Nigel Marshall: Developing concepts of gender and musical instruments

In 1976, Merrill wrote advice for music teachers on how best to advertise for members in their choirs in a way that would not contravene the US Government amendment prohibiting discrimination on the grounds of gender. Pucciani (1983) writing some 7 years later, was still arguing strongly that it was now time to consider, ‘the major part played by music education in the perpetuation of injustices on the basis of gender’ (p.49), pointing out the stark contrast between the number of males who upon leaving school, made the music industry their career choice whilst music in schools was still considered to be a ‘feminine’ subject, (see also Eccles, 1993; O’Neill et al., 2002).

Although the intervening years have seen some minor changes in the gender balance within the UK music industry, (Sturges, 2004, Lindvall , 2009, 2010), a survey carried out by ‘Creative Choices’ between 2006 and 2008 reported that the balance of males and females throughout the music business still appeared to be around 66% to 34% in favour of males with the lowest level of imbalance appearing in the Retail and Distribution sector (56% – 44%). The survey also revealed that females were more likely to hold higher level qualifications than males and yet were more likely to receive the lower salary levels.

The past thirty years have seen numerous studies exploring the relationship between musical instruments and their associations with a particular gender. This paper reports on the results of a study which focussed on the developing association between gender and musical instruments in very young children and further explored the interaction between gender, instrument and musical style. The research used a 2 (gender) x 2 (musical style) x 7 (instrument) factoral design in which a ‘feminine’ or ‘masculine’ instrument was featured playing in a ‘masculine’ or ‘feminine style’. Our results suggested that prominent gender stereotypes for some instruments do appear to exist in very young children whilst in other instruments, gender associations appear to be also linked to the musical style in which they are represented and possibly the performance context in which they are experienced.