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Modern America and America's Musical Women: Social, Cultural and Educational Factors
by Judith Lang Zaimont

As delivered at the International Music Council -- UNESCO, Paris, France -- March 1996

American women musicians -- especially music's leaders: composers and conductors -- share the same concerns as other professional women in current society. In the following paper I explore key societal factors affecting professional career aspirations for both women in general, and for musical women in particular.

That I am a composer is central to this paper, and that I'm American is also important. As an American composer, I work within a society which lacks a composers' guild or union to address job issues, the question of fees, etc., and in a country where there exists no state-awarded prize for composers. In present-day America the notion that our culture needs concert music-makers in order to be a complete society is disputable -- let alone the issue of how many musicians our country may require. At this time of withering national support for all the arts, concert music is under attack from the right as a luxury of the “élite”. Professional conferences lately feature fretful hand-wringing over shrinking governmental support for music, and the general debate centers on attempts to re-balance public perceptions of “High Art” vs. “Low Art”. Within such a fragmented context, issues of sheer survival, by default, turn out to command the most attention.

Finally -- and most importantly for today's discussion -- I am a composer who is a woman. This means I contend daily with being a working woman in contemporary society, an artist in the West, a faculty member of an art/teaching institution, daughter of ageing parents, a wife, and a mother.

Yet, because I am a composer -- and thus am comfortable with taking risks, with standing apart, with investigating the unknown -- I have spent time over the past two decades probing into factors that influence the lives and working conditions of living composers, and for contemporary musical women. Some of my investigations led to the selection and development of the texts for certain of my compositions with a specifically feminist subject. Other investigations prompted the contents and design of the three volumes of The Musical Woman book series and several essays.

In designing this paper, I followed several prescriptions:

- to keep the focus current;
- to use as context American life and ways
- to include society's perceptions as well as the social   realities revealed through statistics;
- to keep in mind that issues proposed for public discussion   can be manipulated by the way they are framed or defined;
- and (for the most part) to use only data available through   major public conduits -- national newsmagazines, the   newspapers of record (such as The New York Times),   reports from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, US Census,   various UN reports, and overview papers from institutions   such as the American Bar Association.


This paper will proceed in five sections, exploring:

First, the nature of the American character, and particular outcomes from the policy of affirmative action;
Second, some statistics outlining women's presence in the general work force and within music specializations, and some discussion of gendered models of leadership;
Third, the question of women expressing large ambition, and the corollary of the feminization of certain job categories in the recent past;
Fourth, perceptions versus reality; issues of isolation or discomfort in being a “pioneer”; and the feminist view of history; and
Fifth, a comparison of women's current presence in six mostly high-status professions, formulating a context for observations pertinent to the situation for women musical leaders.

Let's begin with a look at the American character.

At 221 years of age, the USA is now in early adult-hood. Commentators of the past (such as the perceptive French political historian Alexis de Tocqueville) have identified the prime American characteristics as energy, optimism and enterprise. Our open immigration policy has enriched and strengthened our culture immeasurably, though complicating the social matrix. Coupled with natural population growth, the influx of people from many other countries exacerbated social frictions based on differences of race and religion. These frictions are not easily reduced, and they remain to bedevil us even today.

In truth, in the 52 years since the end of World War II, many types of discrimination, based on race, sex, or religion, have diminished sharply. [1] However, since our national temperament favors taking action, it's not surprising that when it comes to such continuing issues as racism and sexism, polls and surveys indicate disillusion with our rate of progress in becoming one true nation.

As social historian Robert Samuelson observes: “[Americans tend to see] most national problems as miniature wars. Just as in [the case of WW II, we Americans believe] almost any problem [can] be defeated with ample resources and the proper strategy. In this sense, problem-solving [is] our dominant postwar ideology.... And this confidence naturally spawned a vision of society in which most serious problems [once identified, are to] be relentlessly eliminated. “ [2] So, we become rather impatient when awkward or nuanced societal inequities persist over time, seeming immune to a relatively “quick fix”.

Over these same five decades since the end of WW II, many problematic situations have in fact improved. For example, women have markedly “levelled the general playing field”, at least in terms of access to jobs. From 1945 to 1995, women increased their presence in the national work force from 29% to 46%; [3] and according to Working Woman Magazine's 1996 Salary Survey, which charts compensation in more than 250 positions within 38 American industries: “[Today American] women typically earn 85% to 95% of what men in similar jobs take home.... Interestingly, in several categories, the gap is yet narrower, with women earning at 95-100% of men's salaries.” [4] And, for the first time, the 1997 salary survey is able to identify three jobs where pay for women exceeded that for men: vice president of marketing; engineers with 10 -14 years of experience; and pharmacists in chain stores. [5] The pay differential for younger workers is particularly small: for all workers age 15 to 24, women are earning just about 95% of what their male peers earn. [6]

Such improvements are hard-won: [7] Yes, women's political clout definitely has increased over the past 15 years, along with our access to the political process. And we take proud note that President Clinton's second term has added a female secretary of state and secretary of labor to the nexus of politically influential women who, among other appointees, were serving as attorney general and two (of nine) Supreme Court justices. Yet, according to 1995 figures [8], American women hold under 11% of the seats in Congress, and only 22% of statewide elective offices. Even these low numbers, however, are somewhat better than figures worldwide;[9] and only the Nordic countries better this percentage significantly, since women in those countries hold 40% or more of positions in government ministries.) [10]

As a tool for widening access to jobs for women and minorities, affirmative action has proved workable but problematic. Established in part through the federal 1974 Women's Educational Equity Act, “affirmative action” was prescribed to enhance job and learning opportunities. But the policy carries heavy social baggage, and is being slowly dismantled on a state-by-state, region-by-region basis even as we speak. Its major stumbling block may be that no one has spelled out concretely what the country hopes to gain from affirmative action, short of the despised notion of promulgating quotas. Just how do we balance two worthwhile values: Redressing historical wrongs based on discrimination by race and by sex (a noble goal), and the egalitarian principle that government ought to treat everyone the same? These are two powerful imperatives -- unfortunately, they create continuing social tensions that no “quick fix” solution can hope to truly balance. [11]

