music.

        Jutta Allmendinger and Richarch Hackman have examined how gender balances affect orchestras. (See: Allmendinger, J. & Hackman, J.R., “The More, the Better?,” unpublished working paper (Harvard Business School, January 1994) pg. 11. See also: “The More, the Better? A Four Nation Study of the Inclusion of Women in Symphony Orchestras,” Social Forces, December 1995, 74(2):423-460, University of North Carolina.)

        They found several effects when women become a significant minority in orchestras (i.e. 10 to 40%): tightened identity group boundaries for both genders; increased cross-group stereotyping and conflict; less social support across gender boundaries; and heightened personal tension for everyone. But they make an interesting observation about the intimidation of women in orchestras, and how institutions can seek a frictionless work atmosphere at the expense of creative growth:

        “It is no doubt true that, in male-dominated organizations, neither the organization nor its members are obtaining the benefits (such as personal learning and improved task performance) that compositional diversity [gender integration] can bring. Indeed, our qualitative data suggest that many women find that there are strong incentives for them to keep a low profile, to behave closely in accord with existing orchestral norms, and generally to be as non-intrusive as they can. This stance is costly to the orchestra because it protects majority members from exposure to unfamiliar perspectives and from the need to scrutinize and reconsider traditional behavioral norms.”

        In the arts this might imply a tendency to achieve a male oriented social harmony at the expense of creativity.

        Let’s take a look at the city where you live. In the Munich Philharmonic’s February/March 1992 edition of the Philharmonische Blaetter, tutti cellist and former orchestra chairman, Joerg Eggebrecht, wrote about the superior masculine qualities of the orchestras GMD:

        “Sergiu Celibidache is an extraordinary European, so impressive, because in him an unobstructed masculine aura is projected that is not corruptible. And the world is in great need of this, because we live in a fatherless society, a world without standards in that point. And there he is, such a man, who does not allow himself to be corrupted and quite openly expresses ¬especially during concerts , what is happening inside him, and that is naturally a deeply moving vision. Listeners and performers can still experience music with him as a ‘revelation’.”

        The images of the “father”, the “unobstructed masculine aura”, and “revelations” are the essence of orchestral patriarchy. The fear of chaos, the fear of a world without the uniformity of “standards”, and the fears of contamination as found in the “corruptible” confirm observations about the presumed weakness the feminine would bring. They speak of “revelations”, and of deeply moving visions as a sort of magic. We see the male soul as a carrier of secrets.

        Power and public subjugation, threats, the whipping and slashing of the phallic baton, and the orgiastic build to climax under the watchful and absolute authority of the conductor are part of what patrons expect from orchestras, and these expectations seem to contain vicarious satisfactions of sadism. When women enter this atmosphere a good deal of misogyny can arise, just as it does in other authoritarian institutions such as the military. (Perhaps you’ve read about the massive problems with rape in the US military.)

        A close look at some of our more traditional orchestras reveal gendered concepts of music: 1) They believe that music has qualities defined by gender and ethnicity, and that the uniformity of these factors produces aesthetic superiority. 2) Traditional values about the sexuality of subjugation and women disturb the uniform dynamic of authority in the orchestra’s hierarchical atmosphere. 3) The gender bias is constellated with chauvinistic overtones of national and ethnic superiority. 4) The attitudes toward women are affected by the cross-national interaction of the conductors and musicians. 5) Patrons expect a masculine and ethnic character to orchestral music.

        When women speak about the masculinist nature of classical music, they know what they’re talking about.

        • Graham Lack says:

          Skirting your verbosity, if you re-read my comments, you’ll see I’m saying precisely the same thing as you: style is a veritable will-o’-the-wisp. I suppose your sad and trite use of the v-word will get a laugh from prepubescents reading all of this this, but usually marks the end of debate as humankind knows it…a variant of Godwin’s law, or reductio ad hitlerum. As for my learned friend Eggebrecht, we never took him seriously then and I see no reason for you to make a mountain out of a tiny Bavarian mole-hill now.

