In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Gender and Sexuality in Music

  • Introduction
  • Queer and Feminist Interventions
  • Review Essays
  • Bibliographies
  • Biographical Approaches to Lesbian, Gay, and Queer Musicians
  • Gender and Sexuality in Music Theory
  • Music and Violence
  • Masculinity Studies
  • Twentieth- and Twenty-First-Century Popular Music

Music Gender and Sexuality in Music
Emily Wilbourne
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 April 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199757824-0198


The field of gender and sexuality studies emerged in the wake of feminist musicology and work on women in music (cf. Women and Music). While frequently deployed in amalgamated form, two distinct if related dimensions of scholarly inquiry are invoked. The term “gender” marks a distinction between a presumed biological sex (male or female) and the systems by which sex differences affect embodied experience (masculinity and femininity). “Gender studies” thus expands feminist methodologies beyond the topic of “women,” incorporating men and masculinity along with trans*, non-fixed, and cross-gendered subject positions. While the term “gender” can indicate a shift away from identity politics and positions, it more frequently represents an attempt at a more inclusive or nuanced set of identities. In contrast, the term “sexuality” calls attention to various modes of desire, particularly the ways in which desires are policed and/or authorized by the dominant power structures of a given society. As such, sexuality studies have been strongly influenced by gay and lesbian studies and queer theory. Importantly, “gender” and “sexuality” are inextricably linked: as Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick makes clear, gender is built into the very definition of the terms “heterosexuality” and “homosexuality.” Gender and sexuality studies are particularly reliant on English-language and specifically North American academic cultures; the bibliography reflects this reliance. The relevance of gender and sexuality for music scholarship emerges in relation to musical meaning or context, whether historical, ethnographic, or analytic. Both “gender” and “sexuality” mark the bodies and the lived experiences of groups and individuals in ways that provide unequal access to cultural, physical, and psychic resources, including but not limited to behavioral norms, education, careers, finances, and political power. Music interacts with each of these fields, and the rich descriptive and analytic dimensions of scholarship into gender and sexuality have proved illuminating to questions such as: Who makes music, and for whom? What kind of music is made? How did music signify, how does it signify now? What was represented? How did (or does) musical performance or consumption respond to or shape social norms? Such questions assume that music is a practice—created, appreciated, and utilized by particularly situated people at specific historical times. Each assumes a benefit from working to understand how music functions within society. Importantly, scholarship on gender and sexuality is often political, not only predicated on an ethical imperative that recognizes the humanity of the scholar, of her readers, and of her music-making subjects, but actively working to untangle or dismantle prejudice and inequality. In recent years, music scholarship on gender and sexuality has become increasingly intersectional, positing both gender and sexuality as axes in a larger context that considers race, ethnicity, class, citizenship, and disability alongside other categorical terms.


The emergence of scholarly work on gender, sexuality, and music can be dated with precision: a flurry of publications during the early 1990s reflects the impact of conference papers and presentations given during the late 1980s. The early works in the field of gender and sexuality studies were part of the “New Musicology” and of a disciplinary shift toward cultural critique. As such, most made an explicit claim to disciplinary legitimacy.

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