- Someday They Will Dance
In early 2010 a book chapter by feminist scholar Roberta Lamb asserting that the ostensibly radical MayDay Group is hegemonic and exclusionary drew a firestorm of criticism.1 Prominent members of the MayDay Group, which is composed largely of music education researchers, peppered online and e-mail discussions with heated responses in defense of the group's policies and practices. In May of that year Professor Robert Walker, recently retired from the University of New South Wales, entered the fray. After stating that he has enjoyed reading Lamb's work for the past thirty years and reminding readers that he favors the eradication of gender discrimination, he quickly cut to the chase:
I have often wondered about the impact of the feminist onslaught on the realities of music education, in particular the education of young girls. I refer specifically to the fact that . . . I have seen [nothing] from any feminist writer in music education . . . about the embarrassing and degrading behaviour of so many young girls who seem to have no sense of musical worth or value, and instead make so clear their commitment to the most unmusical and illiterate pop stars.2
Next, Walker expressed dismay at witnessing young teenage girls' adulation of Justin Bieber, noting that the girls' responses were consistent with the [End Page 97] reactions of earlier generations to the Beatles and Madonna. He continued his assessment of young female fans: "They appear to have no critical faculties, no sense of musical worth and are only too ready to embarrass themselves, their families, and those who care about education." He then posed a question directly to Lamb: "What has your crusade done to ensure women are properly represented in music education at all levels achieved for female music education? I would say NOTHING has been achieved for female music education after watching yesterday about 3000 girls aged between 10 and 14 screaming and lying on the ground just because Justin Bieber was in Sydney."
Apparently assuming that all feminist scholars are female and that all feminist scholarship is about women, Walker issued the following challenge: "Isn't it time that female music educators attacked this display of pure ignorance and emotional abandon? What precisely do feminist music educators have to say about this disgraceful and disgusting display of abandon by female pre-teens and teenagers all over the world when any young, sexy male pop artist is presented to them for their titillation?"
Then Walker fired his parting shot: "To me it signifies failure of music education and especially failure of the strident feminist voice which I have tacitly supported over the last 30 years." He signed the posting "Cheers."
Walker's accusations are drearily familiar: incompetent, out of touch with reality, too strident, flighty, brainless, enslaved to raw emotion, and derelict in our responsibilities to properly educate our children—women of all ages, feminists in particular, are a deficient lot. Failures. A dissertation's worth of feminist critique could be conducted on his posting. At first I thought he was joking, but he wasn't, and among music education researchers, apparently, he isn't alone. Paul Woodford's book Democracy and Music Education: Liberalism, Ethics, and the Politics of Practice is but one among many recent examples indicating that a number of music education researchers hold rather dim views of feminists (despite claims to the contrary) and aren't afraid to express them.3 For example, overlooking the contributions of a host of feminist philosophers in music education, Woodford argues that critique of Bennett Reimer's philosophy of aesthetic education (some of which has been written by feminists, including me) is "misguided and needlessly divisive"; he claims that feminist and other critical scholarship has been penned by "self-appointed guardians of righteousness" and posits that the time has come for liberals to respond to these supposedly [End Page 98] misguided feminists and postmoderns by mounting "a spirited defense of a liberal music education."4 Which he does.
For me, the theme of this landmark Feminist Theory and Music Conference, "Looking Backward, Forward, and Sideways," is an invitation to reflect. Keeping a Maori perspective in mind—that we walk...