Music and Gender


The question of “Gender” has become relevant in music studies since the New

Musicology developed in the late 1970s. It was to a considerable extent a reaction

against traditional positivist musicology of the early 20th century and post-war era, focusing mostly on the study of written sources. By drawing influences from feminism, gender studies, queer theory, and postcolonial studies the New Musicology considerably widened our outlook on the social use of sound. In this context it was realized that even in music, few actions are gender-neutral.  


Today my outlook on “music and gender”  is strongly influenced by zoomusicology. Because of my interest in zoomusicology in recent years it has been a preoccupation of mine to counter the anthropocentric bias wherever I see it. That is why years ago I wrote an article for the ICTM Yearbook, suggesting how beneficial it would be for ethnomusicology to finally drop it (“Zoomusicology and Ethnomusicology: A Marriage to Celebrate in Heaven.” Yearbook for Traditional Music. XLIV, 2012, 166-183). Ethnomusicology in comparison to other areas of musical scholarship has dropped the ethnocentric bias long ago. It therefore appeared to me that in this area of scholarship it would be easier to come to terms with anthropocentrism.


Coming back to gender, I feel it would be beneficial for Gender studies to comprehend the intra-species perspective. Studies of sexuality, as well as sonic behavior in the domain of non-human animals have remarkably progressed, since the time zoomusicology officially became recognized as a field of intellectual endeavour in the early 1980s. Sound and sonic actions do play a role in the sexuality of animals.


As far as humans are concerned, it would deserve some attention to that minority of people who develop affective relationships to non-human animals. Do particular forms of sonic behaviour play a role in this connection? At the opposite end of the spectrum, and here I am coming back to humans, a minority of people does exit we could call  “a-sexual”, or “non-sexual”. It probably is one of the most unobserved, and misunderstood minority.  The question would be, what kind of role does gender play in this instance?


One more point about gender studies also comes to my mind: the danger of using   categories that only make real sense in Western culture, as if they were universal; like when we speak of homosexuality in ancient Greece. And yet no such thing really existed there, because the concept itself did not exist. The word homo-sexual is a hybrid compound of Greek and Latin. Socrates and Alcibiades would never have called themselves homosexual, since sexual behaviour, in their culture, could only be categorised as agápe (ἀγάπη), éros (ἔρως), philia (φιλία) and storge (στοργή). 


William Ewart Gladstone, reportedly, once described sex with the following words: “Pleasure too short, ridiculous positions, catastrophic financial consequences”. Had he considered sexuality under the perspective of “Music and Gender”, possibly comprehending also the wider meaning sex acquires when considering non-human animals (like Isabella Rossellini shows in her “Green Porno” video series in YouTube), he could not have had such an anthropocentric and, therefore, oversimplified view of it. 


January 2021