Feminism now: should boys play harps?
Last week the main BBC news (plus the Today programme) was full of a piece of research which demonstrated a gender bias in choice of musical instruments. Whereas 90% of young harpists are (apparently) female, almost 80% of young tuba players are (apparently ) male – and even more electric guitarist. Indeed kids are encouraged in those choices by friends, teachers, society . . .you name it.
While parts of the planet were in melt-down, while Zimbabwe tottered, Kenya simmered and too few people were killed in Iraq to be newsworthy . . .THIS was transmitted as a piece of gender discrimination akin to the revelation (the sort of news we faced when I was a kid) that more girls than boys were encouraged to become doctors and vice versa.
After a short time, feeling a bit bad about this, as I was obviously supposed to, I found myself reflecting….do I care really if tuba players are largely male?
OK, I’ve seen Billy Elliot, and I know that it is rotten to be looked on as a wimp if you’re a boy and you want to do ballet. I also know (from even more personal experience) that it can be rotten to be a girl and want to do blokeish things.
But this didn’t seem to me to have much to do with the old doctors and nurses argument. The point about that was that girls chose to be nurses and got lower pay, less prestige, and a life time of emptying bed-pads; boys chose to be doctors and got more money, more prestige, while prancing round in a white coat/suit and marrying a nurse. The gender choices cashed out into economic and status disadvantage.
But is that the same with musical instruments? Is there a built in advantage in learning the harp over the tuba, or vice versa? If not shouldn’t we just let the kids be gendered and just be pleased that they are learning any musical instrument at all. If it takes a tuba or a Fender to get boys interested in learning an instrument, well, phew. . . . And if girls are inspired to go on with the cello by the sight of those old (and, of course, now sad) images of Jacqueline du Pre making love to her instrument, it’s a small price to pay.
I thought it might have been more interesting if the survey (and no, I haven’t read the original) had taken that other Billy Elliot theme and looked at class. How many working class kids now learn to play any instrument at all?
Isnt that more of a worry?