Sexism in Music
Since the beginning of time, women have been overlooked. There has been a book that they couldn’t publish, a career they couldn’t have, or a talent ignored by a society that dismissed them for their gender. The music industry was and still is no different.
Women being ignored or silenced in this field dates all the way back to the 1400s. To have any success, all the famous female composers dedicated their life to being seen as perfect humans. Whether that was relentless childbearing, illustrated by Clara Schumann who had 8 children in just 12 years, or a lifetime of chastity, like always proper Marianna Martines, purity was key. While doing my research, I was shocked at how inferior these women were viewed to be in comparison with their male counterparts.
Mozart: the child prodigy who performed all around Europe in the 18th century, shocking people, everywhere. The level of skill and inherent talent was astonishing. But what if I told you that I’m not talking about Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart? What if I told you I was actually talking about Maria Anne, his (perhaps even more) talented sister? As she is not nearly as famous as her brother, you might assume she was not as talented. You would be wrong. At the age of 12, she was recognised as one of the most skilled pianists in all of Europe. In a letter, her father, Leopold Mozart, wrote
“My little girl plays the most difficult works we have with such incredible precision and so excellently”
And Leopold Mozart was not the only one who thought this.
In 1762, the two young Mozart played for a group of aristocrats in Munich, one of whom recorded his thoughts in his diary. They read “the little child from Salzburg and his sister played the harpsichord. The poor little fellow plays marvelously. However, his sister’s playing is masterly, and he applauded her.” He went on to elaborate on the gift that Maria Anne possessed. Much of Mozart’s success is also due to her. It is thought that around 20% of his works were written, at least partly, by her. If she had published it, it would have gone ignored by society, because she was a woman. This is also why we have lost many of her works that were published under her real name, as her pieces were overlooked then and never played for a paying audience. Her potential was never fully reached; her father stopped taking her on tour when she reached marrying age, meaning she never got the exposure she needed for her career to take off.
Nowadays, sexism in music still exists but it manifests itself in very different ways. Being big in the music industry no longer means being able to play the piano well, or being a professional violinist: it means singing. In the 21st century, we love a good pop song, and to make it, you have to be able to write good lyrics as well as a catchy tune and beat. For men, that’s where it normally ends. For women, they must look good. At the moment, there is no ‘ugly’ famous female popstar. They are all, based on society’s stereotypes, beautiful. Then, there are the award shows. Men can turn up in suits, or a shirt and trousers, or, sometimes, just tracksuits and no one bats an eyelid.
Women, however, are expected to turn up in glamorous outfits, dressed to the nines and looking flawless. If not, people humiliate them, images and videos circulate about them on social media, and they are no longer viewed as an artist. Instead, they are just seen as celebrities, there for people to watch. Taylor Swift had an interview where she outlined the different vocabulary used for men and women in the music industry. She talked about the way that women aren’t allowed to write songs about their exes because they’re overreacting, but men can because they are just reacting.
Though we are now a more developed society in terms of how we view women, sexism remains at the forefront of most industries and music is no exception. Though it has got better in many ways, women now face different challenges in the music industry. In the future, through women speaking out about the prejudice they have faced, hopefully the divide will begin to close and, eventually, sexism will no longer be a prevalent issue within this industry. Conversations and campaigns like MeToo are slowly forcing the music industry to respond to criticism about the treatment of women.
We must acknowledge and learn about the deep history regarding women and music in order to ensure a future where equal opportunities are provided to all.