I know I haven’t posted in a while, but I have been checking in on the Lunch Break Blog regularly to see what’s new on the menu. One topic I see recurring that always grabs my attention is gender. My focus at our Lunch Break is music, so this led me to question why many men listen to mostly male musicians while females gravitate towards women. I have little scientific data to help answer this. Taking a glance through my own music collection, I notice numerous female artists, albeit amidst many more men. Two of the best albums I’ve heard in the past few years happen to be male/female duets (Alison Krauss & Robert Plant’s Raising Sand and the soundtrack to the movie Once featuring The Swell Season members Markéta Irglová and Glen Hansard), but the most recent additions to my collection have all been created by men.
Why does this barrier exist? If art is truly a liberating force, a place where all kinds of boundaries are overcome, why is the gender barrier so hard to break when it comes to our listening preferences? To be fair, we could also take another step back and look at the limitations female musicians face trying to create good music and not simply being a pretty face or hot body, and the challenges women have trying to get signed to a label that is willing to give them the legitimate distribution and promotion they deserve as artists rather than eye candy. There are countless directions we can go concerning gender biases in the music industry, but here I want to focus solely on the taste of the listener. As with food, musical taste is a very personal, hard to explain thing. Again like food, some pick what they like at a young age and never dare stray from that comfort zone (I thought I hated tomatoes until I was about 20. I then realized I couldn’t even remember what they tasted like and tried them again. Guess who happens to love tomatoes?). Believe me, I am old enough to know that my particular taste in music is just that--mine, and not better or worse than anyone else who derives pleasure from the art form. Louis Armstrong is often attributed with responding those trying to pin down the genre of music he created by saying, “There is two kinds of music--the good and bad. I play the good kind.” We all do this in a way--set our ears to what we think is good and bad. How much does the gender of the artist inform our opinions of the music we deem “good”?
As someone who has loved music for as long as I can remember, one of the things in which I take pride is overcoming boundaries between genres and appreciating good sounds that can come from any style of music. Growing up loving rock, I went into my adolescence learning to love hip-hop and r&b. In college, I took on a radio show my freshman year in the only time slot available, the blues, every Wed. from 3-6 pm. This brought me into a world of music I never had the opportunity to appreciate, beginning with blues, and stemming out to jazz, folk and country. Mark Twain said that “Travel is fatal to all prejudices” and this is certainly true with my musical taste as well, as trips abroad helped me gain respect for Irish reels, Spanish flamenco guitar, Portuguese fado, and the beautiful sounds of stringed instruments in China such as the pipa and zheng. And yet, I’ll still admit that, like most men I know, the majority of the tunes I put on during my day, regardless of the genre, are performed by men.
Despite that long monologue, my intentions with this post is to turn it over to the readers and open up a discussion. Maybe a wide range of perspectives can help deteriorate the gender walls we put up around the way we view our worlds, or at least the music we put in our ears.I look forward to your opinions. Post 'em and lunch is on me!