          • For those who were victims of the chauvinism in the Munich Phil, those words were backed with of intellectual violence and serious harm. Perhaps your smugness derives from the very fact that as a man you haven’t experienced that kind of abuse. Such different perspectives would again illustrate how women might change music.

          • For documention of the kinds of abuse of women by Celibidache and his backers in the Munich Philharmonic, see:

            As one example, he treated Anna-Sophie Mutter so badly she walked out of a rehearsal and cancelled her performance with the orchestra. In a newspaper interview shortly afterwards Celibidache referred to her as a “a violin playing hen.” Apparently he thought women made music differently too…

          • David H. says:

            The story with Mutter is simply explained by Celibidache’s utter hatred for anything Karajan, and Mutter was Karajan’s prodigy. Man or woman was not the decisive issue in this event. Celibidache had issues with his narcissistic disordered and hot tempered character. He also in general disliked working with soloists, few exemptions apply.

        • Totally Serial says:

          Allmendinger et al are preaching to the converted.

          Was their a control group in their study? Were these same phenomena (the “tightened identity group boundaries for both genders; increased cross-group stereotyping and conflict; less social support across gender boundaries; and heightened personal tension for everyone” that you speak of) observed in orchestras in which the minority population consisted of a different arbitrary group (e.g. race or ethnicity, age, educational background, etc.)? If not, congratulations, as you’ve just witnessed statisticians committing one of their cardinal sins: tying two events within close temporal proximity to one another and ordaining one event as the cause.

          Their findings should not be surprising to anyone with even a cursory understanding of human behavior: substitute “women” with any arbitrary group of your choosing as the minority population within the orchestra and the same effects could be observed.

          “In the arts this [the marginalization of women in the orchestral workplace] might imply a tendency to achieve a male oriented social harmony at the expense of creativity.”

          Please stop equivocating and define your terms:

          • “creativity”

          • “male oriented social harmony”

          In re your idea of an “orchestral patriarchy”: even assuming the above study indisputably demonstrated a male togetherness and hostility toward women from the orchestral players, none of this is actual evidence for a conception of “feminine weakness.” And Celibidache being praised for “masculine magic” (a creature of your own creation, not one even of his exalting reviewer) is not sufficient proof for the contempt of the “feminine” in music— which none here have bothered to define.

          But good job evading Graham Lack’s question about what constitutes the “masculine” and “feminine” in music. No doubt he’ll find your response *sunglasses* lacking.

          • Your vehement (and blustering) rejection of a study by professors from Harvard and the University of Munich that was published in a distinguished academic journal like “Social Forces” without even reading it ironically speaks toward the hostility women in music face. Such behavior is not uncommon for anti-feminists without the integrity to use their real names and made even more ironic by your moniker “Totally Serial.”

          • Graham Lack says:

            Yes, you’re quite right Totally Serial, Mr Osborne continues to evade answering any question too poignant. He still seems to have a bee in his trombone, er, sorry, bonnet…

          • Actually, it is your simplistic thinking that hinders discussion. You categorically deny the possibility of gendered aspects of art by by demanding that musical meaning be reduced to simplistic symbols when even the most cursory thought would show the issue is vastly more complex. Repeated attempts to explain the weakness of such a narrow approach passes you by. The irony is that it is exactly this sort of one-dimensional, absolutist thought that serves as the foundation of chauvinism.

          • David H. says:

            “…it is exactly this sort of one-dimensional, absolutist thought that serves as the foundation of chauvinism.”

            …or feminism.

    • Totally Serial says:

      “Thankfully we have David H. commenting here to perfectly illustrate the problems we are sometimes up against!”

      And thankfully we have people like you who, instead of participating in a dialogue, fling dung at opponents and call them names instead of engage them in discussion and attempt to refute their points.

      “Of course you can’t tell women and men composers apart by style, but there are sounds and styles that get associated with “femininity” and “masculinity”, and those that are associated with masculinity are more often favoured. (Of course men whose aesthetic is perceived as “feminine” often end up disadvantaged too. Sexism hurts everyone!)”

