As a feminist I have grown up with the catch phrase that the personal is political. To me this means that if I see something I think is wrong or problematic in the world, I can be part of the solution to that problem. By joining organisations that promote positive change, by raising my voice, by writing, and by influencing those around me to care about making real changes the world can be a better place not just for me but especially for those who have not experienced my opportunities and privileges.
As I get older and have more experience in the world I am increasingly aware that the gains I expected for women across the globe to attain by now in relation to parity in employment, income, and opportunity remain elusive and are difficult to keep at front and centre of campaigns for change, especially when so many other aspects of current society require massive re-thinking and action; climate change, the ailing economy dragged down by corruption and scandal in the unrepentant banking sector, the renewed realisation of the vast epidemic of child sexual abuse, and our highly problematic food chain to name but a few. I also am aware that many people, men and women, find the word feminism too loaded and branded and they don’t like to be associated with it. To them I say let’s remember that feminism is about human rights. How can we as therapists, and especially music therapists with our remit to provide care and support to many of the most vulnerable in our own societies and those of the developing world, not embrace the principles of human rights? We should and we must.
Feminism is concerned with highlighting and changing disparity and injustice. This can be in gender terms, but also in terms of other markers of difference and marginalisation. However, working within the university environment which is recognised as a bastion of patriarchal power, I see many examples of women finding it difficult if not impossible to compete successfully. University appointments at professorial level are a relevant case in point. I have seen many examples where given even better qualifications, experience, track record and more publications than a man, a woman will not be appointed. If she asks for an explanation it is still legally possible for HR to indicate that the ‘fit’ was not considered to be quite right with the team while a man with far fewer publications, little grant income, few or even zero PhDs supervised to completion makes his way into a well paid position at a higher level than a woman who thought she was competing fairly and openly. I don’t always know how to advise women about this, or even to think about why this can happen. Gender balanced panels are certainly a necessary starting point, but panel members are not required to accept that gender biases exist and are not expected to compensate for favourable bias towards male applicants. This is in spite of multiple research findings that support the contention that women are not viewed as highly as men in academia even when equivalent in every other way – gender bias has been proven to be prevalent and relentless.
Research about sexism in academia consistently finds that in spite of age, gender, teaching field or tenure status academics are biased positively towards men. The New York Times recently reported a US based study in which professors were asked to provide a score of academic competence and starting salary for a mythical profile of a not particularly high achieving new graduate which was sent to some participants with the name ‘John’ and to some with ‘Jennifer’. The report of the study explains the finding thus,
About 30 percent of the professors, 127 in all, responded. (They were asked not to discuss the study with colleagues, limiting the chance that they would compare notes and realize its purpose.) On a scale of 1 to 7, with 7 being highest, professors gave John an average score of 4 for competence and Jennifer 3.3. John was also seen more favorably as someone they might hire for their laboratories or would be willing to mentor. The average starting salary offered to Jennifer was $26,508. To John it was $30,328. (http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/25/science/bias-persists-against-women-of... )
I sometimes wonder whether this might in simple terms be attributed to the possibility that because most of the people who work in universities studied their undergraduate degree with a predominantly male professoriate we have a "normalised" view of faculty as male. Therefore, we cannot perceive our own bias with regards the normalisation of gender roles in universities. I note this the many times that people have addressed me in a letter as Jane while referring to my colleagues or collaborators as Professor so and so (sometimes in the same letter), or when a report respectfully includes all the titles of male colleagues involved in a project, and I am listed without my title. Recently as one of the few female speakers on a panel at a conference I asked the moderator to be sure to introduce me as Professor though I didn’t say I was especially requesting he do so because he had not used titles for the women who spoke ahead of me while using full academic titles for the male presenters. He actually got quite cross with me; but he did introduce me using my title.
A young colleague recently told me that she is working in a university where she has been shown the statistic that only 3% of the professors in the university are female. She says this is presented to her as a fact that cannot be changed, but even worse as if women are to blame for not doing the right things to get ahead. She has formed the view that men who try to explain this statistic to her believe that their own career success has occurred within a gender neutral environment of individual achievement, it is therefore obvious to them that women are responsible for their absence at the highest ranks of the academic ladder. Dr Teresa Moore’s thesis (Moore, 2003) provides exceptional narratives of the experience of women working in universities, and is rather sobering reading. Her research found “continuing covert strategies of marginalization that reproduce women’s positioning on the margins of mainstream academia” (Moore, 2003, p. ii). It is difficult to know how to react to and challenge the contexts in which these findings are encountered, as gender bias can be so hidden and unremarked. What to advise up and coming colleagues – working hard is not the only requirement. It is important to realise the power hierarchy and to find strategies by which to challenge its dominance. Mentoring, encouraging, valuing, promoting, and explaining are a useful start.
When I commenced working at the University of Limerick there was one female professor working in the university. Not even a percentage, just a number: 1. Now we have many more female professors. Numbers 2 and 3 were appointed from panels on which I served. It has recently been recorded that the University of Limerick has 34% female professors. http://www.ul.ie/news-centre/news/ul-selected-to-participate-in-eu-funde... I wonder whether at UL once there were 3 female professors it seemed possible to have more, and whether for the many years there was just one, it was difficult to imagine women’s presence as normal. One female representative on a board or committee to achieve gender balance targets cannot work, it is merely tokenism.