One such social tension is the backlash that arises from what some people see as preferential hiring policies stimulated by affirmative action. Comments from several women who have been hired through affirmative action policies bring this into sharp relief: “[It was] painful to be an affirmative action hire.... The staff looked at me like I couldn't possibly be qualified. And there were factions working to make sure I didn't succeed.” “Truly equal treatment and equal opportunity do not yet exist. We tend to work with people with whom we are comfortable. Until we are comfortable with whoever is best qualified,... we have not won the war.” And finally: “If others see a woman as having gotten a position just because she is female, [there will be] a lot of people out to show she's incompetent.” [12]

So the issues for women workers have progressed, from access to jobs, to questions of pay equity and the on-the-job climate. American women now hold 48% of all professional and managerial jobs -- but they are vastly under-represented in the top ranks of corporations and businesses : Today women hold only 3 - 5% of senior-level positions in the private sector [13]; and occupy just over 10% of board seats in the Fortune 500 companies (women broke into double digits on thes boards only in 1996). [14] In general, women in the workforce cluster in the lower ranks, up through middle management. [15]

American women usually find their work niche within a handful of industries: Nearly 75% of employed women work in business services (education, health care, or non-profit agencies); in finance; real estate; insurance; or retailing. Here, they remain concentrated largely in traditionally female positions: staff jobs - such as those in human resources, community relations or corporate communications; rather than the line jobs, where measures exist to track performance, productivity and profits, and, which form the more usual route to corporate advancement. [16]

The corporate world continues to remain an essentially male culture, described accurately as a place where “aggressiveness is rewarded, where a certain bravado is rewarded, and where a more conciliatory approach may be viewed as a [distinct] liability. “ [17] Here, individuals with leadership potential thrive if their behavior patterns correspond to the male leadership model.

Musical women who occupy the profession's leadership positions as composers and conductors come forward into a professional world that is still largely male dominated. Yet our numbers are not insignificant, and we no longer appear to materialize out of a void, since the historical contributions of our female forebears have become recognized much more fully within the last two decades, at least within our own profession.

(This is due to a fairly steady stream of books, articles, and recordings, and to the establishment of local, national and international conferences and festivals, and Women in Music organizations.)

It is vitally important for female musical leaders to know and claim their history. Unusual pressures and stresses exist for someone who senses she is a pioneer; these include estrangement, isolation, and the stress of having her performance continually assessed as a thing beyond just her own work, standing in as a symbolic representation for all women. American Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg spoke about just this at the time of her nomination to the Court, when she termed her nomination “significant, because it contributes to the end of the days women -- at least half of the talent pool in our society -- appear in high places only as one-at-a-time performers”. [18] For composers and conductors to know they have predecessors is an essential tool for empowerment, and a weapon against the debilitating effects of isolation.

Indeed, modern scholars have identified some 6,000 women composers throughout music's history, the largest percentage of them living and working from the 18th century to the present. Today, as both composers and conductors, women remain a fairly constant professional presence of between 12 and 20 percent. I offer some examples for background purposes [19]:

== Women composers accounted for 12% of the total number of composers published by the American Arthur P. Schmidt Company (between 1876 to 1958). this company's catalogue, particularly in the company's first 45 years, represented the chief American composers of the time.

== Women conductors comprised 17% of all conductors appointed to conducting residencies in the first 10 years of the Exxon/Arts Endowment Conductors Residency Program in America (1973-1983). What is especially interesting here is that the women achieved 17% of appointments, while forming only 10-15% of total applicants to the program.

== And let's recall that Germaine Tailleferre's one-sixth ‘share' of Les Six roughly equals that same 17%!

But it's only within our profession that the context of empowerment through an historical footing is recognized. To the wider American world, concert music is a specialized, acquired taste cultivated by relatively few. Sales of classical music CDs -- all classical music, from pre-Bach to us -- account for 2.7% of the total market for recordings. Radio listenership for concert music is down to about 2.5% of total audience share. [20] And the concept of women progressing beyond mere novelty as performers to recognized musical leaders is still foreign, off-putting, new.

How then can women composers and conductors reach a wider public? Sadly, concert music, in and of itself, is neither glamorous nor mainstream enough to be a continuing subject for journalistic interest. The likeliest ‘hook' for the general journalist, as I've said, is the ‘novelty value' of a woman musician. That's chancy, an essentially ephemeral focus, which, given too much emphasis, could easily work against women's standing in the profession.

The factor that turns out to be of cardinal significance is the sheer number of active participants: Women as a group need to be perceived as a presence, doing major work, and in place well above the horizon line! This is true for musical woman as well as women in many other occupations. Women who are among the first to move into positions within what were once all-male fields are well aware that they are an anomaly. They understand that they are viewed as so far removed from the norm that everything they do will be highly scrutinized -- and that their accomplishments -- if they are seen as flawed are overly “deviant” -- may be all too-easily set aside.

According to the first woman admitted to the training course for Israel's airforce fighter pilots -- this, in November 1995 --: “It's difficult to be one woman among men, especially because of [negative] feelings men express about the situation”. [21] And an American economist in the vanguard of research into women's economic issues adds: “You can get to feeling very marginal”. [232] Finally, from an American woman involved in forest research: “The number of women [in forest research] has not [yet] reached the critical mass required to be self-sustaining, and the absence of women from leadership positions is glaring.” [23]

The forest researcher's remark touches on the two key issues. The first of these is the question of achieving critical mass: presence in numbers sufficient so that the progress of a group of practitioners begins to have statistical significance. As I wrote on another occasion,

“We know that women composers have been in evidence through the ages,... and the explosion of documentary materials in the 1980s has closed the door once and for all on the historical arguments against them: that there weren't any; and that those who did exist were peripheral figures and anomalies. [Armed with the findings of current research], and with the accomplishments of many notable [living] female musicians also being written about, we should be able to move on from considering musical women as exceptional achievers, -- and therefore a series of exceptions to the rule -- to accept women as central citizens of the entire musical population. Realistically, we can now appreciate musical women in terms of their group presence within the field, and chart their accomplishments appropriately in terms of group dynamics. “ [24]

Thus, through numbers, we achieve public recognition.

