June 23, 2001 (wave list)

We often refer to certain actions as "sexism." Another possibility is that the actions in question are caused by "masculinism," an inclination toward male exclusivity caused by gendered feelings of inadequacy and insecurity, a set of fears about women that creates in many men an escapist gravitation toward male relationships. The lack of women in computer music might not derive so much from hatred or notions of male superiority, but rather from forms of of fear created by a very complex Gestalt of psychological, social and cultural conditioning. To reduce the idea to an email format, the problem might be that men are afraid of women.

I tried to analyse what was happening at the last ICMC. Even though women represent only 8% of the ICMA's membership, the general ethos of the organization seems to be relatively liberal. When I criticized the final panel on aesthetics for being comprised only of men, almost the whole room broke into cheers. But I also noticed that often the men in various sessions seemed a lot more comfortable with each other than with women, even though the men were relatively sympathetic to women's rights. It also seemed that the more technical the event, the more "masculinist," in this sense, it seemed to be. To a certain extent, it really was the proverbial "Geeks" not quite sure how to relate to "the opposite sex." 

As a result of these semi-unconscious fears, the men's closest professional relationships tend to be networks of other men. These masculinist groupings can even begin to corroborate or collude in their insecurities, thus creating an atmosphere that can lead to overt sexism. This phenomenon can be very detrimental to the careers of women. I have noticed in several professional societies that men try to compensate for these fears and insecurities by bringing women into highly visible executive positions. The highly masculinist brass world makes an excellent case example. Just as with the ICMA, women have recently been named Presidents of the trumpet and trombone professional societies even though women's membership is less than 10%.

Interestingly, I did not see the few women present at the ICMC gravitating toward each other in the same way. Perhaps they wanted to attend the ICMC exactly because they were the type of people who consciously seek to overcome the fears and insecurities that cause gender barriers. 

Perhaps we men need to try the same thing. We might find that the inclusion of women lies not in overcoming hatred, but rather in combatting a more benign gendered fear and insecurity.

David also mentions that "the problem does not lie with computers, nor does it lie with music." That is true enough, but the borders between human behavior and forms of cultural expression can be very fluid. A simple example might be the current musical styles associated with brass instruments. Whatever happened to the gentle, warm voices of the cornetto and sackbutt, and how did they come to be replaced with the large bore, militaristic blasting of symphonic brass under the authoritarian rule of autocratic conductors? I fear there can be masculinist epistemological biases built directly into our forms of musical expression. If we want a brass instrument to sound like it is being played by a gorilla, then this might offer a distinct advantage to men. My wife, who is a very famous trombonist, just spent a week camping in the woods with nine other women trombonists. Their goal is to reinvent the trombone, which means creating an alternate musical understanding. 

What kind of men would want to name a computer music operation a "bang" or a computer music institute "CREAM?" 

David also notes that people in engineering and computer music circles "tend to exhibit fierce denial and immense defensiveness when confronted with their sexism." I can tell you from experience that is absolutely true. Last winter the "Bay Area Creative Music" list addressed accusations of sexism in its "scene." Even though only one woman regularly participates on the list, and even though the stats for the concerts in the area are overwhelmingly male, the denial was indeed "fierce and immense." For another example, the Vienna Philharmonic denies that it is sexist even though it is comprised of 149 white men and one woman (a harpist.) David is so correct when he says, "As Alcohoics Anonymous found, the first step for Sexists Anonymous is to affirm and name their sexism. [...] The trick is to acknowledge and name that sexism in a way that becomes axiomatic, so that there is no possible denial, as in 'I see we're clearly in a sexist environment here.'"

We might at least admit forms of bias created by semi-unconscious Gestalts of gendered insecurity, fear and feelings of inadequacy. This understanding might eventually help us key in on specific solutions to escapists flights into male exclusivity. Bench marks that help ground us in fair and objective programming are only one possible example.

William Osborne