A huge topic of discussion today is the disparity between men and women in careers and the workplace. Women on average make around 77¢ for every dollar a man makes in the same career and position. Not only that, but men are often favored when seeking executive positions. Unfortunately, music is no different. There is a huge gap between the amount of male and female conductors and how they are treated in the profession.
When looking at raw numbers, one can see the difference. The following graphs show the difference in the number of conductors of each gender in orchestras across the U.S. The more prestigious the level it seems, the more disparity there is.
It seems that, overall, the treatment of men and women careers is beginning to be more equitable, albeit a slow process. However, in the field of professional conducting, at least in recent years, there is not much improvement. The following graph shows just how little growth there has been in the number of women conducting orchestras.
Further evidence of the patriarchal structure of professional music can be shown in the words and actions of many of the men in the field. Vasily Petrenko, principal conductor of the Oslo Philharmonic and Royal Liverpool Philharmonic orchestras, put his blatant misogyny on display in public comments, “[O]rchestras react better when they have a man in front of them,” going on to say, “a cute girl on the podium means the musicians think of other things.” The examples are not limited to Petrenko’s comments either. It is not unusual for some male concertmasters to refuse to perform under a female conductor.
In addition to this, there has been a wave of sexual assault, harassment, and abuse allegations made against some of the field’s most prominent male conductors. Most prominently is the accusations against former principal conductor of the Metropolitan Opera, James Levine. The allegations made against Levine led to his resignation from one of the most prestigious positions in music. Levine allegedly used his power as maestro to abuse and harass young musicians. Because Levine was so influential in their careers, the victims felt trapped and hesitated to come forward. As we observe the #metoo movement unfold across the nation and the world, stories like these are far too common. Levine is not the only prominent conductor to be accused of these atrocities; he is joined by Charles Dutoit and fellow Met conductor Joseph Colaneri.
As a music educator, it am disturbed by the behavior of men in the professional realm of music and by the treatment of women in the field. I constantly strive to make music an inclusive and safe environment for my students and it breaks my heart that these things are happening in the musical field. Just like every other field, I and the other men in music must use our privilege in the field to strike down the the misogynistic tendencies of our colleagues and make constant effort to strike down those same tendencies within ourselves.