ain't baroque! :||
Don't Fix It

You play like a girl!

To start, let me say yes, I agree with you: there are certainly lots of very manly men in the arts. Baryshnikov, for example. James Galway butches up the flute. Yet it is often observed, and I have observed it myself, that the arts (especially the administrative side) are primarily dominated by women.

If you wish to refute this claim, I’m sure you can, and you are free to do so in the comments and give many examples. All I’m saying is that when I worked at the BSO, a good 90% of the fellow employees I encountered were of the feminine persuasion. And I’m idly curious: why do you think that is?

What I’m not idly curious about is the question of whether the cultivation of the arts is considered a girl’s domain, kind of like rearing of children is used to be is used to be [figure this one out yourself].

I raise this question — and please don’t hate me for this; I know it’s cliche to look to the White House for an indication of social norms but I can’t help it — because of a story I read in The Washington Post about the White House Music Series. The article talks about how Michelle Obama hosted and organized it, and made the decisions, and is so into the arts, etc. etc.

I wonder: why is this the duty of the First Lady? Because Shelley O. has a particular love of the arts? Sure, but historically the arts have always been the First Lady’s domain. From the article:

Historically it has always fallen to the East Wing to take the administration’s arts policy and translate it into programs, parties and, ultimately, mythology.

Jackie Kennedy used the arts to help Americans see themselves as cosmopolitan and the White House as a place of grand sophistication. Lady Bird Johnson’s focus on “beautification” quietly highlighted environmentalism, the notion that our surroundings help shape our sense of self and that natural beauty was as vital to the country’s legacy as any painting or sculpture.

And Laura Bush, while perhaps best known for inaugurating the National Book Festival, also dedicated much of President George W. Bush’s second term to using the arts as a tool for international diplomacy in places such as Pakistan.

Is it because Obama has more important things to do? As compared to what? He attends environmental summits and talks economy in Hollywood; do the arts not deserve his equal attention?

Don’t get me wrong; I adore that Mrs. Obama is so firm in her resolve to showcase the arts and has established these outreach programs. I just wonder why the onus falls upon her, and has fallen upon First Ladies before her. Am I being overly sensitive? I’m generally not too worried about gender roles, but it’s not impossible. Perhaps I’m underinformed — I’m pretty apolitical. Maybe you can give me some examples of past presidents doing their own thing with the arts. I just wonder.

About Jenn

Despite being the former digital marketing intern at the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, Jenn German does not like Mozart. Beethoven could've totally beaten him up. Also she has an arts management graduate degree from American University, but this changes nothing.


7 thoughts on “You play like a girl!

  1. “James Galway butches up the flute” made me laugh so hard, students came to my office to see if I was ok. “Why are you crying?” they asked… I had no explanation.

    PS – continue your reign of awesomeness.

    PPS – 90%!?!? I need to apply for your old job! 😉

    Peace out –

    Dr. Carney

    Posted by Dr. Carney | August 19, 2010, 9:52 am
  2. Interestingly, look at jazz and you’ll see the opposite ratio…

    But, as far as the First Lady business, I think it has to do with the dichotomy between a near-superhuman President and the down-to-earth wife. Almost every president is viewed with a sort of heroic regard and esteem, and often it’s the wife that reminds the public that yeah he’s actually a person. This human warmth is probably why First Ladies are the ones that end up involved in the arts.

    Then again, you have Bill Clinton. His tone actually wasn’t bad.

    Posted by Aram | August 20, 2010, 8:53 am
    • Oh, right! I forgot Bill Clinton played the sax, even with the Animaniacs to remind me. Still, that’s not really cultivation or promotion.

      Interesting point. I guess that’s why they’re called “humanities.”

      Posted by Jenn | August 20, 2010, 9:45 am
  3. Aram makes a good point. My guess is that arts promotion would be one more thing for the opposition to complain about come election time. The unfortunate reality is that many Americans view the arts as a luxury, not a necessity. This is especially evident in public school systems where music and art are the first to be pruned from the budget. I think Mrs. Obama spearheading arts advocacy is a way for the White House to publicly support the industry in a manner that shields it from being criticized as an undue presidential priority.

    Posted by Colin Oettle | August 28, 2010, 10:19 pm
    • Excellent point. However, Obama did have a planned arts policy during his campaign. Do you think that made him vulnerable, or was it implied the First Lady would be implementing it?

      Posted by Jenn | August 29, 2010, 9:13 pm


  1. Pingback: James Galway’s tears can cure cancer — too bad he never cries « If it ain't Baroque… - March 17, 2011

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