Imprimir Republish


The impacts of the gender imbalance in music

Researchers assess how inequality affects women's careers in music

Veridiana Scarpelli

“You play like a man.” Several of the 12 female Brazilian musicians interviewed by the project “AMPLIFYhER: Voicing the experience of women musicians in Brazil” reported having heard this kind of comment throughout their musical career. “I don’t know a single woman in this field who hasn’t run into this kind of sexist remark disguised as a compliment,” notes Lilian Campesato, an artist with ties to the São Paulo experimental music scene and one of the researchers on the project.

The project, funded by the UK’s Global Challenges and completed last year, brought together researchers from Manchester Metropolitan University in England, Edinburgh Napier University in Scotland, and the School of Communications and Arts at the University of São Paulo (ECA-USP), including Campesato, who has a postdoctoral degree in music. “This was a pilot study that sought to assess the challenges faced by women in the Brazilian music industry,” explains Portuguese researcher José Dias, creator of the initiative and a professor at Coventry University’s Centre for Arts, Memory, and Communities, in England.

A guitarist and jazz scholar, Dias says that the idea emerged out of a sense of personal unease. “Throughout the history of jazz, men are protagonists, while women continue to be relegated to secondary roles. Practices from the past continue to reverberate into the present. There are far more women singing than playing double bass, for example. Not to mention that very few jazz teachers and festival organizers are women,” he observes.

The problem is not confined to jazz. A famous case in classical music is Maria Anna Mozart (1751–1829), who during childhood showed as much aptitude for music as her younger brother, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756–1791). However, she was prevented from performing in public, because at that time it was socially unacceptable for a woman to pursue a career as an instrumentalist. In her book Minha história das mulheres (My stories of women; Editora Contexto, 2006), French historian Michelle Perrot notes: “And in music? There are many obstacles. Created by families for a start […]. The father of Félix [1809–1847] and Fanny [1805–1847] Mendelssohn, who were equally gifted, wrote to his daughter in 1820 regarding music: ‘It is possible that for him, music will become a profession, while for you it will always remain but an ornament.’” A German pianist and composer, Fanny Mendelssohn left a catalog of roughly 460 works

“Machismo is widespread in music,” notes Rogério Luiz Moraes Costa of ECA-USP’s Music Department and coordinator of AMPLIFYhER’s activities in Brazil. “During our research, we interviewed musicians not only from the jazz scene, but also from experimental, classical, and pop music,” he observes.

In European countries, including the United Kingdom, gender studies have had an impact on cultural policies

Race and age
One line of the scientific research was generational. Musicians at the beginning and middle of their careers were interviewed, as well as veteran professionals aged over 55. “It’s a universal issue: many women stop playing when they get pregnant and then face difficulties resuming their professional activity. There are a number of barriers for mothers. One of our interviewees, for example, said she was invited to perform in New York in the 1990s when her son was a baby but decided not to take the trip because of pressure from her husband—who is also a musician—and her own family. Everyone thought she should stay in Brazil to take care of the child,” Dias adds. These issues still arise today. It is no surprise, he says, that some of the women musicians interviewed stated they had postponed or given up on motherhood for professional reasons. “Male musicians don’t face this dilemma when it comes to parenting.”

Another parameter studied was race. Half of the interviewees were black, half were white. “All the black musicians stated that the lack of economic resources made it impossible for them to pursue a professional career, with instruments and childhood music lessons often unaffordable,” observes Campesato. She adds: “We chose to work with a small number of women so that it would be possible to investigate their journeys in depth.” In addition to individual and group interviews, the researchers held lectures and workshops to help participants grow their audiences, including online.

A report and 12 videos with testimonials from each of the interviewees are available online at Sonoras: Músicas e Feminismos, a website that is also a partner in the project. A collaborative network, created in 2015 in São Paulo, Sonoras brings together artists and researchers like Campesato to discuss gender issues in the world of music, and is backed by NuSom, USP’s Sonology Research Center (see Pesquisa FAPESP issue no. 290). “The aim is for these videos to be used in the classroom by elementary school teachers to inspire and encourage girls to pursue musical careers,” explains Costa.

Dias is currently planning the project’s next steps, which will draw a parallel between the music scenes in Brazil, Portugal, and the United Kingdom. “Each is different. The situation in Europe is far from perfect, but gender studies are having a significant impact on cultural policies there, especially in countries in the European Union,” says the researcher. According to Dias, this encourages state funds to ensure financial stability to independent associations fighting for gender parity in the music industry, for example. This is the objective of Keychange, a movement created in the UK in 2018 whose manifesto argues that European music festivals should feature an equal number of male and female performers. “It remains to be studied whether these initiatives have been successful in terms of increasing representation in the European music industry,” says Dias.

