[Smt-talk] Gender Terminology in Music Theory

Conor Cook conor.p.cook at gmail.com
Wed Apr 30 05:14:38 PDT 2014

It certainly is sexist if by their use a theorist intends to privilege one over the other.  But if one uses them to, say, reflect the inherent complementarity of the sexes, it might be seen to express the beauty and variety of life illustrated by music.  At least that's how I imagine the argument might go for those who persist in using the sexed terminology, assuming it's not out of an unreflective sexism.  I am curious why some theorists use it still.

On the other hand, Paul Cadrin's Greek words do seem provide a more technical description.  The Greek words in this case derive from “striking” metaphors, however, so they are ultimately associative, as well.  It's an interesting duality, the choice between descriptive (if they're even possible) and associative adjectives, and I don't think scholars agree (I know they don't) that only descriptive language is best, lest ideas like pitch space, for example, be scrapped.  But how to decide what associations are at best unproductive, if not harmful?

*These views in no way reflect those of the music theory department or School of Music at the University of Minnesota.


Conor Cook
Master of Arts in Music Theory
University of Minnesota

> On Apr 29, 2014, at 3:10 PM, Michael Morse <mwmorse at bell.net> wrote:
> Like "sexist," the attributions "masculine" and "feminine" are ascriptive, not descriptive. Adjectives have no direct prescriptive power in reality, despite their undeniable if merely occasional affective influence; that matter was sorted out in 1324 by William of Ockham. Today, 1991 is every bit as much ancient history as 1324.
> MW Morse
> z. Zeit freier Kunstler
> > From: Jennifer.Bain at Dal.Ca
> > So to refer to a cadence that ends on a strong metric position as
> > masculine and one that ends on a weak metric position as feminine is not
> > sexist...? Didn't we sort this out in 1991?
> > 
> > Jennifer
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