      [citation needed]

      • Graham Lack says:

        Which sounds and styles have become associated then with femininity and masculinity? (Quite why you put these words in inverted commas is a magnum mysterium.) The major third maybe? Then we’d better blame Tinctoris for his approbation. The rococo? And who exactly favours those sounds and styles that you maintain are associated with masculinity and in what discourses? Shall we blame Hanslick then for the beautiful in music? Finally, which men whose aesthetic you say is perceived as feminine are ending up disadvantaged? Murail?

        • Graham Lack says:

          Assume your answer is coming Totally Serial?

          • Totally Serial says:

            I’m not the one who contended that there existed “masculine” and “feminine” music. That assertion is Emily Doolittle’s— take it up with her, not me.

          • Totally Serial says:

            For clarification: I quoted her statement in asking her to back it up with evidence. So far, she has skirted this obligation.

          • David H. says:

            Celibidache (not a well respected source around here 😉 once claimed, the female element in music is the falling fifth, and the male element is the rising fifth. Thus in any cadenca the progression from Pen ultima to ultima, the harmonic relaxation from Dominant to Tonika, would be a female element. Plagal endings would be “male” then. The building of tension of going upward to the Dominant or even modulating into a Dominant or double dominant levels, would be considered “male” in his understanding.

      • Graham Lack says:

        Either Mr Osborn is deliberately misinterpreting what I write, or he is incapable of understanding what I’ve written. Just for clarification then: I am not demanding that musical meaning be reduced to simplistic symbols, and I tend to believe that it is not possible to make out male or female traits in contemporary composition. This was at least my experience having taught at a renowned American university for 12 years. Then again, I may be wrong, and Mr Osbourne could fax across 157 pages proving the contrary, as is his wont.

        • Now we are making some progress. It is one thing to “tend to believe” gender might not affect musical styles, and another to insist that the question is solved by citing simplistic examples such as specific intervals, stylistic periods, or composers (you sarcastically ask such questions in previous posts.) Gender in the arts raises extremely complex questions for which we have few answers. At this point, the best approach is to require clear thinking while remaining open to reasonable enquiry. This is important because we are dealing the the identity of a large part of humanity.

        • @Graham Lack – Welcome to the wonderful world of ‘debating’ with WO.

          • Graham Lack says:

            Thank you Theodore! Mr Ossborne doesn’t really debate, his posts as a lone crusader and ultimate feminist just dissolve into a jarringly joyless and stunningly patronizing moan aimed at fostering incredulity amongst those who show approbation toward that which he did not pen. Perhaps I should not have been so prudent, and simply stated that compositional language does not evince male or female traits. He might have waxed wroth, heaven forbid, but at least he might have revealed what those “complex questions” are, ones which he continues to bang on about. He states he does not know the answers. I beg to differ, he doesn’t actually know the questions. And no sooner had he introduced the word he obviously finds highly risible — vagina — into the debate, it was downhill all the way. Or reduction ad hitlerum. In retrospect, some of my ad hominem posts might have been a tad more discreet, so apologies all round for that, it’s what happens when one allows oneself to be dragged down into the morass of moral argument the inhabitants of which display the rhetorical cunning of an amoeba.

          • As Graham notes in his initial post in this thread, he doesn’t even like the word gender: “and please don’t write and say I should use the g-word.” Many of Germany’s 22 State Conservatories still do not offer courses in gender studies even though they have become common in the English-speaking world. One sees in this discussion the intellectual and moral divides these differences create. This intellectual atmosphere also helps explain why the Vienna and Berlin Philharmonics have the lowest and third lowest ratios of women in the world respectively.

            On the positive side, some of the conservatories in German states that are more progressive than Bavaria (where Graham lives) have some very good gender studies programs, including Hamburg and Frankfurt. Bremen is home to the Sophie Drinker Institute which is devoted to gender studies in music. The field will continue to expand in Germany, and views such as Graham’s about the “g-word” will become increasingly anachronistic.