Women in numbers
The report “O que o Brasil ouve – Edição mulheres na música” (What Brazil listens to: Women in music edition), released in March 2022 by the Central Bureau for Collection and Distribution (ECAD), the Brazilian copyright collection agency, offers clues to the abyss between female and male participation in the Brazilian music market. According to the document, R$901 million in royalties were paid in 2021. Just over 7% of this amount went to women. In the same year, of the 100 songwriters and composers with the highest income, women accounted for just 4% of the total.

Veridiana Scarpelli

“There are areas in the music world that are totally dominated by men. Composing is one of them,” says musician and composer Isabel Nogueira, from the Arts Institute of the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul (UFRGS). Since 2016, she has been mapping the production of women involved in the field of experimental music and sound art in Brazil who use technology in their work. “Experimental music does not have this separation between the composer and the interpreter, meaning it could, in theory, be a more inclusive place for women. But that’s not what we see,” observes Nogueira, who coordinates the Sônicas Research Group on Gender, Body, and Music Studies at UFRGS. “Female artists in this sector also have to battle with the prejudice that women do not understand technology.”

Nogueira has been studying the relationship between gender and music for 25 years, and currently is developing a project on women composers in Porto Alegre. Part of this research is being done in partnership with Laila Rosa, from the School of Music at the Federal University of Bahia (UFBA), who is conducting the same type of analysis in the city of Salvador. “The idea is to go beyond mapping these composers and create a network connecting them,” explains the researcher from Rio Grande do Sul.

Nogueira observes that the topic of gender is still rarely discussed in the Brazilian music industry. “In fields such as history and literature, symposiums on the issue have been held at conferences for three decades. At ANPPOM [National Association for Research and Graduate Studies in Music], this only started in 2018,” she says. Another problem, according to the expert, is that most canonical literature on the subject was written by white men from the northern hemisphere. “To this day, many books consist of texts written exclusively by men. Obviously, all this creates obstacles for women in this field,” adds the composer, who recently edited the book The Body in Sound, Music and Performance (Routledge, 2022) with Linda O’Keeffe, of the University of Edinburgh, UK. The book is a collection of 17 articles by researchers from various countries including Brazil, Australia, the United States, and Norway.

A lack of credit
During her postdoctoral research conducted with support from FAPESP at the University of Campinas (UNICAMP) between 2014 and 2017, historian Ana Carolina Arruda de Toledo Murgel identified 7,675 female composers (lyrics and music) who worked in Brazil between the nineteenth and twenty-first centuries. Most are from the twentieth century, but there are records of female musicians from the previous century: the list includes the names of 102 of them, such as pianist Ambrosina de Saint-Brisson Corrêa (?–1937), who wrote, among other works, the polka piece Anarchista (1892) and the waltz piece Alma errante (1898).

Murgel says that during the study she found composers whose authorship was credited on discs but not registered with ECAD. Such is the case of Brazilian poet and ambassador Dora Vasconcellos (1910–1973), who partnered with the renowned composer and conductor Heitor Villa-Lobos (1887–1959) on songs including Cair da tarde and Melodia sentimental. “There are many recordings of these songs, precisely because of their lyrics, but ECAD only collects royalties on behalf of Villa-Lobos. With the exception of the 1956 song Eu te amo, Dora Vasconcellos is not named as a partner by the copyright bureau,” says Murgel.

Part of the data collected by Murgel is provisionally available in the Cartographies repository for songs by women. The repository also contains work by writer Carolina Maria de Jesus (1914–1977), who released the album Quarto de despejo – Carolina Maria de Jesus cantando suas composições (1961, RCA-Victor; see Pesquisa FAPESP issue no. 308), and Carmen Miranda (1909–1955), who according to Murgel, co-wrote two of the songs she recorded in the 1930s: Os hôme implica comigo, written in partnership with Pixinguinha (1897–1973), and Por ti estou presa, written with Josué de Barros (1888–1959). “Journalists and critics usually refer to better-known names such as Chiquinha Gonzaga [1847–1935], Maysa [1936–1977], and Dolores Duran [1930–1959], but there are many other composers who deserve to be recognized and studied,” concludes Murgel.

Cartographies of female song: Brazilian composers in the twentieth century (no. 13/26195-2); Grant Mechanism Postdoctoral Fellowship; Supervisor Luzia Margareth Rago; Beneficiary Ana Carolina de Arruda Toledo Murgel; Investment R$241,085.77.