The forest researcher's second key point is the absence of women from leadership positions in her field. This is a major factoe which also raises the corollary: that women may gravitate toward professions which accord with traditional feminine strengths. These strengths are usually described as: excellent organizational skills; attention to detail; and good interpersonal skills. As managers, women are often cited approvingly for their excellence “at communicating, [in] making the troops feel empowered, and [in] handing out positive feedback”. [25]

Yet, for conductors and composers -- music's inventors and risk-takers -- true leadership requires much more than the group of attributes just mentioned. Musical leaders must have the capacity to originate new content, and the strength to maintain confidence when stepping forth into the unknown. Basic requirements are perseverence despite discouragement, and conviction in the rightness of one's vision. Also necessary is Large Ambition, the capacity to aspire to major accomplishment.

While all artists are by definition exceptional people, composers and conductors must be exceptional even amongst the total group of musicians. For these creators, merely to contribute is not enough. Musical leaders believe it's essential to place their personal stamp on their art form, and this should occur on a continuing basis.

Thus Large Ambition: the expression of the ego.

Not surprisingly, male composers and conductors find such ambition in women threatening. And it's particularly threatening when it cannot be “explained” as being prompted by (or having been absorbed from) the presence of a male relative who is musical, or some other male connection (such as a mentor) who is an acknowledged musical adept.

Here lies the real friction: polarization according to assumptions of gender typing. Women of Large Ambition, who set out to become notable achievers /leaders, will encounter difficulties and hostilities because they presume to usurp the male model. Linguist Deborah Tannen has written of this in discussing the clouded public perceptions of America's current First Lady, Hillary Rodham Clinton:
“The real Hillary factor is the double bind that affects all successful or accomplished women: women who are not clearly submissive are seen as dominating and are reviled for it. [Yet] women who do fit the [stereotypical feminine] images are not taken seriously.... People seem to assume that a woman who succeeds must be tough, and mean, unfeminine and unlikeable.” [26]

And let's add to that group of adjectives 'child-less' -- at least for women who aspire to be musical leaders. For living composers and conductors, the difficult issue is not so much being married (or having a life partner), as having children and contending with all the domestic concerns arising from the care of children. Although 90% of women have had at least one child by the age of 40 [27], being a mother is by no means common for the current group of American musical women. The following unscientific summary will serve as illustration.

First, the composers:

The first three women composers elected to membership in the American National Academy of Arts and Letters lived into their mid-eighties. Of these three -- Louise Talma, Miriam Gideon, Vivian Fine -- only Fine (still alive at the time of writing) had children, and Talma never married.

The next generation-and-a-half includes several quite prominent musicians, among them Thea Musgrave (now an American citizen), Ellen Zwilich, Joan Tower, Tania Léon, and Ursula Mamlok. Of these, only one (Musgrave) has a child.

The next-youngest group includes such composers as Shulamit Ran, Diane Thome, Judith Zaimont and Libby Larsen. This generation (turning 50 in the middle-late ‘90s) is the one coping with children: From this group, all but Thome have at least one child, and all have been married at least once. In the very youngest generation of prominent women composers, however, children again largely disappear. For example, both America's Augusta Read Thomas and Britain's Judith Weir do not yet have children.

One might speculate that for composers the choice not to have children may be following a particularly “American” model, especially when we recall that several notable mid-century British composers -- Lutyens and Maconchy -- were mothers without too much travail. (And Maconchy's daughter, Nicola LeFanu, is herself a composer who is also married and a mother.) Contrast the British women, then with Germaine Tailleferre's family responsibilities throughout her life: after caring for her elderly mother, Tailleferre wound up -- after two failed marriages -- raising first her daughter, and then her grand-daughter. (In late life, Tailleferre did publicly say that she shouldn't have married.) Also, it may be important to note that the great Nadia Boulanger, “Mademoiselle”-- arguably the most influential musician of this century -- never marrried (nor, of course, did her sister, Lili). *

The American conductor examples are even clearer:

In the so-called “pioneer” generation between the two World Wars, Antonia Brico never married: no children. From the period of the ‘70s, Sarah Caldwell and Judith Somogi -- both opera specialists -- had no husband, no children. Of the symphonic conductors currently quite active, Catherine Comet (now an American citizen) is married, with one child. But Victoria Bond and Rachel Worby, almost a decade younger than Comet, are each married, with no children. And for the two most prominent conductors in the youngest group -- Marin Alsop and JoAnn Falletta -- there are no children, and Alsop is not married.

* In viewing the childcare question within something of an historical perspective, let's recall that early 20th-century American women composers rarely had children. Amy Beach is probably the clearest example: married to Dr. Henry Harris Aubrey Beach, Amy Cheney Beach pursued a major career as composer, pianist, and musical spokesperson both in America and in Europe -- and children were not on her agenda. So too, there were no children for Marion Bauer -- composer, teacher, critic for a major New York newspaper -- and for Australian emigré Peggy Glanville-Hicks.

By contrast, Ruth Crawford married Charles Seeger in the early ‘30s, and took over responsibilities for his children from his first marriage, plus having several of her own; the correspondence from Crawford's later years hints at an ambivalence on her part with regard to the artistic trade-off she experienced in shifting her musical ambitions, in part, through assuming the role of mother.

And finally, in pulling back fully to the 19th century, let's remember that Clara Schumann and Josephine Lang served as principal bread-winners for their families -- which included large numbers of children. The obligations motherhood had everything to do with many of the decisions shaping the later musical careers, and career aspirations, of both Schumann and Lang.

Some few music institutions have recognized childcare as an important issue for their women participants and tried to make accommodation. For example, in 1982 women comprised close to one-third of the instrumentalists in the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra. This very responsive orchestra then opened a nursery to care for the infant children of its women players during the hours of rehearsal; [28] the nursery operated at home in Missouri, and also during the Orchestra's European tour of the following year. [29] Would that this model were followed more widely!