  • James Koenig says:

    One of the greatest influences on my musical life was Margaret Hillis of the CSO and Chicago Symphony Chorus. She was a brilliant conductor and teacher. I got to be one of 8 in a class of more than a 100 chosen by audition and interview to actually conduct. I later did independent study with her in conducting and score analysis. Hillis had studied with Fritz Reiner along with Robert Shaw. Hillis’ opportunities were more limited by gender, sadly. (Our loss…) The two French (or was it Italian) conductors who disparaged women on the podium can be permanent resident conductors of the Neanderthal Philharmonic. Oh, look! It’s not the drums they’re beating, it’s their chests. Pathetic! Seriously, as women conductors have more and more opportunities I believe we will see both a “sameness” (chops are chops) and maybe even something special brought to the repertoire because of their gender. Some are fond of saying “Can’t we all ‘get along’?” I say– “Can’t we all just grow up!” But, alas, the -ism’s like racism, sexism, chauvinism , hetrosexual-ism– are are still there. People should all just be who they are and bring the best of every aspect of their being to fore–to their playing, to their compositions, and to the podium.

    • I also studied with Margaret Hillis, and when asked if she thought women had a future as orchestral (not choral) conductors, she said plainly “NO, I do not see it.” She said this after her success substituting Solti in Mahler’s Eight in New York, after he broke a foot.This situation would have opened career doors for a male conductor of equal gifts. Hillis built her choir and her opportunities herself, as a person of means, and fulfilling a need in the choral world. However, she contended with two prejudices–against women and against choral conductors–to pretend to be an orchestral conductor, which his higher in the perceived cast system of classical music. This leads me to an observation that I should research further, but it appears women conductors do better initiating and advancing their own organizations, which then serve as platforms of recognition in the wider professional sphere. Marin Alsop also formed her own orchestra, if I am not mistaken.

  • Graham Lack says:

    A few facts might help: Saariaho’s career has been supported by a close-knit community of managers and cultural enablers. Without the help, allegedly, of Risto Nieminen for example, she might not be where she is today. No different to composers of the opposite sex then — and please don’t write and say I should use the g-word. The composer trained originally as a painter, and this comes through in her music I think, her concerns being on many occasions more timbral than following any historical conventions of what is practicable. An example taken at random, from the opera l’Amour de loin in this case, would be the low F sharps in the chorus bass marked fff. Not doable of course, but that is not her (aesthetic) point. Whatever, one might as well ask if by analyzing the complex sounds originating on the 4x at IRCAM we could discover she has a certain penchant for chocolate.

    • PJ says:

      Talking about facts but presenting allegations. What’s your point here?

      • Graham Lack says:

        My point is that these are, er, facts, as anyone with a scant knowledge of the polemics of New Music in Finland will accept. How would you refute then my ‘claims’, shall we call them, if it makes you happier.

  • Paul says:

    To riff off of Avenue Q, everyone’s a little bit sexist sometimes. But honestly, in the world of classical music there are still pockets where the culture is more than just a little bit sexist. Sexism can certainly go both ways, but you would be hard pressed to make an honest case that women don’t regularly face serious obstacles in the world of classical music.

  • Everyone except right-handed Chinese males are minorities.

  • TomRude says:

    Bottomline of all this: composer Saariaho dishing out on composer Mantovani using the genre pretext. We have activist-scientists and now activist-musicians, a situation well reflected in their works, and as such tiring on the listener. Her tirade on commercialism is laughable just as Gidon Kremer’s on Verbier was. As if commercialism was the exclusivity of men!

    • Graham Lack says:

      Absolutely! She seems to have done pretty well out the system, the Nordic Music Prize being just one example. So it’s ironic she’s indulging in such a rant now, considering the money that has been thrown around. As ever, time will tell..we can’t preempt or outguess posterity. Music reception is a fickle thing. My money is on Aho and Kaipainen in any case…

  • The masculine-feminine dichotomy in the stereotyping of compositional style has a long heritage, and a many notable composers have been stereotyped as “feminine”, such as Schubert (presented in contrast to a decidedly “masculine” Beethoven) and Chopin (who, as a performer, was notable for how quietly he would play).

