Gender discrimination…when are we going to talk about it? I wrote this paper for my Psychology of Music grad school class and some of you asked me to share. This barely scratches the surface of the research out there, not to mention the additional discrimination that BIPOC, LGBTQIA+, and women with disabilities face.


I tried to highlight some of the research by bolding some sentences below.

“The Sound Of Silence: Female Composers At The Symphony” reads the headline of an NPR article about the lack of music written by female composers programmed for this upcoming season by major symphonies (Huizenga). This article was not published in 1938 or 1968 or 1998. It was published this past June in 2018. While some strides have been made in combatting gender bias and discrimination, there is still a lot of work to be done, especially in music. Gender bias and discrimination have recently become hot button issues with the advent of the #metoo movement. The conversation surrounding this topic in terms of women in music has not been as widely discussed, even though there is plenty of evidence to support this issue. The World Health Organization found that women’s disproportionately poor mental health can be attributed to factors such as “pressures created by their multiple roles, gender discrimination and associated factors of poverty, hunger, malnutrition, overwork, domestic violence and sexual abuse” (2013). Gender bias and discrimination not only exists in music education and music performance spaces but is actually harmful for women and girls.

            Gender bias, including gender bias specifically in the field of music, is deeply ingrained in the subconscious from a young age. Research shows gender bias and stereotypes of “vulnerable” women and “strong” boys may be set in a child’s mind by the age of 10 (Bloom et al., 2017). The biases children develop at a young age can affect how they perceive women and men in different contexts for the rest of their lives. For example, subjects, who ranged in age from 13-78, participated in a study on word associations with twelve music-related jobs; results showed participants viewed high school band directors as “overwhelmingly seen as male and middle-aged”, while elementary school music teachers as “overwhelmingly seen as female and young” (Haack, 1998). These associations may make it difficult for women to succeed in a career since they are not perceived as the norm. Additionally, music teachers may contribute to this perceived gender bias, even without realizing. Legg, in attempt to replicate gender bias research from the 1990s, found that despite music teachers awareness of gender bias and acknowledgement of how it is unfair, these music teachers continued to link perceptions of quality with gender (2010). Even when a teacher knows or acknowledges a practice is wrong, such as linking lower quality music compositions to females, they may still fall prey to deeply rooted, subconscious biases that were developed in childhood.

            Music classrooms often perpetuate harmful gender bias. Gender bias permeates through multiple areas of classroom teaching. A study of choral books showed they contained gender stereotypes and a significant underrepresentation of females and minorities (Hawkins, 2007). Additionally, when students asked “Do you feel confident using music technology for composing?” 90% of boys surveyed in the study responded yes, while only 48% of girls responded yes (Armstrong, 2008).

Armstrong (2008) concluded:

            Women’s supposed ‘alienation’ from technology is a product of the historical and cultural construction of technology as masculine. Understanding these gendered processes as they relate to music technology in educational settings powerfully demonstrates that it is not technology itself that is the ‘problem’ for women but the cultural context in which it is used (p. 384).

Since technology is a huge trend currently in education, gender bias may be having a bigger impact in music education than music teachers consciously realize.

            Gender bias affects aspiring female music majors when they pursue college. Wendel-Caraher found in her research and interviews that women may feel silenced as music teachers beginning as an undergraduate due to the lack of female representation in the music canon, the lack of women in music faculty positions, and constant feelings of inferiority (1999). The silencing experienced by female music students may prevent from reaching their potential and may cause them to feel a lack of empowerment. Gender bias can also cause female college students to leave a space altogether. McKeage found collegiate female music majors who had a strong background in jazz at their high school left the jazz band in college after their freshman year; these female students cited one of their top three reasons as “a lack of female role models and mentoring in jazz” (2002). Lastly, female music majors may experience stereotype threat, which “refers to being at risk of confirming, as a self-characteristic, a negative stereotype about one’s social group” (Steel & Aronson, 1995). The data in one study showed female undergraduate music students were prone to stereotype threat even if they were not performing, such as in a music education setting, and stereotype threat may be activated by something as simple as entering the music building (Lloyd 2017). Stereotype threat adds an extra mental burden to female undergraduate music majors and can negatively impact their college experience.

            Professional magazines and journals are not exempt from gender bias. Kruse et. al studied pictures in the Music Educators Journal(MEJ) and found that females “composed 28% of photographs, with the largest representation of females being found in the teaching/presenting category (56%) and markedly smaller representations of females found in the conducting (21%) and named persons (20%) categories” (2015). Additionally, McWilliams found in her study of 24 issues of The Instrumentalist that women were represented in the magazine far less than what would be proportionate to the current number of women working in the band field and “qualitative findings revealed that females were often depicted in disparaging and stereotypical ways” (2003). These articles and journals are read by a wide audience in the music education field. The amount of gender bias in these professional magazines and journals can have a serious impact on people’s perceptions of women in the field of music and can continue to perpetuate the harm that comes from gender bias and stereotypes.

            The field of band, specifically at the high school and collegiate level, is an area where women experience a large amount of gender bias and discrimination. Progress towards equity in this particular area of music education has been slow. While females make up 75% of the total general teaching population and over half of the music teaching population, they only make up about 20% of the high school band positions and 10% of the college band positions (Snyder, 2016). One study from over 20 years ago totaled the number of collegiate female band directors to be around 6.5% of the total band director positions and claimed “as more women enter the field and as tenured professors retire, it is probable that the numbers of women and men in the field should become more equitable” (Jackson, 1996). However, this is clearly not the case as the percentage of collegiate female band directors has risen only 3.5% to a total of 10% in over 20 years, which is a far cry from equitable numbers. Several studies conducted within the past 5-10 years have found that women still experience gender bias and discrimination as band directors (Fischer-Croneis, 2016; Gathen 2014; Jones, 2010), which may help to explain why the numbers have not increased as steadily as the study from 1996 predicted.

