Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Women and Street Performing

(As I was writing this post, I happened to wander over to a friend's Facebook page and discovered that, in addition to being Mardi Gras, it's International Women's Day. So let's say this post is for International Women's Day, shall we?)

In doing some light reading, I found this about ancient Greek musical practice:

Among the musicians acclaimed for their recitals were a number of women, who were excluded by law from competing in the games, but special decrees gave exceptional performers the chance to be heard outside the framework of the contests. Women were limited to playing stringed instruments*, since the aulos was considered suitable only to slaves, courtesans, and entertainers.

I remembered an article I read about women and busking. The author of this piece is a singer, so much of the article involves the double standards around what she could acceptably sing and say in public and what men performing nearby could (hint: the guys got away with a lot more). I don't have to worry about lyrics, but I'm still quite aware that female buskers are in the minority. In the subway, I see a couple young women with guitars and a young woman who plays viola, and outside during the summers, I used to see a woman with her bagpipes, but otherwise, it's still very male-dominated.

In fact, until 2004, the following law (Police Rule 75) was still on the books in Boston: ""A female licensed itinerant musician shall not play a musical instrument in a street unless she is accompanied by an adult male licensed itinerant musician."

I believe that law was claimed to exist to protect women. It dates back to the 1850s, when a female busker would have attracted a great deal of the wrong kind of attention, as women were supposed to be at home caring for house, husband and children. I'm curious as to how many "female licensed itinerant musicians" there even were back in the day. The word "itinerant" carries the connotation of not having a fixed address, which I'm sure would have been particularly scandalous for a woman (she said speculatively).

There's a whole long sociological post that could be done around this issue, but I think this is enough for me for now.

*I've long found it interesting that today, the flute tends to be associated with women, but when I think of famous flautists, the first two names that spring to mind are James Galway and Jean-Pierre Rampal, who are...not women. I can't actually think of a famous female flautist.
And the Wikipedia list of flautists is distinctly male-dominated...India.Arie is the only woman whose name rings a bell.

1 comment:

eeka said...

Alanis! She plays flute crappily.

(Also, my word verification is dersphip. Which might be something one would say upon learning of the existence of said law.)