A Parent's Perspective on Gender Stereotypes in Music

Richard Thompson Ford

Richard Thompson Ford

Guest post by Richard Thompson Ford:

I just read your blog post on gender stereotypes. It's fascinating how many publishers use gender norms as a way to motivate students (or sell books). I see three different issues here:

  1. Gendered mascots - such as Mozart Mouse.
    Here the publishers might plead history - it's not our fault that most of the famous composers are men! But of course the question is whether we want to endorse that imbalance or try to correct it. Here the authors seem more heedless than culpable- they probably really didn't give it much thought.
  2. Gendered marketing.
    This may be the worst: the authors deliberately use gendered stereotypes as a shortcut to holding the interest of students. I have to wonder whether this stuff really works-- it seems corny to me and I suspect kids see through it. Here the authors probably say "it's not our fault that girls and boys like different things-- we're just recognizing these differences and using them to keep the kids engaged." But I like your point that this is a cheap and lazy shortcut: the right way to keep kids interested is to write interesting music. I really don't think any little boy is likely to keep practicing because there are superheroes on the book-- and of course girl like superheroes too.
  3. Gendered assumptions in song titles and subjects.
    It's interesting that something like "wannabe astronaut" might be okay in a book that wasn't gendered. Lots of kids want to be astronauts. But in a book for girls, it immediately smacks of condescension. "Oh how cute, she wants to be...an astronaut. Soon she'll learn that girls don't do that..."

I guess the largest point I took away is that music is one area where gender difference really doesn't matter -- even if you think it does matter in another area of life.  

Why introduce gender ideas that are of questionable validity in any context into a domain where they clearly don't have any justification?  

In addition to writing best selling books about civil rights, writing OpEd pieces for the New York Times and occasionally writing for Esquire, Ford finds time to drive his kids to piano lessons. You can watch him speak about Civil Rights and Gender Discrimination in this Ted Talk.