[Smt-talk] Gender Terminology in Music Theory

Deborah Rifkin drifkin at ithaca.edu
Wed Apr 30 12:11:15 PDT 2014

In response to this thread on SMT-talk, there has been a flurry of activity on Facebook and Twitter (#SMTtalk), mostly from colleagues who enjoy less privilege than those who tend to post to SMT-talk, (e.g., women, untenured, etc.). In these alternate online communities, several shared that they found SMT-talk to be an inhospitable forum and either unsubscribed years ago or plan to do so now in response to this thread. While I celebrate the existence of the alternate online music theory communities (and perhaps the age of the listserv is coming to a close,) SMT-talk remains the official venue sponsored by SMT. Collectively, we have a responsibility to make it safe and hospitable. The fact that many feel the need to leave SMT-talk is evidence that the status quo is not sufficient. In our official online forum, we are losing important voices.

As previously mentioned by others, SMT has posted recommendations on the use of non-sexist language. To promote a safe, hospitable environment for all of us, posts to SMT-talk should conform to these recommendations. Indeed, we receive a monthly SMT-talk message reminding us of this responsibility (item #4.) At this busy time of the semester, many may not take the time to click on the links provided in previous messages, so here is a pertinent passage for the current discussion:

“Certain terms that are often used in writing about music unfortunately embed sex-role stereotypes. It is not usually a great problem to avoid or rephrase these; for instance, "masculine ending" and "feminine cadence" are easily rendered as "metrically accented ending" and "metrically unaccented cadence" respectively, without loss of clarity.” (from: http://societymusictheory.org/administration/committees/csw/non-sexist-language)

Interpreting policy is not always straightforward, and discussion about terms that embed sex-role stereotypes is not the same thing as using them insensitively in analytic discourse. Nonetheless, I am mindful that our organization struggles with inclusiveness and wanted to call attention to the fact that this thread has caused discomfort and distress to some of our members.

Deborah Rifkin
Associate Professor of Music Theory
Ithaca College
953 Danby Rd. | Ithaca, NY 14850
(607) 274-3786
drifkin at ithaca.edu

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