Posted by: madwheel12 | April 9, 2015

Baton Twirlers? Absolutely. Baton Wielders? Not quite.

I decided to write my blog post on one of the articles about women conductors because those readings were optional. I hope that by writing this blog post, everyone will get a brief overview of this topic if they did not have a chance to read the articles. In this 2005 article, Valerie Scher writes about the lack of women conductors in the 21st century. Scher asks the question, in this modern age, why are women still not represented in the classical music field?

Once again, we are met with the same gender stereotypes: that conducting is seen as a typically male dominated field. Women do not meet the “archetypal image of the maestro” because they are not seen as having enough authority, expertise, or charisma. This can be related back to the Great Women Theory. If we place women in a leadership box, the positions they are “eligible” for are reduced.

Another reason why women are not rising to the conductor position is because they are not gaining the education and expertise necessary. For example, in recent years about 18% of U.S. conducting doctorates have been awarded to women. Not only are women not conducting classical music, they are not receiving higher education or becoming higher education professors themselves. In the video above, musician Evelyn Glennie suggests that if there was more of a gender balance in institutions (aka more women professors), it would help to inspire women composers. This is exactly what Wilson suggests in her chapter about ambition.

Scher assures us that the point is not to create conducting positions for women if they are not qualified because that can do great harm. (Just as a woman like Sarah Palin in the media did great harm to women’s legitimacy as political leaders.)  It is, however, to promote women as musicians and conductors which many educational institutions and classical music organizations fail to do.

Marin Alsop, the first woman to conduct the last night of The Proms, is featured in the video above. The Proms is an eight-week season of daily classical music concerts that was established in 1895 in England. Alsop suggests that there is a certain comfort level of society to have men as conductors and that it is a slow change for women to wield the baton. She also stresses the importance of the public being exposed to women as conductors – enter the integral role that the media plays on societal standards.

Have you ever thought about this before? When you picture a conductor, do you automatically think of a man? Do you think that this is of great concern to society, or are you indifferent? Can you brainstorm any other creative ways in which to solve this problem?


  1. I do not know much when it comes to conductors, music, and composition. I think this post intrigued me because when I thought of a conductor I did not picture specifically a male or female. So far my only experience of a music scholar was at a CNU event when I sat next to a music professor and she told me all about her work. I did not think that her gender limited her in any way and I could see her leading just as well as a man. The fact that there is still such a discrepancy is concerning. I would like to think that there has been more gains in equality in the workforce. Offering women scholarships, or more flexible education pathways would encourage women to get their doctorates. I also would think that mentoring and getting more women up front would promote women in the field.

  2. It is hard to say what will help women to become more interested in conducting. I think that mentoring from other conductors will help inspire women interested in music. Even educating people who are in music about the discrepancy in the genders might help get people to advocate for a change. Personally, when I picture a conductor I think of an energetic person in a nice suit. I think that women can be just as energetic and charismatic as men. Keeping up the gender stereotypes is not helping because it does limit women in what they believe they can do. As I said before mentoring and education can help bring equality in the field.

  3. I think this is an interesting topic, but it is one that I have not really thought of before. I am musically challenged and have not quite had the opportunity to learn much about the arts so when I think of conductors, I do not think of it in a gendered way. I have never heard of a woman conductor, but I have also not given it much attention. I think it is important for society though that women have an equal opportunity in this career as in many others and I think it falls right in with everything else we have learned. I thought it was neat to see Alsop talk about what an honor it was to have the opportunity and that we could see her representing Wilson’s ideas as she spoke. It seems a common theme with trying to help women gain access to certain positions that it first comes with making the public more comfortable with seeing women in higher positions. It is sad to think that society needs convincing that women can be qualified for top-positions that men have dominantly held. We also talked about women using mitigating speech and downplaying their accomplishments, but in the video when Alsop was asked how she came about as the first woman in 118 years to conduct in this event, she answered with a straight answer of confidence. She listed the roles she had played in the orchestra before that point and that this was just the next step. This is showing that she believes she is qualified and she is not downplaying that by saying it was just a lucky chance. I think she is helping women have a strong woman role-model that believes in the abilities of women and men to be able to strong conductors.