Nevertheless, the bulk of most recent anecdotal evidence cautions women against attempting the superwoman role: careerist, wife and mother. Particularly poignant on this subject is a recent comment by Sherry Lansing, the very powerful head of Paramount Motion Pictures since 1992. Her observation is quite clear: “You can be married and have a career; you can have a career and have a [child]. But you can't do all three and reach your optimum”. [30]

A recent study from Harvard University supports the anecdotal record. This study -- the National Longitudinal Survey -- has tracked the same large cohort of women since 1968; its most recent update is from 1991. The women being studied closely match the demographics of the U. S. population overall, and they are now in their middle years. For the sub-group from this study who had four or more years of college (completing their education in the ‘70s and early ‘80s): only 12% have a family and a career. An additional 12% have a career but no family; and fully 61% have a family but no career. [31]

In fact, it has been theorized that women may gravitate to certain kinds of jobs, at least in part, because those jobs have structured hours, and because workers in those jobs who are mothers can create more flexible schedules to accommodate the time and attention required for childcare. Since musical performances occur largely at night -- when a mother's nurturing presence is especially needed; and since composition and conducting require grueling effort accomplished in large blocks of dedicated time, the question of having children at all remains a pressing and continuing dilemma for women musical leaders.

It's ironic that women -- who slightly outnumber men in the American population overall -- when studied as workers are really a dependent majority. In their choice of work they depend both on male-structured situations and male presumptions about women's very natures. Here, let us explore two points: (1) How each gender perceives differently women's overwhelming choice to work within the lower-paid nurturing professions; and (2) how during the 1970s and ‘80s several traditionally male jobs were feminized.

First, on the matter of gendered perceptions of women's job choice, I offer comments by Stephanie Flanders (from London's Financial Times). In her analysis of the work world, the “male” model for according prestige and higher pay construes two particular aspects of women's nature as defects -- these being women's altruism, and women's predisposition to care and include [32] :

“[W]omen are often crowded into the so-called nurturing professions. Many economists have used supply-side arguments to dispute that caring work is undervalued. In their view, nonpayment or underpayment for house work, childcare, [teaching] and so on, reflect[s] the fact [that such work] carries compensating psychological benefits. The pay is low because a large number of people -- women, as it happens -- find it fulfilling.

Feminists have a less benevolent, demand-side explanation. [They believe] the work is undervalued less because of the fringe benefits, but actually because women are undervalued. Women generally fill these roles, it is further argued, because discrimination stops them from working in other fields.” [33]


To probe further into the “pay gap“ for professions in which women predominate, I turn to a report documenting case studies of eleven once male-dominated fields that became feminized during the time period 1970-1988. (Entitled “The Road Less Rewarded”, the study appeared in Working Woman Magazine in July 1994.) [34] During these recent decades each of the eleven fields experienced a remarkable upsurge in the percentage of women participants. The fields surveyed are: book editing / pharmacology / public relations / bank management / systems analysis / insurance sales / real estate sales / insurance adjusting and examining / bartending / baking /typesetting and compositing.

The chief finding is that women began to be hired in numbers in these fields only when changing technology and declining wages had already begun to make these jobs less appealing to men. “Research shows that status and pay had already dropped before the women came in in substantial numbers: Women's numbers rose only after earnings and upward mobility [had already declined] in each of these fields.” That is, salaries had already been reduced, prestige had diminished, or technological changes had come about -- such as the shift in printing from ‘hot type' to keyboard-based compositing -- which caused the job to become too much like traditional “women's work” to appeal any longer to men. [35]

Employers were quick to recognize the pragmatic wisdom of hiring women during lean economic times. According to Eugene Blabey, United Press International vice president: “It made economic sense. At UPI we were always constrained by the inability to pay a lot because we didn't have a lot. By hiring women, you could get a lot better talent for the money by taking advantage of the fact that women are discriminated against.” [36]. In short, employers capitalized on women's hunger for professional recognition by hiring them for lower pay, and/or without long-term job stability.

We should ask: Where do the men go when women gain a substantial foothold in a profession? “It's not necessarily that men leave the field, but they no longer choose to enter it. As jobs become feminized, older males drop out (through attrition) and younger males look elsewhere.”

In substance, then, women gain wider admission to certain fields only when that work has already begun to be devalued. We see a species of ‘taint' attaching to several fields where women now predominate, making these jobs unappealing to men just because the women are there -- even though historically the fields were clearly male (!).

Since work-world models are basically male constructs, women may ‘opt in' but it is they who must make the accommodations. If women succeed, as individuals, it is often at significant personal cost (part of which cost may be through being accepted by male co-workers only as some variety of “female” man). If women succeed as a group in a particular job field, the field is seen as devalued. This is a “lose-lose” proposition.

What ‘s needed is a paradigm shift, a shifting of the evaluative frame of reference. A feminist approach to history proposes a three-stage model for rectification over the long term. Feminist scholar Gerda Lerner [37] identifies these three successive stages as Compensatory history, Contribution history, and Women's history.

Compensatory history discovers the famous women, women of achievement or deviance. This stage recognizes notable individuals -- it's not the history of masses of women, nor does it address the significance of women to society as a whole. But it is a logical place to begin.

Contribution history describes women's contributions to the male-defined society: It focusses on why and how women have been unrecognized, belittled or victimized. It begins to examine relationships, and probes for explanations. This is the stage of much current research, and some public commentary.

The third stage -- still to come -- Lerner terms Women's history. It would question traditional presuppositions and values, and calls for a radical shift of the scholarly paradigm so that the world is seen through the eyes of women, and ordered by their self-defined values. Women's history would examine the lives of ordinary women, and represent their work according to the values they place upon it.

In musical terms, the third stage -- Women's history -- might well question the whole issue of prestige associated with genres. Because historical women composers are viewed -- somewhat erroneously, I may add -- as concentrating their efforts into the small forms of song and keyboard pieces, must we accept that music as of lesser significance than, for example, opera? Put another way, are not the lullaby and symphony of equivalent worth?

As already stated, a true “woman's-eye view” of history (the “third stage”) is yet to come.

What is inconvertible is that now women are composing symphonies and lullabies, operas, wind ensemble works, film scores, large pieces for dance and for the stage, performance art, chamber music of all kinds -- and, yes, songs and keyboard pieces. Today the choice of genre is entirely up to the composer, as it was not in the past, when access to a technical musical education -- req uired in order to attempt the larger,more complex forms -- was difficult for many women to attain.

