[Smt-talk] Gender Terminology in Music

poundie at aol.com poundie at aol.com
Wed Apr 30 19:17:57 PDT 2014

The present discussion evidently touched a very raw nerve for many of our members.  Although certain people might have felt that what they were discussing was merely a matter of semantics or historical usage, for others it reached to issues that relate directly to the woeful gender imbalance in the Society for Music Theory. As one woman expressed it, it connects to why "many women don't feel invested in the Society, don't feel ownership or kinship, don't post on SMT list serves, get easily discouraged from resubmitting papers to our journals, from speaking out in conference sessions, etc." 

This thread started when Devin Chaloux noted that the popular press frequently employs the term "Sensitive Female Chord Progression" to refer to a standard harmonic progression found in many pop pieces. Chaloux then encouraged music theory scholars to denounce this term. 

In response, some members on the list-serve seemed to wonder aloud whether such terminology is all that bad, suggesting that it is no worse than using the terms "masculine cadence" and "feminine cadence," or using the term "men" to refer to "people." These comments in turn prompted strong reaction from some others on the list, who responded forcefully and eloquently that such terms are indeed quite offensive. They not only noted that these terms are in direct violation of SMT guidelines, but they also explained why they should be. 

It is for these reasons that SMT vigorously affirms its Guidelines for Non-Sexist Language (http://societymusictheory.org/administration/language ). The present discussion helps underline why such Guidelines are so vitally important. Our discipline cannot long survive if we speak to only a portion of those who enjoy engaging in the study of music theory, and thus continued use of terminology that seems to shut out 50% of the population is of concern to us all.

Poundie Burstein
President, Society for Music Theory
president at societymusictheory.org
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