In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Women in Music

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Reference Works
  • Scores
  • Historical Background of Research on Women in Music
  • Women and Gender in Non-Western and Traditional Musics
  • Women and Gender in Popular Music
  • Lesbian Musicians and Musicality
  • Women as Professional Performers
  • Women as Amateur and Domestic Musicians

Music Women in Music
Heather Hadlock
  • LAST REVIEWED: 29 June 2011
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 June 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199757824-0078


Our current understanding of women in music began to take shape within the context of second-wave feminist activism of the 1970s, with its mission of promoting women’s voices and perspectives in contemporary arts and in the history of the arts. In the domains of both popular and art music, female musicians promoted each others’ work through women-centered orchestras, choruses, bands, and ensembles; concerts and festivals of women’s music; female networks for teaching, collaboration, and mentorship; and independent labels for recording and distributing music by women. Composers such as Pauline Oliveros explored and cultivated feminist musical aesthetics. Historical researchers sought to recover female composers previously neglected by historians, and to integrate their lives and works into the music-historical narrative and art music canon. At the same time, the framing of issues in terms of “women and music” created new tensions. Gender-based advocacy, in the form of courses, journals, concerts, festivals, and record labels, was indispensable for raising awareness and creating opportunities for women in music, but also threatened to perpetuate their status as marginal to the dominant discourses and institutions of music. Third-wave feminists of the late 1980s and 1990s pointed out that norms of feminine and masculine roles and behavior vary widely across social contexts, and that there is no universal experience of “women.” Research on women in music increasingly focuses on how gender is enmeshed with other categories such as race, ethnicity, social class, geographic region, political affiliation, and sexual orientation. In any particular time and place, the intersection of all these factors creates the conditions for women’s access to musical training, resources, audiences, publication, and professional careers. Women’s musical activities and contributions have become more visible in musicology as the discipline has deepened its engagement with performers, with popular music, with nonwritten musical activities, and with music as social event and embodied practice. The study of women in music thus takes place within broader theoretical investigations of how music reproduces, affirms, subverts, and transforms cultural norms of gender and sexuality.

General Overviews

No single-author textbook on women or gender in music has yet aimed for the radically inclusive narrative of music’s history that feminist historiography promises, or thoroughly problematized music history’s focus on composers and art music. Pendle 2004 is designed to supplement traditional music history textbooks, and follows their chronological and “great composer”–centered organization. Bowers and Tick 1986 has often been employed as an undergraduate textbook, but has no narrative thread to connect the studies of women in various domains of Western art music; the level of detail and disciplinary focus is more appropriate for readers at or above the graduate level. Bernstein 2004 focuses primarily on women as performers with a balanced presentation of European and world musics, art music and popular music, and historical and contemporary topics; the organization is thematic rather than chronological, and the editor’s introductions to each section make the book particularly valuable for teaching. Fragner, et al. 1998 acknowledges gender dynamics of performance and listening practices as well as composition, and popular music as well as art music; however, the German language limits its usefulness for teaching. Ammer 2003 is an effective textbook-style presentation of genres and gendered roles within American music.

  • Ammer, Christine. Unsung: A History of Women in American Music. 2d ed. Portland, OR: Amadeus, 2003.

    Significantly expanded and revised since the first edition of 1980. Surveys women’s activities as composers, instrumentalists, conductors, and teachers from the colonial period to the present. Includes art music, blues, jazz, ragtime, electronic music, mixed media, film, performance art, and women as patrons of music. Includes comprehensive bibliography.

  • Bernstein, Jane A., ed. Women’s Voices across Musical Worlds. Boston: Northeastern University Press, 2004.

    Essays examine literal and metaphorical voices of women as composers, performers, and ritual participants in musical cultures including India, Japan, Egypt, medieval and modern Europe, Italian opera, and American popular music. Accessible to an interdisciplinary readership and appropriate for advanced undergraduate and graduate students. Requires little or no score-reading ability. Includes comprehensive bibliographies.

  • Bowers, Jane M., and Judith Tick, eds. Women Making Music: The Western Art Tradition, 1150–1950. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1986.

    Essays on women as composers and performers in Western Europe and the United States. Introduction outlines historical constraints on women’s musical participation, including limited access to formal training, large forms, and professional careers, and the consequent exclusion of women from narratives of music history. Individual essays at a level appropriate for graduate students and advanced music undergraduates.

  • Fragner, Stefan, Jan Hemming, and Beate Kutschke. Gender und Musik: Geschlechterrollen und ihre Bedutiung für die Musikwissenschaft. Regensburg, Germany: ConBrio, 1998.

    Primary focus on 19th- and 20th-century art music; includes essays on composers, performers, popular music. Several theoretical essays address the relation of gender roles, music, canons, and musicology. Thirteen articles in German, five in English. Bibliography of mostly German sources; at the graduate level a valuable complement to Bernstein 2004, Bowers and Tick 1986.

  • Pendle, Karin. Women and Music: A History. 2d ed. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2004.

    Designed as an introductory survey of women composers in the Western art music tradition; may stand alone or supplement traditional music history survey courses. Fragmentary and relatively unsophisticated chapters on popular music and world music.

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