On women in computer music

Who is going to be reading our comments? Well, for the most part, men, and probably rather a large proportion of the men in positions of power in the computer music world (at least in this country). That’s good, and I appreciate the fact that Brad and Robert Rowe wanted us to express our thoughts, but I hope it will go further than that. And so I feel I should directly address the readers of Array who are in a position to actually make some changes happen – it’s obvious that women are under-represented in the field of computer music. If you think thats a problem, don’t just discuss it, do something about it. And do something that counts: no concerts of “women’s music” at the next ICMC, please, unless you are also going to schedule concerts of “men’s music”; no CMJ issue devoted to “women in computer music”, etc. No, what I mean are REAL things: give a woman a job, or tenure; schedule a woman’s piece on a major, high-profile concert or compact disc; give a woman a big commission or a place on an important board of directors or panel. (Incidentally, there are a lot of male computer musicians in positions of power who do these things already, and I applaud them – I’m just saying we need more like them!)

This sounds a little as if I were advocating some kind of quota system, which in fact I am not. The problem with quota systems is that although you might in that way include more women, the women who you include will probably be the ones who are the “safest” – the ones who are the most like men, or the most like what many men want women to be. Rather, I am suggesting that we have to change the way we think about who is “qualified” and whose music is “good”. I’ve been in the computer music field since 1985, and I’ve noticed that the number of women computer musicians has been steadily increasing; however, if by “most qualified” you mean “most experienced”, or “the longest list of works”, or “the most well-known, respected, famous” – well, women are going to be at a disadvantage, since there are a lot more men than women who’ve been computer/electronic musicians for 20 years or more. As for evaluating music, perhaps we have to ask this difficult question: are there kinds of music, stylistic characteristics, that women tend towards more than men? And are these assumed to be either of less quality or at any rate less “easy to program on a concert” then the kinds of musical issues men lean towards? I don’t pretend to have an answer to this one, nor do I even think an answer is necessary. What I DO think is necessary is that we try to emphasize diversity in our evaluations, perhaps above what we might initially feel comfortable with; perhaps we need to be very suspicious of our gut reactions as to what is “quality” or “experience” (or “a crowd-pleaser”!) I think this kind of change of value system would end up including a lot of people, both male and female, who have been previously excluded. Women are (perhaps more than men) so often taught to be good listeners (an incredibly valuable ability for composers, by the way): maybe learning to listen for new voices is a project for which their contributions are particularly needed.

One final note: women have got to take responsibility for this too. We tend to be brought up to be less ambitious, which is in many ways a GOOD thing; perhaps it makes it easier for us to do, musically, what is important to us rather than what will get us jobs! But there is no reason that we can’t send our music out, apply for jobs, commissions, grants etc. without losing sight of our musical priorities.