Happily, women now have unrestricted access to the necessary technical education. In fact, American higher education all told has turned definitely female, at least so far as the student body is concerned. Since 1979 women have comprised the majority of undergraduate students at U. S. colleges and universities. “For the last several years [women] have accounted for about 55% of the undergraduate student body,” [38] and women currently comprise 52% of those in master's and professional degree programs. “For Ph.D., law and medical degree programs, the proportion of women students nationally is at 40% and climbing.” Overall, women hold the majority in both graduate and undergraduate registrations nation-wide. [39]

More than 95% of these women are enrolled in coeducational institutions, where male and female students are educated together. Coeducation was already the predominant form for higher education in America by the end of the 19th century. Interestingly, its history tells a cautionary tale that runs in eery parallel to today's tale of the feminization of certain jobs: In American education, too, there arose the issues of “male apprehensiveness”, “male flight”, and the unfounded perception that women's prominence, in and of itself, would devalue the enterprise. This all took place at the turn of the century:

“By 1900 the popularity of higher education among women had become so great that female enrollment at many colleges and universities outstripped male enrollment. The country seemed in the grip of a growing fear that, if nothing were done to prevent it, within a few years many coeducational institutions would become all -women's schools.

Schools that [previously] had welcomed women when [their tuition payments] represented an economic asset now worried that American universities would be subjected to the [terrible] fate of ‘feminization'. This led many schools to reconsider their admissions policies:

At the University of Chicago a majority of faculty and staff argued that they had never really favored coeducation in the first place, but had agreed to it for the economic advantages it would bring. One professor expressed the fear that continuing to admit women would, in his words, ‘simply serve to divert a large number of the best class of college men to all-male schools like Yale University'. At Stanford University the founder's widow so feared that the school would become a female seminary that she froze female enrollment permanently at 500. Boston University launched [an initiative] to persuade young men to enroll in greater numbers, [called the] ‘More Men Movement'. And Wesleyan simply abandoned coeducation altogether. “ [40]

Of course, nothing like what was feared actually materialized -- but what a hair-raising moment in American educational history! For today's observers, the parallels to current situations are uncomfortably close. What's especially notable is that the question of ‘male discomfort' -- then as now -- seems to be provoked when women reach a critical mass of participants, an order of magnitude that in and of itself is seen as off-putting simply because it is absolutely understood to alter the status quo.

As women students in academia have flourished in recent times, so to an extent have women faculty. I'll begin the final portion of this paper by exploring women's presence in six mostly-high-status occupations, and how findings for these occupations have pertinence for musical women. I begin with women faculty members at colleges and universities.

By the start of the 1990s women accounted for approximately 28% of academic faculty nation-wide [41]. Of course, women faculty are distributed unequally across institutions of various echelons. “Women make up almost 40 percent of the full time faculty at public junior colleges,... about 30 percent at small liberal arts colleges which don't offer advanced degrees;... [but at] top-ranked public and private research universities, women hold [only] about 20 percent of the teaching jobs.” [42]

Since job security in academia is generally thought of as achieving tenure, I note that women currently comprise c. 38% of tenured faculty nation-wide (as compared with their 28% of total faculty share). [43] However, the figure is lower for arts and sciences faculties: only 24.5%. [44] This is quite close to the figure for all tenured female full-professors nationally: 23%. As we might expect, women are least visible in tenured positions at America's most prestigious institutions. In 1996 women accounted for only 11.5% of tenured full professors at Harvard University, and an even lower 9.4% at Yale University. [45]

When we look for pay parity for women in academic appointments, some disparity is clear, but the figures for women's earnings in general coincide with the 85 - 95% of men's earnings mentioned earlier as the 1995 national average for all professions. Again, however, the pay gap is greatest at the highest-echelon institutions: at Massachusetts Institute of Technology women earn just under 87% of what men earn, and at Harvard, about 85.5%. [46]

We do not have available any reliable figures for job security or pay differentials for women composers and conductors. However, it's a fact that no woman yet holds the post of principal conductor for any major American orchestra or opera house; and that performances of women's compositions by the country's major orchestras -- according to the best current information -- must number under 10%, and probably closer to 6%. [47]

It is important for statistics to be kept on these and other essential issues for musical women. Now that we women composers and conductors are close to achieving critical mass, we are no longer “statistically insignificant”. Once we are viewed and absorbed as a perceptible professional cohort, issues important to us become important to our profession overall.

For women lawyers and for women physicians, expansion in their numbers to reach critical mass has been a key factor. For women attorneys, the last 20 years has been a period of huge growth: From 3% of practicing attorneys in 1974, women now comprise more than 25% of the membership of the American Bar Association, and they constitute 37% of all lawyers admitted to practice since 1985. [48]
And young women studying law and medicine come forward in ever-greater numbers: In 1994, women accounted for 43% of law school enrollments nation-wide [49]; and in that same year, women out-numbered men as first-year medical students at Harvard University, Johns Hopkins University, and at Yale. (Also in 1994, 56% of the entering class at Yale University‘s School of Medicine was female.) [50] According to recent information from the American Medical Association, women doctors, now more than one-fifth of the profession, will rise to one-third of all American doctors by the year 2010. [51]

As an inevitable consequence of the rise in the number of their women participants, professional organizations in both law and medicine have established standing committees to review and regularly evaluate issues especially pertinent to their women members: the job climate, treatment by professional peers, and pay.

Nothing like this attention, notice, and care is yet in place for professional women musicians. There have been attempts to profile musical women statistically (most notably through two studies done by the College Music Society, with emphasis on women musical academics), but the performing/presenting agencies -- such as American Symphony Orchestra League, Opera America, or composer-licensing agencies (ASCAP and BMI) -- have not published an analysis, census or poll to date.

Our final comparative group of three high-status professions -- film director, jazz performer, and scientist -- share direct life and career parallels with our ultimate grouping of composers and conductors.

These four professional areas require special innate gifts and talents. And each of these four professions needs as leaders individuals who possess a true creative vision. Since recent studies on giftedness [52] confirm that extraordinary intellectual aptitude -- as measured by tested IQs of above 180 -- is distributed equally amongst boys and girls ages 3-12, we may extrapolate from this and presume equal innate intellectual ability for both women and men to undertake a life in these four professions. Further, if we posit that the lingering influence of historical prejudices should be quite diminished for job specializations created in the 20th century, we might then presume that, in particular, women in film and jazz performance are doing well.

