[Smt-talk] Female theorists in history

Michael Morse mwmorse at bell.net
Sun Oct 16 18:50:06 PDT 2011

Dear Folks,
  I greatly appreciate the civility of the conversation, especially given how incendiary the topic evidently remains. I have learned, too, from the replies, and appreciate that as well. To synthesize a bit, the sexist dilemma remains, as the distressing testimony of Linda Seltzer and Donna Doyle attests. But part of the quintessence of what I wanted to say in the first place lies in posing a means-ends question. Is an assignment in a music theory course that looks first for the theorist's gender in fact likely to enhance materially the professional self-confidence of the (female) student? I have probably phrased that far too tendentiously; but I'm not sure how to put it better. If the aim of an assignment, or a part of the curriculum, is to redress long-standing and, indeed let's face it honestly, systemic bias and discrimination, must we not ask if it succeeds? I realize too I'm skating on far right thin ice here, and could easily sound like the social darwinist troglodytes who denounce affirmative action not because they're racists--heaven forfend--but because it, quote, "doesn't work."
  I honestly don't know. I can't shake the gut feeling that bending the curriculum for avowedly non-curricular aims, i.e., for moral exigency, is only justifiable if the moral aims are achieved. As I said, I think we have a serious duty to pose just that question. It sickens me that someone as self-evidently worthy and accomplished as Linda Seltzer could ever have that worth doubted on the basis of her testicle count. And as much as I understand in the abstract that the composer canon is dominated, apparently forcefully, by white men, neither can I escape the sense that lumping Berg, Monteverdi, and Bartók into a pot labeled by race and gender bids fair to be, in the words of Karl Kraus, the disease for which it pretends to be the cure. If there were some way right now to treat the Linda Seltzers of the world fairly--sorry, dear soul, for singling you out, but your mistreatment is an exemplary and damnable crime--without gratuitously slagging the canonic DWMs for a failing virtually no one at the time could have imagined, I'd be happy. 
MW MorseTrent UniversityPeterborough, Oshawa
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