[Smt-talk] Female theorists in history

Michael Morse mwmorse at bell.net
Sun Oct 16 07:38:14 PDT 2011

It would be naive to pretend I didn't anticipate this kind of response, although even posting as bluntly as I di, I had my hopes nonetheless.
My comments were based on the assumption that the paper in question was for a music theory class. If that is mistaken, then I apologize for jumping the gun, and withdraw what I said. But if the assumption was correct, then I believe refuting these ad homina is depressingly straight forward. Even if the assignment was, apparently, consider a music theorist in context, it is the a priori choice of gender that is "bizarre"--because it does indeed pre-write a conclusion. As Donna Doyle's posting sadly reminds us, gender oppression is very far from ancient history, and doubtless continues, quite possibly in the worlds of music theory. It is not that this appalling fact deserves forgetting, because now overfamiliar, nor that good research doesn't remain to be done in this area. If you write a paper about a theorist based on gender first, what story could you possibly tell but oppression? I don't see any "bigotry" in that observation.But: is that research music theory, or even music theory history? Or does it belong in social science? The real question is: beyond the reiteration of the egregious sexism of music theory's history, what could you say, choosing a theorist by their gender alone, that has anything to do with music theory? Does it matter if the theorist is a schenkerian? riemannian? schechterite? All that comes later--and is secondary, if not outright external, to the constitution of the paper's subject matter. If the premise for a music theory paper is "it doesn't matter what the theorist's stance is, as long as they're female," how can there be any other conclusion than "gender trumps theory in music theory history"? With this intellectually self-handcuffing premise, where else can the paper--and the student's learning--go? 
I believe we have a profound responsibility to teach our respective disciplines with as much social, moral, and intellectual integrity as possible. Allowing students to substitute a political science paper for a music theory paper is not, in my view, an instance of such responsibility. If that reminder is "insulting" in this case, I stand corrected. If not, then I am the one unjustly insulted.
MW MorseTrent UniversityPeterborough, Oshawa

Wow, is this response insulting, both politically and intellectually. A major aim of at least part of our research enterprise is bringing the obscure and forgotten to light and reassessing it in a contemporary context. To suggest that gender might be an
 inappropriate criterion for a search topic is bizarre. And to pre-suppose the outcome of the student's conclusions strikes me as terribly bigoted. 

Eric J. Isaacson

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