Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Springtime means sexism in the band room! (it's doesn't have to, though...)

Now is the time when young, hopeful future musicians are trying out wind instruments in the public schools and signing up for what they'll start playing in band this summer, and it seems apt that I should share my doctoral research about how we guide those young students towards the right instruments. Mercifully, we as a society are becoming more flexible about gender stereotypes, even since this research in the early 00s, but it's not time to relax our mindfulness yet!...I think you can still order this labor of love through inter-library loan from my good old alma mater, Indiana University, or contact me for a copy...

The Girls in the Band: Women’s Perspectives on Gender Stereotyping in the Music Classroom
Nicole Riner, 2004

Introduction.  Since the early 1970s with the advent of Title IX, gender bias has been explored, applied to various academic subjects, and equality advocates have installed programs to eradicate gender bias from curricula.  In the area of social sciences, this technique has been applied with varying levels of success.  The world of classical and academic music seems to have largely missed out on this process from the 1970s and 1980s, and it wasn’t until scholars like Susan McClary and Marcia Citron in the mid-1990s that a similar discussion began on college campuses.  These discussions generally involved surveying the bulk of famous classical composers (white, hetero, male) and famous performers (the same, unless in “feminized” areas like woodwinds or voice) and pointing out missing demographics (women, minorities...)

Independent of this activity and occurring largely in obscurity to the rest of the academic music world, studies were being developed by music educators to explore this phenomenon from a different angle.  High levels of gender segregation were demonstrable in most band programs in the country: why do male and female children tend to play different instruments in their public school band programs?  Do they choose these instruments for themselves, or are they chosen for them?  

Conclusions and Suggestions for Addressing Gender Stereotypes in the Bandroom

Seek role models of both genders on all instruments.
            Studies (Tarnowski 1993, O’Neill and Boulton 1996, Sinsel 1997) show that children of both genders choose from a wider variety of instruments when they see both men and women playing those instruments.  When Susan Tarnowski used equal numbers of men and women modeling band instruments to small children, those children rated all instruments as “gender neutral” rather than identifying them with one gender or the other.

Allow students to choose instruments whenever practical.
            Obviously, physical limitations come into play; some students, both male and female, are too small to play the trombone, for instance.  The flute also requires more air than some children can produce.  But there is no reason why children of either gender should be excluded from certain instruments if they are physically capable of handling them.

Encourage students equally and make equally strenuous demands.
            Green and Hanley (1993 & 1997) found that teachers often inadvertently expect different things from their male and female students, assuming that boys are “naturally more talented” or that girls are “more diligent workers”.  Be aware of these possible assumptions and be sure you are dealing with each student’s personality on an individual and realistic basis. 

Learn music outside of the canon: women, minorities, other cultures.
            Play music from other places and written by “other” people. The more diversity we can introduce into the curriculum, the more diversity we may be able to reflect in the classroom.  This has the added benefit of satisfying “world culture” and other multiethnic requirements in general school curricula.

Avoid gender-specific language in addressing students.
            Encourage an atmosphere of cooperation by not pitting male and female students against each other for the sake of competition or using gender-specific language in chastising groups of students.  This will keep them focused on individual, rather than stereotyped, relationships amongst students.

Collaborate with other teachers tackling gender issues in the classroom.

            Gender equity has been a strong part of English, social studies, and other social science curricula for decades.  Put on an operetta or musical with the theater department that has feminist or civil rights undertones.  Stage a poetry reading with incidental music or an open mike cafĂ© at the school after hours in which social issues can be addressed in an unstructured atmosphere.  This has the added benefit of integrating music more fully into the genera curriculum, which is a constant struggle we face in defending our positions in the public schools.  

Nicole Riner ©2016