Not so. In film direction and science the old issues of usurping male leadership rise up again through new hostilities both overt and covert. With jazz performance, women come up against gender-typing in choice of instrument, and the male connotation of certain musical forms. And in both jazz and in film direction we discover once more that the issue of insufficient numbers of female practitioners -- critical mass still unachieved -- leads to vulnerability for all.

Women who make movies are historically few. Rather than pursuing the standard frictions of a life in directing -- plus the special confrontations women may expect when they attempt leadership roles in any profession -- women tend to find their niche in film in technical jobs: editing, set design, writing, and -- in small numbers but perceptible recent impact -- composing. [NB. Rachel Portman's Oscar for film scoring, awarded in spring 1997.] Visible, personality-driven jobs such as director and producer are hardly any more open to women now than they were in the Depression era and WW II years. As director and actress Jodie Foster noted in 1994: “ [I]n film school, women are still encouraged to become set designers, film [editors], or behind-the-scenes figures.” Foster concludes, as do others in the field, that women who aspire to direct should go directly to work in the industry, making their mark and “showing their stuff” as early as possible in the professional arena. Foster strongly suggests that women bypass film school if they can, since traditional prejudices persist there, making the atmosphere both tense and oppressive. [53]

For women jazz musicians access to professional outlets -- though limited -- is there; but stereotypes endure. These women musicians experience pervasive discouragement throughout the instrumental jazz world, most often by non-inclusion in an art-form that is clearly, and historically, typed “male”.

In 1994, The New York Times' jazz critic Peter Watrous wrote a searching piece on career issues for women jazz musicians. He states frankly that “there is the lingering perception of women as anomalies in jazz -- [this] despite many individual notable women jazz performers and composer-arrangers who make the case yet again that women can and do play well. “ [54] Watrous probes into the reasons for the exclusion, identifying one of these as the perpetuation of all-women concerts: these he brands as “continued, systematic ghettoization”, arguing “If these women are good enough to be featured onstage together -- at $55. per ticket -- why aren't they good enough to appear regularly in the presence of their male peers, with no reference made to their sex?”

Indeed, why not? Part of the answer, according to Watrous, lies in the gender-typing of their performance medium. Either by preference, or because of limited instrument options available to them for study as youngsters, jazz women overwhelmingly perform on piano and voice. Women jazz performers on the most ‘macho' instruments -- trombone, bass and drums -- are rare.

Another factor may be the reluctance of established (male) players to accept the mentor role for a budding female jazz performer. It takes time to achieve mastery, and musicians learn by playing -- and playing together with others of greater ability. The bandstand is also the place where players learn about deportment, leadership, musical standards and interplay between performers. If group leaders don't often hire women, the women lose out in the lessons of the clubhouse. This then generates a cycle of its own: if women aren't seen as regulars, they don't build audiences as successfully as men, or even get hired on a regular basis. Thus the self-perpetuating women's ghetto.

Jazz mythology is also male-typed, being built on a value system of choices tilted towards notions of masculinity. As Watrous writes, ” [A] deep blues sax connotes traditional male territory: [a territory] where all signs of passion are identified with gender -- and a women who makes it, must learn how to be male: a form of transvestitism.” [55] Pronounced male characteristics flourish in jazz. Aggression is encouraged, and musical authority is often a product of physical authority -- sureness with rhythm, a harsh attack, and rough tone. Even the concept of the jazz session itself is freighted with ideas associated with men, such as confrontation and challenge.

Watrous concludes that the gender line may be jazz's final frontier. While the last decade in particular has seen a remarkable upsurge in mixing races within jazz groups, “this [spirit of]inclusion doesn't yet apply for women.”

The issues for jazz women are virtually synonymous with those for women conductors of concert music. To develop and grow musically, conductors must have orchestras to work with. In America today, the posts open to women as permanent music director range from community orchestras to orchestras just under the top tier. Not one major American orchestra has ever had a woman as music director. (Yes, women have guest conducted on occasion, but with little success as repeaters with the same orchestra; and women have served terms, though rarely, as associate conductors with class A orchestras -- such as the Baltimore or Saint Louis symphonies -- but not with the Big Five [Chicago, New York, Cleveland, Philadelphia, Boston].)

Women conductors acutely feel the pressure of proving themselves in a male-defined environment. With the single current exception of JoAnn Falletta, most of the better-known American women conductors are not champions of repertoire composed by women: they couldn't be -- that would be too damaging a strategy to elect and still hope to survive in the prevailing competitive circumstance. Falletta, the exception, served as conductor in America's most prominent women-oriented music-specialist venue: the Women's Philharmonic in San Francisco. In 1996, after ten years in this post, she stepped down. (Falletta now conducts the Virginia and Long Beach Symphony Orchestras.)

For women composers, the best parallel is not with either film direction or jazz, but with the situation for women scientists.

Women drop out of the sciences at every stage of the educational and career progress, from student to research director. According to a 1995 study released by Mills College (California), both male and females scientists alike recognize that the attrition rate for women scientists at every stage in their career is a “stubborn problem” [56]. According to Dr. Eleanor Shore, Dean for Faculty Affairs at Harvard Medical School, “Originally we thought if we got enough women in [as students], the problem would take care of itself. Now we know we must take steps to keep women on track”. A neurobiologist colleague from University of California-Berkeley agrees, noting that when she began graduate school 15 years ago “there were enough women in her class to change the profession's face. But [now] when I look around at the number of women in my cohort in senior positions, it's very small”. [57]

Why is this so? Perhaps because pure science -- like music composition -- is a vocation, just as the religious life is. Science is also a business of absolutes, and research science contains its own brand of intensity of concentration, and enormous time pressures. Just as with an artistic creation -- where impulse and vision must be maintained continuously, and followed through to the conclusion before the concept evaporates -- just as with art, scientific experiments, too, do not respect timetables. The scientist has to be there in the laboratory at the exact moment when the enzyme reaction chain is completed.