            Women have had particular trouble specifically in the area of jazz and jazz band. Through a study on gender and racial bias in evaluation, Clauhs found “a negative association of females and jazz music still exists” (2014). This negative association can be harmful to women and girls who are trying to pursue jazz. In fact, one study found adolescent male students had an “anti-female bias” towards jazz compositions written by women (North, Colley, & Hargreaves, 2003). If students at such a young age have developed an anti-female bias towards female jazz composers, this may explain why women continue to experience gender bias and discrimination in jazz.

            Gender bias is not limited to band. Choir is also prone to gender bias and discrimination, despite the fact that it is typically associated as being a more “feminine” activity (O’Tool 1998). Girls are often “shortchanged” in choir through “biased teacher interaction, male-centered repertoire choices, limiting of vocal development, choral policies that sort students inequitably, and competition for which boys may not have to compete at all” (O’Tool 1998). Choir method books often dedicate entire chapters to issues specifically related to boys such as the changing voice, recruiting, and discipline but often dedicate very little space, if any, specifically for teaching girls in choir (O’Tool, 1998). While women seem to experience gender bias and discrimination as the rarity in the “masculine” band world, boys and men seem to be highly regarded and put on a pedestal in the more “feminine” choir world. Additionally, a study done on two choir textbooks found more songs were presented about boys and women were presented and of the 113 named musicians, composers, and artists mentioned in the book, only 18 were female (Hawkins, 2007). Teachers should be cautious and examine gender bias carefully as it exists, even in activities that are viewed by society as being more feminine in nature.

            Women who pursue professional conducting experience gender bias. Currently, only one out of the twenty-one major United States orchestras has a female conductor (Ting, 2016). Additionally, Sheldon and Hartley found that men overwhelmingly outnumbered women as primary conductors in the Midwest Band Orchestra Clinic, one of the most well known and attended clinics in instrumental music education (2012). Even though studies show people are certainly more open to women as orchestral conductors, many critics still carry a stereotyped image of a “male maestro” (Ting, 2015). While this openness to female conductors is a step in the right direction, it seems the stereotype of a male at the helm of the orchestra continues to persist and even prevent women from obtaining conducting opportunities.

            Contests, auditions, and adjudication events are often seen as opportunities for students to receive honest and critical feedback on their hard work. However, when the audition is not blind or there is a visual component, the gender of the student and the gender of the director can affect the ratings and audition results. One study found that gender bias negatively affected the outcomes of women playing “masculine” instruments, while males tended to be scored consistently regardless of whether their instrument was deemed more “masculine” or “feminine” (Elliot, 1995). Additionally, Eastridge and Shouldice found a statistically significant difference in scoring of male-directed ensembles and female-directed ensembles in Virginia, with female-directed ensembles scoring lower particularly in the secondary band category (2018). While more research needs to be done on this subject, it does call attention for the need to explore possible gender bias at the secondary level for female band directors. Additionally, Leimer examined adjudicated events in Florida and found the percentage of female adjudicators did not match the percentage of female band directors in nearly every facet(except marching auxiliary) and at every instructional level (2012). Perhaps some of the bias could stem from the lack of female adjudicators, especially in band events.

            Women are restricted in their careers due to gender bias and discrimination in the field of music. Stremikis found that women have negative music-related career experiences, which “involved lower pay for equal jobs, blatant sexual harassment that would have included a potential loss of moral integrity, talents not recognized because the position is usually given a man, and negative reviews” (1997). Specific examples include one female composition student who left her major because a male professor took full credit and monetary compensation for her composition and another female student lost an opportunity to participate in a competition when her male professor attended in her place (Stremikis, 1997). These examples are only two of countless stories of lost opportunities for women in music. Even when women do secure positions, they may not be paid equally. For example, women still consistently earn 3%-6% less than men as collegiate music faculty members (Colin, 2016). Additionally, women also receive less media coverage and are approached less often for commissions of compositions (Scharff, 2018). Less representation can lead to less opportunity which can lead to less women in the field; all of this can quickly turn into a vicious cycle for women pursuing music as a career.

            Even before women are hired, they may experience gender bias in the interview and job search process. For band positions, women may experience hiring discrimination because administrators may expect women to take on more masculine set of behaviors in order to become a band director and because of this, may questions a woman’s ability to carry out her assigned duties (Sears, 2010). Additionally, Fischer-Croneis found women who were looking to break into the field of band directing may struggle with networking and fitting in at professional development events (2016). Since networking and professional development events can be crucial aspects of the job search process, this may explain some of the difficulty women have in being hired as band directors.

            Gender bias and discrimination continues to be a prevalent and harmful reality for women in music. Steps must be taken to reduce gender bias and work towards equity. Parker et al. found evidence based confrontation about a person’s gender bias may help in reducing future gender bias (2018). Additionally, conducting programs and institutes created just for women show promise in encouraging more women to enter the profession (Ting, 2016). If the field of music is to be truly equitable, there is work that must be done by all in the field, especially by those who have the most privilege and power. The structures of power can only shift when those in power recognize the need for change and commit to taking action towards change.


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