Writing about World Music

Davidson College, Fall 2015

Gender in Ethnomusicology

A reoccurring topic in our posts and in class has been the lack of female musicians in ethnography’s. However, we haven’t focused as much on the lack of female ethnographers. In the recent Society for Ethnomusicology, one of the panels addressed this issue with 4 female ethnographers talking about their experience in the field. My favorite speaker was Ellen Koskoff from the Eastman School of Music. Her talk was called “Plus two and minus two: Being white, heterosexual, Jewish and female in ethnomusicology”.

In her talk, she explained the reason for her title was a speaker came to talk at Eastman School and listed traits of a Dominant Group and a Subordinate Group. Her traits in the Dominant Group were white and heterosexual and in the Subordinate Group were Jewish and Female. The speaker also noted that people with traits in the Dominant Group were normally the ones who committed micro-agressions due to their status.

Ellen Koskoff then traced how the situations she found herself in when in the field, reflected this idea. She researched in two very different parts of the world: Brooklyn, NY with ultra-orthodox Jews and Bali with a small ensemble. What she found was that depending on where she was researching, her “pluses” and “minus’s” were different. For example in Brooklyn, she found that being heterosexual and female were her “minus’s” because men thought she was there to find a husband(even though she definitely was not), which got in the way of her studies. This makes complete sense that “plus’s and minus’s” would change from society to society, yet this is not something that I would recognize right away without having experience like Dr. Koskoff did or hearing about it from someone else. I find this to be very interesting to see what causes these “plus’s and minus’s” and how this could be changed.


1 Comment

  1. I think this is very interesting mainly because past the lack of female ethnographers, there’s a lack of female musicians being studied. This is partly because of the more patriarchal hierarchy that is found in other countries where men have dominated the music scene, while women have a small participation role in the creative process. Consider Bohlman’s comments regarding Madonna in “Musicology as a Political Act,” despite it being 22 years old, some of what he claims still holds truth. Are we ready to start studying the ‘new’ types of music that women have the chance to produce? Is the dominant group, as Koskoff puts it, ready to work symbiotically with the subordinate group?

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