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Women and Music: A Journal of Gender and Culture 8 (2004) 47-60

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Feminist Waves and Classical Music:

Pedagogy, Performance, Research

When Judy Tsou asked me to participate in this session, I was excited but didn't know what I'd speak about. Not long after, a newsletter from the women's studies program at Rice came my way. It was titled "A Special Issue Highlighting 'Young Feminism.' " This grabbed my attention. The lead article was an interview with a member of the English department, Prof. Krista Comer, called "Surfing the Third Wave." I read on. She is to offer a new course entitled "Third Wave Feminist Cultures." Focusing on third-wave feminist cultures of the United States and Britain, it will embrace "social movements, literary representations, popular culture, and music, especially feminist punk." Third-wavers—born between 1965 and 1979, who came of age starting in the late 1980s—"grew up with popular culture specifically targeted to a mass youth audience.. . . They were raised on the new consumer culture of the last two decades, and that fact has huge ramifications." And so what would be the second wave? The term "second-wave feminism" applies to the feminism "of the late 60s and 70s, a popular-front social change movement that made its way into universities, legal policy, government agencies, and female-advocacy programs." As Comer observes, "In institutions of higher education the big agenda items concerned identifying the sites of women's oppression, theorizing it, and theorizing interventions upon it. Second-wave feminism is clearly closely identified with women's studies programs and pedagogy today. Second-wave feminists tend to be perceived—often wrongly—to represent women as victims."

Well, this was really interesting and, I have to admit, rather new—at least the term "third wave." Ideas began to roll around in my head, and I realized that they might open a door [End Page 47] to theorizing various impressions I had about changes in students and their reactions to woman-centered issues and history. Perhaps the wave idea would also shed light on certain issues in mass culture and in music that I've been thinking about. Aha! I said, and so I told Judy I'd like to do something on third-wave feminism for the panel.

In discussing third-wave feminism I'd like to offer observations from experiences in teaching, and in observing ordinary life. I've read helpful sources on third-wave feminism and spoken with Krista Comer. But I'd like to ground many of my remarks in anecdotes and personal observations, and then make connections with the second and third waves.

Let me state the obvious: by generation (but I think by much more), I'm a second-waver. Most of my research in women and music dates from the 1970s and 1980s, and these were the years in which serious research on women composers and their music began. This was a time of discovery, recuperation, and dissemination: identifying the who, what, when, and where, and doing editions and recordings of forgotten works.1 The recuperative work waned somewhat in the 1990s, as studies on women became more interpretive and more broad based culturally. The "how" questions were now explored in greater detail. This accompanied major inroads from other disciplines, for example, narrative theory, anthropology, art history, psychology, and sociology.2

To return to my position in terms of the waves: although I am mostly a second-waver, I like to think that I am not purely a second-waver. As the essay reveals, the terms are sometimes problematic, and there may be multiple interpretations of what they mean. So let's say I am more a second-waver than a third-waver. Despite the ambiguities, my age and formative research sensibilities place me in that category.

The essay divides into two large sections. In part 1 I introduce the concepts of second-and third-wave feminism and offer examples of how they apply to pedagogy and performance. This combines personal observation and...


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