  4. This is a very interesting blog post. I also did not have the chance to read these articles, but I still find it interesting! I have a lot of enthusiasm towards music. I have played piano for 15 years, and I took lessons for 13 of those. My teacher was a woman, but she was not a composer. I hate to say it, but when I think of a composer, I typically envision a male at the front of his orchestra conducting the music. But I think I personally see it this way because of how media and film “build up” composers to look like. A recent movie I watched, Whiplash, was centered around a prestigious music university. In the film, the directors portrayed all professor and conductors as males!

    I don’t know what will help women to become more interested in conducting. I feel that it all begins with education. I know some schools cut out music class when faced with budget cuts. Perhaps if we kept music class in schools across America, girls would become more inclined or interested to take up conducting as a profession. I feel that women conductors can be just as enthusiastic and entertaining as male conductors.

  5. I have little knowledge about conducting, and I imagine many other women also share a fact similar of this. I agree that in order to have more women active in this field of music, there should be more representation of women at conductors in order to initiate the normalcy of women as conductors and inspire other women to follow that lead. However, I believe a root of this imbalance of representation stems in how our education system is set up. As a society, the focus is on STEM research, which I respectfully understand. Similarly in high school, it was required to take math, science, history, and english, but music, art, photography were considered electives we could take if we chose. So, even beginning through the first years of my education to the end of high school, I was trained to think that those four core classes were more important and beneficial in society compared to artistic fields of study. Even though I love being artistic and I thrive in that aspect, I was always discouraged from pursuing my love for the arts because I think in some aspects it’s valued as less important and harder to be successful. I also think that this impacts women more as we are already having difficulty reaching higher leadership roles and having underrepresentation of women in many careers, not even including the arts. With this discouragement and lack of emphasis on the arts in many educational systems, perhaps women feel discouraged to being a conductor or/and does not have the general education to know if one would desire that as a profession. By making the arts a more valued and equally taught aspect in education, maybe the desire to pursue that field of music would increase as well as the confidence to do it.

  6. When picturing a conductor, I have to admit that I am guilty of picturing a man. Although I have witnessed women actually encouraged more so than men in the arts, we have discussed how women are absent in the roles of directors or producers. It does not surprise me that the same applies for the music field where women are not as present as conductors. I think that a large part of this consistency of male conductors is due to the fact that the conductor is on stage and putting on a performance. We are used to seeing male conductors on stage wearing a black tuxedo and holding a baton, and that character is still expected whenever one sets foot into a concert hall. Expecting men rather than women to conduct is a societal norm that needs to be changed but requires many more women as conductors to make that change. Only when we deconstruct the expectations of the audience will more women feel encouraged and supported in the highly esteemed role of conductor.

  7. I have actually always pictured a conductor as being a women. I spent all of pf my middle and high school years in chorus and we always had a woman director. Perhaps this is why I always view conductors as being women. I personally have an indifferent view when it comes to men dominating the conducting world. In my opinion, where there is a will there is a way. If more women want these positions then they need to go after them and not automatically assume that they are not competent enough to take on these positions.

  8. Being a former band geek I find this topic very interesting. It wasn’t until this class that I began reflecting on my past band directors (both men and women) and how their leadership styles varied. I would have to say that the women directors I have known and preformed under always had a bit more edginess to them. Almost as if they felt the need to exert their control over the band. Also among my peers they were generally viewed as “bitchy,” “controlling,” and “obsessive.” I had never thought this about any of them and had very close and good relationships with all of them. But to me when I think of a music director I often think of a man. I guess because society of tens portrays the director to be a man. The men directors I have preformed under have all had laid back styles of leadership but the minute they lift their hands its as if a performer would not breathe unless told to. Overall I think that this is an area that society can change a lot quicker and more efficiently. As mentioned by the women conductors, if we offered more support for women who are interested in going into this field then we would have more role models for more women to follow.

  9. This was a very interesting concept and brought up ideas and stereotypes that I had never given any thought to before. I grew up playing the piano and it never crossed my mind to think of a woman as a conductor of an orchestra. Playing songs from the classical era gives off the theme that classical music was very much a man’s world, and that it hasn’t changed much in recent years. After hearing what you had to say about the subject, it makes perfect sense that a woman would be just as able to be a conductor as a man. While this may seem like a small feat, I believe that it does matter. Accomplishments such as this one constantly show me how women were previously left out of certain societal roles and just as we think that we have almost completely achieved gender equality another woman has broken a stereotype that we have forgotten about. I think that the easiest way to perpetuate this trend is to continue to hire qualified women as conductors. In this way, this job is more easily visible to the next generation as something that young girls can aspire to become.

