“Sexism is real in this country.” Kamela Harris
It’s part of a being woman conductor or composer to be looked on as something unusual. We’re called “strange” or “weird” and certainly not taken seriously. Folks focus on things about us, often not relating to the music, such as what we wear or how we present ourselves. It’s often subtle, and if you are a woman conductor, I would be very surprised if you have never experienced it.
What women musicians experience in classical music has often been subtle, not overt, sexism. It’s as simple as our names being left off a program or, in the case of the picture below, everyone’s name included EXCEPT the woman actually performing. Who was she, to be playing before such an illustrious jury at the Paris Conservatory? We’ll never know, because she wasn’t important enough to be named.
Gender bias and sexism are part of my professional life, whether I talk about it or not, and it’s difficult not to be exasperated when yet AGAIN I must deal with some fool and their misconceptions. I had some headshots taken last weekend, and it got me to thinking about my headshot story, especially as it relates to sexism in classical music. Today as I share that story, along with the accompanying headshots, I hope to get you thinking about what subtle sexism means.
This headshot is from 2010 or so, maybe a bit earlier, but probably the first taken with a digital camera/phone—can’t remember which. I had purchased a woman’s tuxedo jacket on sale and matching sparkly white shell to go underneath. I thought it would be great to conduct in but boy, was I wrong! When I got home, I tried and could not even raise my arms it was so tight. Since it was on sale and deeply discounted, I couldn’t return it. I decided it be great for headshots and decided to have a few taken. I tried wearing just the jacket, but it didn’t look right, and the sparkly white shell gave me just the right amount of coverage.
I’m a Moderator here at ChoralNet and still moderate three days a week. I began in 2011 and in that configuration, we had User Pages, sorta like Facebook but not quite, so folks could see what you looked like. I was Moderating one year around Christmastime and there was a NASTY, and I mean NASTY!!!, discussion in the Forums about Carmina Burana. I contacted the main Nasty Man and told him he could not call people names, this was not the place, blah, blah, blah. He called me a Shrill Woman, and judging from my headshot, no better than I should be with the amount of cleavage I was showing. He also disputed my morals. Look at it–no cleavage that I can see. But his comment inspired me for the NEXT time I had a headshot done.
This is my headshot from about 9/10 years ago. It’s a little old and I thought I should update with a new one now. My late Mom, a soprano, was going through her jewelry and dividing up her rhinestone sets–sopranos have to have a little bling and sparkle ya know–and gave a full set of rhinestone necklaces, earrings and bracelets to each of her daughters. I wore my set, with a stupendous black gown, to a fundraiser of a local orchestra. The photographer is a friend and I asked him to take some shots. Yes, there IS cleavage because if you’re gonna SAY I’m showing cleavage and I’m not, I’m eventually show cleavage! No one, to my knowledge, has ever said this was an inappropriate headshot or questioned my morals over it.
This headshot from last weekend makes me feel good about myself. I needed to see a current *me* and this is ME right now. Will someone misinterpret who I am and what I can do looking at my new headshot? I really don’t know but I have learned I have to feel comfortable with how I present myself, despite what anyone else says. I know who I am and must be true to those beliefs, despite, or perhaps, BECAUSE of my gender.