feminism: it’s still news?!

A recent article about Joann Falletta talks about the rarity of women conductors, and tries in a slightly awkward way to describe differences between men and women as leaders.

It is all, of course, bullshit.

What I mean by that is that there are no necessary differences between the leadership styles of men and women. Social expectations have changed in the past few years, and continue to change, but none of it is inherent in sex differences. Every individual is different.

I’ve already written about the study that shows no gender difference in the gestures of expert conductors.

I haven’t written about the kind of verbal communication leadership discussed in the article, or by the whole Lean In thing, which asks women to be bold and stop apologizing. Because it never rang true for me. I was never a meek, apologetic, I-hope-they-listen-to-me novice. I started out as an arrogant know-it-all. I was always ready to take risks. I had to learn what Joann Falletta says naturally differentiated her from her male colleagues–to say “please” and be empathetic.

In retrospect, I suspect this was largely due to the fact that I did not think of myself as female until late in my college career.

It’s not that I ever doubted my sex or gender. But during my adolescence, when I was labeling myself and trying to categorize my own identity, I shied away from thinking of myself as a “girl,” much less a “woman.” I was very uncomfortable with the words themselves. When my 9th grade English teacher assigned us to write a poem with the form “I am an [adjective] [noun],” I couldn’t bring myself to use the noun “girl” to describe myself. I used femme instead. And when we had to read them out loud in class, though I was always confident reading and speaking in public, I could only mumble the word. The fact that I remember this, when I am notorious in my family for not remembering stuff that everyone else remembers, tells me that it was a moment that mattered.

I’m taking a deep breath now, recognizing that who I am and how I got this way is significant to my work, so significant enough to write about here. Oy. Okay.

Patriarchy is the rule for all of American culture, so without anyone to tell me explicitly that women are equal to men, I learned from TV and government and school that men are more important than women. Reinforcing this larger social indoctrination were my personal circumstances. In my family, from my kid’s perspective, it seemed to me that my father was condescending to and resentful of my mother. Feminine people, I learned implicitly, were weaker and dumber, were treated badly, were not allowed to be in charge. I wanted to be in charge. Because I wasn’t weak or dumb, because my father treated me and my sister the same as our brothers–better, it seemed, than he treated our mother–I learned to identify with masculinity, because who the hell would want to be feminine under those circumstances?

By the time I was in the 8th grade, I wanted to be a conductor. No women role models? It didn’t matter because it didn’t occur to me that I would grow up to be a woman. I expected to grow up to be a conductor. Gender didn’t enter into it. I was sort of in denial about it, having bought into patriarchy whole hog. Thence the awkward freshman poem. (Fresh-man. See what I did there?)

So, being a woman didn’t stand in my way of my intending to become a conductor because it didn’t occur to me that being a woman had anything to do with me.

How did I learn that I was a woman and that it mattered? My husband, whose perspective has ever been more grounded than mine, helped me embrace it in my personal life. Professionally, as I actually started becoming a conductor, and my career progressed, I started noticing that men were hired for every job I interviewed/auditioned for but didn’t get. At higher levels of training, I started noticing I was being treated differently, held to different standards by some teachers (who shall remain nameless).

Eventually I realized I had never had a woman conducting teacher, had never sung for a woman I admired. And then I thought, “Oh, hell” and tried to find one. It wasn’t easy, and there weren’t many options. I was lucky that UConn hired Michele Holt as an interim conductor. She was a hero at UConn. I’m so glad she was one of my teachers there, and deeply grateful for her support of me and my work. She is the only woman I studied conducting with in a degree program. I’ve also taken a dozen masterclasses and seminars, and out of all of them, Janet Galvan and Sandra Snow are the only women I’ve worked with.

The glass ceiling in conducting remains among the strongest in any field. It was news to me after I got into it, and I’m still astonished that it keeps being news.

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