Masculinism and Tokenism In Computer Music
June 15, 2005
I saw Mara
Helmuth's notice about the concert of computer music that will take place at
The Membership of the FTM8 Panel
The FTM8's panel on women in computer music is notable because all the participants are closely associated with the International Computer Music Association. As the abstract for the session notes, the panel consists of a former President, three Array editors past and present, and an active female member. (Array is the journal of the ICMA.)
The panel's membership thus creates an interesting internal dynamic. All the participants highly value their status within the ICMA, and yet they are being placed in a position where they might have to subject the organization to a feminist critique. Will there be an inherent conflict between the desire to criticize and the desire to integrate? To what extent will this conflict necessarily temper what the participants might say? On one hand, the panel will be especially valuable because the perspectives will come from insiders very knowledgable about the organization. Mary Simoni, for example, is a former ICMA President and has done considerable research on the status of women in music technology. But it would also be naive to think that the participants need give no consideration to how their statements and views might affect their careers. Will this limit forms of dissent and criticism that might be valuable? How will the forces of tokenism and masculinism affect this panel?
The ICMA At the Tipping Point
Women represent about 8% of the ICMA's membership. This places them near the tipping point between tokenism and the early stages of the transitional period that begins to move toward parity. As I mentioned in an earlier post, in the token stage of integration (0-10%,) there is very little animosity between the minority and the majority. The main goal of the minority is assimilation. The minority does not have sufficient numbers within the group to formulate a group identity, and the majority does not see them as a threat. In the transitional stage (11-40%), the minority begins to formulate a group identity, compare experiences, and struggle for greater equity. It also gains the numbers to create a genuine threat to the status quo.
Since women in the ICMA are near the threshold between these two stages, one is left wondering which way the panel will tip? Will they follow the patterns of tokenism and for the most part be apologists for the ICMA? Or will they express a new-found sense of group identity as women in music technology and formulate new demands, professional, social and aesthetic? If I had to guess, I would say it will be a combination of both stages, and reflect the dual perspectives of a social tipping point.
Alternate Voices for Future Panels?
For the sake of
perspective, it might be helpful to briefly consider a few alternative views for
future panels about gender and music technology.
Linda Seltzer is known and respected for her very independent, cogent and
often acerbic criticisms of sexism and patriarchy in music technology.
She is not especially influenced by an insider status in the academic
computer music world. Linda is a
Doctoral student in computer music at
The panel also
leans (at least slightly) toward the academic computer music with which the ICMA
is closely associated. Will this
create a narrowed perspective that leaves many women's voices in computer music
under-represented? A notable
proponent of a different aesthetic might be Kitty Brazelton, whose music
combines Downtown alt-rock and classical in very corporeal performances that
appeal to a strongly vernacular, non-academic sensibility.
(The musical vernaculars of
Dr. Brazelton is
also a full-time professor at
The roundtable "Tracing Change" will be invaluable for inside perspectives of the ICMA, but perhaps we should also remember it might not represent the full spectrum of thought about gender in computer music. Hopefully these panels will continue and cover a wide range of topics and perspectives.
The Future of Gender of Music Technology
These thoughts lead one to speculate about what will happen in 20 or 30 years when women might represent 30 or 35% of the ICMA. To what extent will they challenge the masculinist aesthetic values of composition, science and engineering?
Human identity is increasingly defined in terms of its relationship to computers. There is a growing sense that our future will be somehow cyborgian. So one might reasonably ask: What does a fifty-year-old structure of silicon have to teach a five billion year old structure of carbon? Will the masculinist nature of science and engineering affect the future identity of women? Or could a form of cultural feminism evolve that reshapes the very nature of science and technology? (These questions have been very much on my mind, since they are themes Abbie and I address in our newest music theater work. For photos, video, and a long, rather philosophic essay about it see: http://www.osborne-conant.org/cybeline-info.htm )
Maybe one goal for women in art and science is not integration, but subversion. Maybe art should lead us to a science that is less dualistic and bi-polar, less reductive, less certain about "natural law," a science that doesn't live in the vectoral, phallic world of plus and minus, a science that embraces and protects the endless, incomprehensible complexities of the universe as if they were deeply intertwined with the nature of mind itself.
Will women gain equality with men only when we have created aesthetic frameworks that "allow" for their equality? At this point, we can hardly imagine a world in which the feminine aspects of the universe are given respect equal to the masculine. When we do it will change our science, our governments, our religions, our philosophies, our established art forms, and every other aspect of reality. Obviously, artists play a central role in transforming the aesthetic foundations of cultures. Through art we create new consciousness, and this can allow for the creation of a more just and truthful world. Humanity creates art and art creates humanity.
These social forces will bring to an end the masculinist character of our culture. There is much to be covered in future panels.