Inspired by Cate Burlington‘s sad-yet-hilarious post from 2015 called Actual words my coworkers have said to me, a woman in tech, I decided to contribute my own facepalm-worthy list (with commentary) of actual things that have been said (or in one case, written) to me, a female composer, by men. Have some of your own stories to share? Add them in the comments.

“Do you think women are really smart enough to write music? I mean, doing math I can understand, but composition is, like, really, really hard.”  Damn. Differential equations are totally doable, but double counterpoint…girl, don’t even try!

“There is always something wrong with music by women, except for String Quartet 1931 by Ruth Crawford Seeger. That one’s actually really good.” Really? And what’s wrong with music by women, exactly? “I can’t put my finger on it, but I know there’s something wrong.”

“I think it must be really hard for women to write music. They’re under so much pressure to be pretty.” Oh, god! The pressure…the terrible, terrible pressure! I can barely think, the urge to look at myself in the mirror and decide whether I’m pretty enough is so…overwhelming!

“YOU wrote that?” I know, right? How could I possibly have the upper-body strength, the masculine will, and the sheer hand-eye coordination to get those dots on the page?!

“I think it’s great that you’re going to school to become a composer. But just remember, when you get married, it’ll be your husband’s career that will be more important.”  Oh, what a relief! I was worried for a second there that I was going to have to support myself. Thank god I can leave that to the man of the house!

“I think it would be really hard to play music by a good-looking woman. I’d be so distracted all the time.”  Wait, I’ve got it! You could ban her from rehearsals and the performance so you can keep your head in the game.

“The world has plenty of male composers. Compose something with a feminine touch or that sounds feminine instead of trying to write some masculine multi-movement symphony.” Oh, sorry. I’ve been working too hard at writing music with rippling biceps and rock-hard abs…I’ll definitely put more soft curves and mystical allure into my next piece.




Actual words men have said to me, a female composer

10 thoughts on “Actual words men have said to me, a female composer

  • May 9, 2017 at 2:29 pm

    Actual words men have said to me, a female conductor:

    “Don’t take this the wrong way but you don’t look like a female conductor.” (Is there a right way to take that?) Very sadly, at the time, I was flattered.

  • May 9, 2017 at 3:59 pm

    I was often told (small southern town) that I was “too Caucasian to be a female conductor.” I was like, “so if I could magically change my ethnicity it would solve the msyogony? Yeah that’s not how it works.”

  • May 10, 2017 at 12:03 am

    …can’t believe you are a woman composer……………You must be a lesbian or something. (what sexual preference has to do with it, I don’t know)

  • May 10, 2017 at 3:19 am

    “You girls don’t need a daycare. You should be home, taking care of your kids”….. this told to a group of moms trying to start a daycare in our town, less than 6 years ago. Fricking Sad.

  • May 10, 2017 at 1:50 pm

    “My dear, it’s a shame you’re a woman, because you would have made a fine conductor.” This after insisting my way into the conducting class at a HS music camp, and winning the award three weeeks later for Outstanding Female Musician. 1960. Funny, I hadn’t even realized it was a shame I’m a woman.

    • May 10, 2017 at 10:10 pm

      Good lord.

      Thanks for sharing the track!

  • May 10, 2017 at 2:59 pm

    As a composer (who happens to have been born a male) and who has had the distinct pleasure of meeting several extraordinarily talented female colleagues over the course of my career, the only thing that I can say to this is … I’m both appalled and sorry that you’ve had to endure such insensitive treatment in your own career. There is no excuse for such ridiculous treatment of others, regardless of their gender, ethnicity, or any other reason. The only thing we should be concerned with when assessing someone’s ability as a composer (or musician, in general) is their talent–and their potential to develop in their role. Music is an extremely subjective field: what appeals to one individual may not appeal to another, but this should have nothing to do with the gender of the person creating the music.

  • May 10, 2017 at 8:53 pm

    I recently had a conversation with two male self-identified music enthusiasts at a New York restaurant that went something like this:

    THEM: So what do you do?
    ME: I am a composer.
    THEM: Oh, where have you been performed in New York?
    ME: So far just Carnegie Hall.
    THEM: You know what you should do, you should get in touch with this organization…I don’t remember their name, but they do house concerts! You could be having your music performed at house concerts you know!

  • May 11, 2017 at 1:24 am

    After telling a former BSO cellist (and teacher at Tanglewood) that I was studying to be a composer: “Keep scribbling!”

Comments are closed.