Historiograpical editing of female achievement

(13 Posts)
Enb76 Wed 26-Aug-15 10:08:04


A girl is petitioning Edexcel for including only male composers in the GCSE music exam - 63 composers, no women.

It occurs to me that when women have made historical achievements, overcoming the barriers that were in place in their own time, they are then edited out as future generations wipe the slate clean of female achievement.

If there is any hope of women attaining equality then this needs to addressed. It would be nice to get to a point where historical female achievement was just as acknowledged as male achievement but I think this does need to be done in schools. If future generations have an historical perspective where women, despite barriers, could be seen artistically as equal to men we would be a step farther in gaining intellectual equality.

Any thoughts?

shovetheholly Wed 26-Aug-15 10:52:21

I think there are a set of sedimented, middle class ideas about 'genius' that tend to gender it as male. Combined with a cultural prohibition on appearing on a public stage from about the mid C18 to mid C20, it means there are a lot of areas where women haven't been able to achieve, or have been ignored if they have in spite of all the barriers. I suspect that there is a combination of genius + publicity in the musical world that has excluded women more profoundly than, say, the novel - which was (for a long time) seen as more detailed, real, domestic and private in nature.

Good on this student for starting the campaign - what a great idea!

shovetheholly Wed 26-Aug-15 10:53:15

(I hate all that aesthetic stuff about "the great novel", "the great painting" - which leads to a Harold Bloom-style male canon. Ugh, ugh, ugh. It's not only suspicious in gender terms but politically too. All these male arbiters of taste. Ewwww)

Good on that student.

I know less about music than about women's writing, but erasure has happened much more recently. And I think may happen to our contemporaries as well.

Kathie Sarachild, a second waver, wrote “Shulamith Firestone, in the women’s liberation movement’s first theoretical journal Notes From The First Year, described and wrote about the process of the feminists in general and the radicals in particular being written out of the history of the last century and we ourselves almost immediately began to experience this invisibility happening to us even as we were there. The more successful the radical, feminist women became, the more widespread our slogans and ideas, the more invisible we got – even as what we produced was becoming visible”

This is a really interesting book

PlaysWellWithOthers Wed 26-Aug-15 11:23:43

From asking around, it's not just historical female composers the a level syllabus ignores, but also modern day ones, not just of classical music either.

Norah Jones gets a mention which is great, but seems to be the only woman writing popular music according to the exam boards.....

Enb76 Wed 26-Aug-15 11:48:59

So it's an ongoing issue - that contemporary women are getting written out for exam boards and syllabuses (in music here but I remember the vast amount of lit I did also being mostly male). I feel that education has a great part to play in the normalising of womens' place in the world. If our children are taught in such a way that we have equality of standing, they will also expect it in their day to day lives.

PlaysWellWithOthers Wed 26-Aug-15 11:54:02


Yes, I think so.

There's a similar movement in higher education protesting against the White Curriculum, which is aiming to challenge colonial assumptions and Eurocentricity in education. Here's one article, though we can see already how there's also a male bias, e.g. "fathers of the discipline".

Enb76 Wed 26-Aug-15 12:10:11

So, why isn't this happening?

I get the whole male patriarchy thing but regardless education should lead the way, not lag. How can we hope to enlighten our children when we give them such a backward looking education.

History is incredibly important imo, we need to stop editing it and let it properly inform the future. It's like Christianity editing out all the bits that were problematic for their world view.

uglyswan Wed 26-Aug-15 12:28:16

I'm actually a bit shocked about this. From a purely academic point of view, and leaving aside the obvious detrimental effect the editing out of female composers from history will have on girls and young women today, this is unforgiveable. You're going to teach medieval music without even mentioning Hildegard von Bingen? Or early twentieth century music without Nadja Boulanger? These were not marginal figures someone just "forgot" about, they were incredibly prominent key figures in the development of the classical canon. That's like teaching the classical period and editing out Haydn!

I think it's because many people just don't see the issue.

uglyswan Wed 26-Aug-15 12:31:14

And I agree with shovetheholly about the classical canon. The intellectual dishonesty of teaching a cultural tradition that went to great pains to exclude all but a small segment of the population and then turn around and celebrate that small segment as "geniuses" is not something you want to perpetuate.

TeiTetua Wed 26-Aug-15 13:53:33

Where were the female Mozart and Bach? They were at home, singing to their children. Or they hummed a tune over the textile machinery.

Come to think of it, maybe the working-class male Beethoven was whistling as he shovelled coal. We're just never going to know those people or whatever they could have accomplished.

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