    Speaking as a male composer, I must say that I dissent from the suggestion (made in some posts above, but not directly by Saariaho) that there is a distinction between the “masculine” and “feminine” style of writing, and I am sceptical of the narrative that posits women as naturally wanting to write in a “feminine” style, but feel compelled to write in a “masculine” style. When I first heard some of Saariaho’s music on Radio 3, I had no idea of the composer’s gender, and nothing in the music made me think one way or the other. When I played music by Clara Schumann, I was struck by its resemblance to Brahms. I once met a young female composer, notable for writing very difficult (and, in my opinion, outstanding) music, who said, in a context where it was not fashionable, “I like to see my players sweat”.

    I realise that these anecdotes are unlikely to stand as evidence of any substance, and might even be interpreted as evidence for a “masculine” hegemony, so I would like to conclude by quoting Ustvolskaya (a great composer who just happens to be female):

    “With regard to the /Festival of Music by Women Composers/ I should like to say the following: Can a distinction really be made between music written by men and music written by women? If we now have /Festivals of Music by Female Composers/, would it not be right to have /Festivals of Music by Male Composers/? I am of the opinion that such a division should not be allowed to persist. We should only play music that is genuine and strong. If we are honest about it, a performance in a concert by Women composers is a humiliation for the music.”

    • Cynthia Katsarelis says:

      I certainly can’t tell the gender of a composer by listening (if it’s music I don’t know, and can’t discern via style). All of those treatises based on identity, be it Schubert’s “gay music” or women’s vs men’s music don’t really make a lot of sense to me. The cultural issues surrounding training and subsequent employment are the ones that are problematic for women.

      So does it make sense to have festivals of music by women composers? It’s a knotty problem. On the one hand, the ideal is to mainstream music by women. On the other hand, if getting performances is a problem, these festivals can provide a significant opportunity. After all, part of the learning process for any composer is working with live performers and hearing performances of their music. It is hard to grow in a vacuum.

      Ultimately, this is woven into the “problem” of new music and getting it programmed. In the US, we depend so much on contributions and little of government funding (and government funding dependent on showing community support). We don’t’ have BBC Radio 3, or BBC TV 4 presenting culture in the mass media. It is a problematic situation for all living composers. I think this pushes the situation in the US toward conservative solutions, and that frequently disadvantages women composers.

      It’s a complicated knot of problems. The only thing I can definitively say is that denying the problem isn’t the way towards solution.

      • I am certainly not denying that there is a problem, and I am not trying to pretend that I know the solution. I suppose what I am trying to say is that there is that some well intentioned ideas may have the potential to reinforce divisions. Female composers should be considered as composers first and foremost.

  • Ustvolskaya overlooks that there are many reasons the low representation of women composers justifies forms of activism like women’s concerts. One of the most common characteristics of tokenism is that members of small minorities who become accepted often turn their back on other members of their group. See:

  • The idea that women create forms of art unique to their gender is referred to as “cultural feminism.” The concept was intensely debated in gender studies during the 80s and early 90s which produced many articles pro and con. Naturally, those commenting here on Slipped Disk with the most absolutist views are likely those most ignorant of this literature.

    I’ll mention a couple of the most notable articles. In “The New Feminism of Yin and Yang,” Alice Echols argued that certain traits are innate to women, and that those traits must be revalued and reintegrated into society as a whole in order to bring a balanced gender identity to Western culture. See: Alice Echols, “The New Feminism of Yin and Yang.” Powers of Desire: the Politics of Sexuality. Ed. Ann Snitow, Christine Stansell, and Sharon Thompson. New York: Monthly Review Press, 1983. 439-459.

    Donna Przybylowicz argued that Echols’ thought was a form of “essentialism” — a biological reductionism that defines certain kinds of behavior as “natural” to specific genders, races, or cultures. [See: ” Donna Przybylowicz, “Toward a Feminist Cultural Criticism: Hegemony and Modes of Social Division.” Cultural Critique 14 (1989-90): 259-301.]