  10. The thought of women as conductors, or conductors in general has never really crossed my mind, but nevertheless I think that the idea of women’s involvement in classical music is important and interesting.
    Women should hold leadership positions in all industries. That being said, one of the primary tenants of feminism is the idea that women (and men) should be able to make their own life choices without being hindered by gender stereotypes. We cannot tell women to take these positions if they don’t want them, so it is imperative that we make such positions more appealing to women, without forcing them into an uncomfortable or unwanted occupation.
    When I picture a conductor, they are typically androgynous individuals only visible on the peripheries of my subconscious. Basically, the term conductor conjures pictures of a nameless, faceless individual in a black tuxedo with his/her back to me. This does not mean that it is not an important job, however. Based on the statistic presented in the blog post, that “about 18% of U.S. conducting doctorates have been awarded to women,” I think that this is a pretty big issue that society should be more aware of. It would be almost impossible for a young girl to strive to be a female conductor if she never sees strong examples of women in the position. Moreover, the classical music industry and orchestras are being victimized because they are missing the female perspective. Other techniques to get more young girls involved in conducting could include media campaigns, increasing the importance of music in school, and just making it, and other similar careers more visible to young children.

  11. I really wish I had had a chance to read these articles because I it’s something that as a musician, I am really interested in. It’s funny when you ask the question about men v. women conductors because one of my favorite conductors I have worked with was a woman, so she is automatically who I picture when I see a conductor. I definitely never thought about conducting in terms of gender, but again, this class has opened up so much into my thoughts of gender in absolutely every field and what the means for both men and women alike.
    As for it being of great concern to society, I do think any gender inequality should be looked into, but I don’t see this as a huge problem. A woman and man might lead differently as conductors, but regardless the music will be produced and it will be essentially the same, but it’s truly the process that will be affected more than anything.

  12. Personally, I believe that women conductors are amazing. I do think that the stigma is that men are typically conductors, but I really don’t know why. I guess because it is typical to see conductor men, we assume that women aren’t conductors. But in the music field, I always see women as being the more prevalent gender. I think maybe it s just a matter of women not always stepping up and taking the musical credit they deserve. Bu But I think there just needs to be a couple of female conductors who come out and speak loudly about their position and how they got their in order to inspire others to follow in their footsteps. I truly think everything will work out in the end if there is simply more exposure and more people will know this was even an issue in the musical world. I think people focus on the business aspect of women and leadership but they do not consider less obvious mediums such as the art world or alternative areas. I simply think this are needs more people talking about women and leading and conducting. I think that would really help inspire people.

  13. My only experience with classical music comes from middle school, when I played the flute. Our band director was a male, and he had an assistant that was a female. Everyone in our class hated the band director and loved the female assistant. The director was seen as mean, rude, bossy, and overall too authoritative. The assistant, on the other hand, was very relationship oriented and inspired the students to enjoy the music instead of dreading coming to class because of the director. So for me, when I picture a good conductor, I picture someone who can inspire and capture the joy that music brings. While being a professional musician does require seriousness and lots of hard work, I don’t think that it is something that a woman could not lead. Stereotypically, yes, men are seen more as conductors, but in my own opinion, I don’t think a woman would fail at the job. In something as time consuming as music, I think it matters more about the dedication and passion of the leader as opposed to their gender. Hopefully the view that women cannot be conductors will change as generations pass, just as with women in every other leadership field.

  14. Being president of an organization which deals directly with the music department gives me some experience in this area. The balance of female to male students in the music department is rather evenly split. However, if you look more closely, you’ll find that those on the track to become music educators are predominantly female, and those who are on the track to become performers and composers are predominantly male. There is still this divide between men and women, where women are seen as teachers and men are seen as “doers”. At CNU currently, there is one girl who is registered as a Music Composition major, meaning that she will write and compose music. ONE. Out of hundreds of female music majors, only one is majoring in composition. That’s crazy.
    In Missrepresentation, the founder of the White House Project, Marie Wilson, said, “You can’t be what you can’t see.” I think that quote is extremely applicable to young girls who aspire to write music and conduct symphonies. Female representation is extremely important because it shows others that they can achieve whatever they wish. For young women to see other women up on the podium, wielding their baton is encouragement for them to do the same.
    We should be inspiring other women through our own actions and promoting girls to take up lofty pursuits in hope that they might one day achieve their dreams.

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