The parallels between a composer's and scientist's life are direct and painful. Some few women scientists have suggested that the best model for a successful life in science might be one of “serial obsession: devoting time to the kids when they are young, and coming back to the lab full-force when infant needs abate.” Well, perhaps scientific hypotheses can be put on hold without damage to their shape and findings, but such is not the case for a creative musical impulse. In art, the creator needs to be able to follow through on the vision while it's fresh -- now. And, though it's probably true that composers do not find their distinct musical voice until close to the age of forty, all the previous music -- representing completed envisionings, accomplished to the fullest capacity of current skill, and done in order -- is what leads to artistic maturity. A composer's development may be fatally damaged if she stays away from the materials of her art expressed in her unique personal style for a long period during the formative phase.

In terms of progress for all women, the 1990s represent a plateau, especially after the enthusiasm of the 1980s. The ‘80s saw improvements in the sheer numbers of job opportunities for women, coupled with a generalized sense of an optimistic, more open on-the-job-climate. In the mid-90s, by contrast, optimistic ambition far too frequently collides with societal constraints. Add to this two more general factors: the current trend toward downsizing and subsequent job layoffs; and the squeeze to
siphon donor money away from the arts into projects considered to be more directly socially responsive.

So, for women musical leaders, the winds of change are blowing, but slowly. [58] Especially in so vast, heterogeneous and populous country as America, change occurs unevenly. Disparity continues to exist in the manner in which courses on Women in Music and Women Composers are accepted into the curricula of US institution of higher learning. (Though they occur with frequency in universities, they are almost nonexistent in the conservatories of music.)

What has changed is the scope of what American women now envision as the limitlessness of their general potential, and the variety of career options open to them. It's more true today than ever before that we women condition the way we are perceived and treated by our own expectations, our own actions and our own words. As the Yiddish proverb says: “From your mouth -- from our mouths -- to God's ear”.

Lasting change will occur only through a multi-pronged approach: through education, and corrections to the historical record; through the continuing publication of books, articles, recordings and statistics which serve as documents and points of pressure; and through an honest willingness to be enlightened on the part of all people who hold power positions within the institutions of music. What is a certainty is that women composers, conductors, record engineers, concert producers, musicologists, coaches, orchestra managers and other music specialists will continue to come forward in ever-increasing numbers.

For those of us in the field, the wisdom will be to monitor these musical woman closely: to chronicle their achievements as both individuals of particular talent, and collectively -- through group statistics -- as a cohort working to make living musical history.


1. Samuelson, Robert. “Great Expectations - The Postwar Paradox”, Newsweek magazine, January 8, 1996. p. 24. This article adapted and excerpted from Samuelson's book, The Good Life and Its Discontents: The American Dream in the Age of Entitlement, 1945-1995 (Times Books: NY).

2. Ibid, p. 27.

3. Figures from the US Census Bureau and the Department of Economic Analysis. Depicted in chart in Newsweek magazine, January 8, 1996, p. 27.

4. Harris, Diane. “How does Your Pay Stack Up? - Salary Survey 1996”. Working Woman magazine, Fabruary 1996. p. 27-28.

5. Data from Working Woman magazine's 1997 salary survey, reported in the Minneapolis Star Tribune of 12/16/96 (p. D2)

6. Data from a US Bureau of Labor Statistics report of 1993. African-American women who are recent college graduates are doing even better. As beneficiaries of both the general upward trend for women, and affirmative action policies, many black women graduates now earn more than white women with similar education and similar work experience. A study of recent college graduates with one to five years on the job, commissioned by The New York Times, and done by the Economic Policy Institute and Queens College, City University of New York revealed that the average wage for black women at $11.41 per hour exceeded the wages both of black men, and of white women ($ 11.38) -- but all three groups were vastly out-earned by white men ($12.86 per hour). Roberts, Sam. “Black Women Graduates Outpace Male Counterparts”. The New York Times, October 31, 1994.

7. The year 1995 also marked another important milestone -- the 75th anniversary of the ratification of the Constitutional amendment granting women the right to vote -- which took place on August 16, 1920, two full generations after it was first proposed. However, the Equal Rights Amendment -- a modern analogue to the push for women's suffrage -- expired in 1982, though passed by both houses of Congress in 1972, because it was not ratified by the required number of state legislatures.

8. From a chart depicting changes in percentages of women in US elective offices in various categories, 1977-1994. Statistics provided by the Center for the american Woman and Politics, Rutgers University. Published in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, October 3, 1994.

9. According to the Sixth Annual Report of the United Nations Development Programme (1995), women on average throughout the world hold only 10% of national legislative seats, and a mere 6% of cabinet level positions. [Crossette, Barbara. “U.N. Documents Inequities for Women as World Forum Nears”. The New York Times, August 18, 1995. Additionally reported in Working Woman magazine, January 1996, p. 18.]

10. These 1995 averages represent an actual global decline in women's political clout since 1988 -- from 15% of legislative seats to the current 10% -- according to another study (by the Geneva-based Inter-Parliamentary Union. [Crossette, Barbara. “Worldwide Study Finds Decline In Election of Women to Offices”. The New York Times, August 27, 1995.]

11. Dunkel, Tom. “Special Report: Affirmative Reaction”. Working Woman magazine, October 1995. pp. 39-46, 95-98.

12. Quoted as sidebars to Dunkel, op. cit., p. 40, 42, 41.

13. Dunkel, op. cit, p. 43.

14. As of March 31, 1996, women occupied 626 board seats of 6,123 at the Fortune 500 companies. From a study by Catalyst, a nonprofit consulting and research group (New York City), as reported in The New York Times, December 12, 1996. Dobrzynski, J. H. “Women Pass Milestone in the Board Room”.

15. Approximately 42% of lower- and middle-management positions in business are now held by women. (Lawlor, Julia. “Executive Exodus”, Working Woman magazine, November 1994)

16. Ibid.,. 43

17. Sidebar commentary quotation to Dunkel, op. cit., p. 41.

18. Reported in national press, and cited in Zaimont, Judith Lang, “A ‘90s Perspective on Creative Musical Women”. Originally given as Keynote Address, August 1993, for the Sigma Alpha Iota biennial national convention (Cincinnati, Ohio), and published subsequently in Pan Pipes (Sigma Alpha Iota, Winter issue 1994).

19. Zaimont, Judith Lang, “A ‘90s Perspective on Creative Musical Women”. Originally given as Keynote Address, August 1993, for the Sigma Alpha Iota biennial national convention (Cincinnati, Ohio), and published subsequently in Pan Pipes (Sigma Alpha Iota, Winter issue 1994).