    Cultural feminism seems to be making a cautious and qualified return in recent feminist thought. Pauline Oliveros is an example of a composer who follows to some degree this new line of thought as evidenced in this statement:

    “I didn’t mean to oppose the mainstream so much as to express the inner values that I have and that I feel have to come from the inside, rather than taking the imposition of structures from the outside which tend to support what’s going on inside. And I’m looking not necessarily to oppose or overthrow but to balance out, and come to a different understanding of what can be done.”

    [See: Timothy Taylor, “The Gendered Construction of the Musical Self: The Music of Pauline Oliveros.” The Musical Quarterly. 177:3 (Fall 1993): 385-396.]

    This was all a cutting edge topic about 30 years ago. Those informed know it is too complex for easy answers, but none of this will alter the typically absolutist views concerning women we so often see expressed by Pseudononymous men here on Slipped Disk.

  • James Koenig says:

    This whole line of discussion has really gone astray from what the subject actually was– that being Saariajo’s comments at McGill University on sexism in classical music. All she really did was encourage people who are receiving an education or people who have influence in academia to keep trying to “enlighten” and have a positive influence on gender equality and gender politics in classical music, as well as in all fields of endeavor and areas of life. I have a feeling that some respondents simply don’t like Saariajo or her compositions so this becomes a soapbox to rant on (and on) about her. But like her or not– she has some prominence as a composer and a decided presence in the realm of new music being played by major orchestras. The other topics brought up– like the masculine and feminine in music, or how Saariajo rose to prominence, or whatever, are perhaps interesting, but really beside the point. Sexism is still a factor in society in 2013 (just read some of the comments here as living proof)– therefore it is also a factor in classical music. The facts are the facts. And just because one person went to Peabody and there were women composers and conductors, the fact is those same women would have a harder time getting their works played or getting engaged to conduct outside of academia than a male of equal standing. Saariajo’s comments are intelligent and on point. Anyone who loves classical music in general, let alone contemporary music, or chamber music should know that commercialism is not exactly the friend of the classical arts. We DO live in a deeply commercial society that would tell us that “how many” and “how much” are the ultimate test for value. Can anyone bash Saariajo for encouraging people to bring up children as sensitive caring human beings with values that are based on something besides the latest toy or wild reaction to the latest flash in the pan? Miley Cyrus and Justin Bieber have already earned more money than Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, Schubert, and Schumann combined. Who will know THEIR names in two hundred years? And, while this comment is not about classical music, it affects classical music and women– please look at any discussion of reproductive rights in the United States Congress. The discussion is hugely dominated by white men– even to the point of someone saying that “a woman’s body can tell if it’s a ‘real’

    rape, and then shuts down and doesn’t get pregnant.” Sexism is ugly and stupid– whether it rears its ugly head in health care or on the concert stage.

    • Graham Lack says:

      I agree with James, that we’ve gone off track. Saariaho is simply bemoaning the lack of women conductors, some thirty years on. And nobody has addressed the issues of body language or mental suggestion. I have to say though that her gripe about commercialism in society is a bit rich, as it were, all things considered. Maybe it’s just a crisis of confidence, and she feels the need to sacrifice compositional credence on the altar of Nordic post-spectralism.

  • Ehkzu, aside from a lack of provided documentation for your arguments, we have no idea who you are, or why you should speak with any authority. Use a real name, with links to your educational background and sociological work you have done, and provide documentation for your arguments, then I might give your ideas more credence. There is a serious lack of sociological work in musicology, so we need work from people in that field.

  • mark says:

    In what other sphere of life would the “privileged” class kill themselves at four times the rate of the “oppressed” class, make up 94% of workplace deaths, 80% of the homeless and die years earlier? A fascinating set of statistics that give one pause.

    Why do the oppressed have more health funding than the privileged even when the privileged die earlier? Why do the oppressed dominate the numbers enrolling and graduating at our universities? Why do the privileged class get called up to die for their country(with no say in the matter) when war threatens our shores? Why do the oppressed gain custody of the children in around 90% of custody cases in family courts? Why do the privileged make up the vast majority of workers in the death and injury jobs? Why are there no calls to address this patriarchal imbalance?

    So many questions that need to be answered. Please explain….