On Gender


Lately I've been thinking a lot about gender, and now I have a lot of questions. What I don't have is answers, but if you have any thoughts, I'd love to hear them.

"For all the ambiguity and complexity that affects this double identity [of composer-woman], it is possible and necessary to separate the two."

That's what Diane Thomas thinks, and it sounds grand. But what does it mean? What in me is the pianist-part and what is female? Can they be turned on and off whenever required? And should I think that the woman-side disturbs the pianist-side, if separating them is important?

There are some obvious biological things belonging to the woman -category that make themselves known on a monthly basis, but an actually important factor in being a pianist is the hands. Women have smaller hands than men, on average, and that has direct consequences on playing the piano. Are smaller hands a liability or an asset? Depends. Physical strenght matters as well, but very small people can get very loud sounds from a piano, so that doesn't seem so important.

Then there's the mind. Is there a part of my psyche that is essentially woman - a part that is missing from the males of the species? Does me being a woman affect how I play, what I play and why? Am I interpreting music differently because of my gender? (It sounds very arbitrary, but needs to be asked.)

Of course one might say that a person's life is inevitably shaped by their gender, often in invisible ways. Historically it used to be more significant, as the society had far stricter ideas of what a man and a woman could do. Obviously this was a shittier deal for the women, who lived under many restrictions (some were laws, some societal norms). Today gender is still in play, but in subtler ways. There are instances in my life where I think I was belittled because of my gender, for example. But was I really? It's interesting to note how easy it is to cry gender bias whenever one feels misjudged or unduly criticised. Also, it's not really possible to ask about it. Just imagine...

"Hi! I feel like I was treated unfairly because I'm a woman. Was this really the case?"

"Hi! Yes, now that you mentioned it, we totally see the error of our ways. We're so sorry, come and get the thing."


"Hi! Of course the reason wasn't your gender. You just weren't good enough for the thing. But since you asked, we will remember you as an aggressive, twisted individual we'll want to avoid in the future."

Apart from these earthly considerations, where is music in all this? Gender affects the composer and the performer in many ways (historically: educational and career possibilities, parenthood, ...) but is the music itself beyond the actual persons who create and perform it? Think about science. These days a researcher has to acknowledge their bias in their studies, and consider how their own standpoint affects their work. Would the same thing be applicable to music? Or is music absolute, transcending humanity and the gender divide?

I don't think music can be taken out of our realm - it comes from a person's head and pen (or macbook). It's a person playing it, too. How could it be separate? But if music is merely human, then how and where does gender come into play?