20. Zaimont, Judith Lang. “Composers and Performers: Re-balancing the Alliance”, (Minnesota Composers Forum, November 1995, Volume 22, No. 10) p. 9.

21. Alice Miller, the Israeli fighter pilot, quoted in international news dispatch, published in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, November 9, 1995.

22. Economist Heidi Hartmann (MacArthur Fellow 1994), quoted in “She Always Said Feminism and Economics Can Mix”, Barbara Presley Noble in The New York Times, July 10, 1994. p. 7

23. Dunkel, op. cit., p. 43

24. Zaimont, Judith Lang. Editor's “Introduction” to The Musical Woman: An International Perspective, Volume III, 1991 (Greenwood Press: Westport, CT), p. xviii.

25. “Women as Managers: Not Just Different -- Better”. Working Woman magazine, November 1995, p. 14.

26. Tannen, Deborah. “The Real Hillary Factor”, Op-ed editorial in The New York Times, October 12, 1992.

27. Rosenberg, Rosalind. “The Limits of Access: The History of Coeducation in America”, a chapter in Women and Higher Education in American History, eds. Faragher, H. M. and Howe, F. (W. W. Norton & Company: New York), p. 126.

28. “An Interview with Joan Briccetti” in The Musical Woman: An International Perspective, Volume II, 1987 (Greenwood Press: Westport, CT), p. 84 ff.

29. Under Leonard Slatkin's directorship, the Saint Louis Symphony was long noted as being particularly receptive to women in every musical capacity: More than one-third of its instrumentalists are women; its orchestra manager is female; and -- during the mid-'80s -- both its Associate and Assistant Conductors were women. Added to that -- at roughly the same historical moment in the ‘80s-- was Joan Tower's presence as Composer in Residence.

30. Mansfield, Stephanie. “Hollywood's Leading Lady”, profile of Sherry Lansing. Working Woman magazine, April 1995, p. 39.

31. From the National Longitudinal Survey, supervised by Claudia Goldin, Harvard University. Observations on the 1991 update of the study published in Working Woman magazine, October 1995.

32. Yet it is precisely because they are prone to care and to include that women are superior teachers.

33. Flanders, Stephanie. “How much are women worth?”, article from the Financial Times of London, reprinted in Minneapolis Star-Tribune, April 1995.

34. Kroeger, Brooke. “The Road Less Rewarded”, Working Woman magazine, July 1994. pp. 50-53, 82-83.
35. In other occupations where prestige and pay scales have held, women's growing presence during the study's time period is understood to be due primarily to general expansion within that particular industry. This type of opportunity for women took place basically during the expansionist decade of the 1980s.

36. Eugene Blabey quoted in Kroeger, op. cit., p. 50.

37. Lerner's re-structure of the scholarly paradigm summarized in Lamb, Roberta “Women Composers in School Music Curricula, Grades 5-8: A Feminist Perspective”, in The Musical Woman: An International Perspective, Volume III, 1991, Zaimont et. al., (Greenwood Press: Westport, CT), p. 685.

38. From US News and World Report, reprinted in Minneapolis Star-Tribune, October 8, 1994; and a 1995 report by Martha West, professor of law at the University of California at Davis, cited in “The Tenure Trap” (by John Davidson), published in Working Woman magainze, June 1997 (p. 40)..

39. Pinney, Gregor W. “College appeals to older women”, Minnneapolis Star-Tribune, October 25, 1995. The enrollment figures represent a major shift, especially in the last four decades. Although Ohio's Oberlin College in 1837 was the first US institution of higher education to admit women, by 1947 women comprised about 29% of the national undergraduate student body. The improvement since, to 55%, is a major change.

40. Rosenberg, op. cit., pp. 115-116.

41. Hayes, Alice Bourke. “Women in Jesuit Education: A Woman's Place”, article in Conversations on Jesuit Higher Education, Number 4, Fall 1993 (published by the National Seminar on Jesuit Higher Education, ed. Rev. John W, Padberg SJ), p. 22.
Also by the early 1990s, women were receiving 36% of doctoral degrees awarded annually (this up three-fold from a mere 11% in 1963). [Rosenberg, op. cit., p. 125.]

42. Davidson, John. “The Tenure Trap, Working Woman magazine, June 1997, p. 40.

43. Hayes, op. cit., p. 13, 22.

44. Rimer, Sara. “Alumnae, Once Subdued but Docile, Prod Harvard Sharply on Sex Equality”. The New York Times, February 24, 1997.

45. Hancock, LynNell and Kalb, Claudia. “Harvard Held Up - no female profs, no checks”, Newsweek magazine, December 11, 1995., p. 81.

46. Reported in USA Today, January 16, 1996 and Working Woman magazine, February 1996.

47. According to statistics gleaned from the surveys undertaken for this conference.

48. January 1996 American Bar Association report, “Unfinished Business”, analyzed by attorney Katherine Kersten (chair of the Center of the American Experiment) on the Op-ed page of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, February 7, 1996.

49. Pinney, op. cit.

50. Associated Press, Fall 1994.

51. Braun, Patricia. “American Demographics”, reprinted in Minneapolis Star-Tribune, March 13, 1995.

52. Silverman, Linda K. “What we have learned about gifted children from 1979-1994”, reprinted in Minnesota Council on the Gifted and Talented News, September/October 1995 issue. Silverman is the director for the Gifted Development Center in Denver, Colorado.

53. Price, Michael H. “Finally, women get a shot behind the camera”, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, November 15, 1995. Reprinted from the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

54. Watrous, Peter. “Why Women Remain At the Back of the Bus”, The New York Times, November 27, 1994.

55. Ibid.

56. Angier, Natalie. “Why Science Loses Women in the Ranks”. The New York Times, May 14, 1995.

57. Ibid.

58. And much has happened in the past three decades. The Juilliard School awarded its first composition doctorate to a woman only 22 years ago, in 1975 [Ellen Zwilich]; and Juilliard's first conducting doctorate to a woman [Victoria Bond] followed the next year, in 1976.

© Copyright 2000, Judith Lang Zaimont

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