So what do these observations have to do with music therapy? Well, as many will be aware, a range of recent writings in music therapy have sought to address the minimal presence of critical perspectives from feminism and gender studies in music therapy, for example Hadley’s important edited book about feminism and music therapy (Hadley, 2006), and the recent special issue of the Arts in Psychotherapy on social justice edited by Professor Sandi Curtis see http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/journal/01974556/39/3 and the invited meeting at Concordia University, Montreal titled Gender, Health, and the Creative Arts Therapies held in 2012. This action and resulting body of work has encouraged music therapists to give broader reference to human rights perspectives in their work, and to be cognisant of issues of justice and parity. Of course it is very easy to criticise this body of work and discourse as rejecting men since no men were included in the Hadley book, or find limits in the aspects of feminism not covered in the book, and all of the human rights perspectives that are not adequately portrayed. But that is not really the point. The first steps are always wobbly, inadequate and missing some finesse and clarity. The point is that the first steps are taken and what happens next is not up to Professor Hadley or her collaborators, it is up to all of us. The positive reception to the feminist book allows other emergent social justice perspectives to be explored (for example, Baines, 2013; Hadley, 2013), and they have by no means yet either been covered to their capacity, or remain the sole exclusive of any music therapy practitioner or researcher. They are the responsibility of all of us, to explore, to explain, to learn, and to teach to others.
Music therapy has been developed as a professional practice that has a place in many different types of health and education facilities. Many music therapists will be the first practitioner that a team has encountered and is adapting to include. This creates a unique opportunity for music therapists. Maybe many of you, like me, have enjoyed the fresh new perspective an emergent role within an established team can bring. But we have a lot to learn of the perils of being the sole representative, being unique and yet in a small group or even a sole appointment, and being ‘different’. My experience is that sometimes music therapists are too involved in the specialness of being the only one. They cannot imagine working with another music therapist in a team. They are envious, competitive, and critical of other music therapists with whom they work closely. They are used to flying solo and enjoying it. Therefore succession plans are not factored, growth plans are non-existent, and many music therapy sole positions have a single line manager who is not a music therapist – no advisory board, no regular conference or seminar series, and no strategic plan. If advice is sought and taken often there is no acknowledgement of the source of the advice, no sense that one might gain power and status by having strong allies or seeking and promoting a wider net of advocacy than simply the words that can emerge from ones own head and mouth in support of a position one holds – the danger of perceived self interest is therefore potentially always at the fore as a way to perceive and sum up music therapy development plan.
A useful place to take a look at some of these development issues in music therapy programmes is in the PhD thesis of Dr Alison Ledger. Dr Ledger and I worked together on a project funded from the Irish Health Research Board which sought to look at experiences of music therapists starting out in an inaugural post. Not surprisingly between us we were able to find many positions worldwide where the incumbent music therapists fit the criteria, and the analysis of these practitioner narratives makes for interesting reading indeed (Ledger, 2010). Part of the thesis presents the findings an ethnographic study Dr Ledger undertook researching in a hospital setting where a new music therapy post had been developed. Alison describes many of the factors that she observed to be ‘hidden’ aspects of music therapy practice development (Ledger, 2010). Some of the work we undertook with the Professor Mike Morley who is Chair of Management at UL will be published later this year (Ledger, Edwards & Morley, 2013).
My personal view after recently re-reading Alison’s thesis is that we need to continue to encourage all music therapists to consider how they will work for growth in their organisation whether they are running a music therapy training course, leading developments in a community programme, or are a sole music therapist working all the hours to keep up with referrals. Growth, change and ambitious development are currently needed more than ever in music therapy. Collaboration, cross national inter-linking, and relentless funding applications are necessary. Now is not the time to sit back and imagine that music therapy will continue as it has done, especially if you are the only music therapy faculty member with tenure in the programme you teach, or are the only music therapy practitioner in your service faculty. Around the world there are immense threats to the capacity of music therapy, knowledge of music therapy, and the funding of music therapy posts and programmes. Some of these, such as the closure of the MA course in music therapy at the University of Queensland, which has passed almost completely unremarked and un-protested after 20 years of exemplary service, teaching, research, publications and grant income. Growth does not always protect from such disastrous events, but ambitiously planning and harvesting growth markers is essential in whichever environment we work.
Elsewhere Dr Joanne Loewy has described the ideal growth in music therapy programmes should occur horizontally as well as vertically (Loewy, 2007). I can see how this perspective has been key to my ability to keep tiny music therapy programmes alive in the universities where I have worked, and to grow and build capacity in healthcare facilities which employ music therapists. Horizontal growth is achieved through making strong links with other services, serving on committees that have a national or international remit, co-publishing with others outside of music therapy, and being liked rather than seen as a threat or behaving as if you think you are superior to, or more successful than others. But it is not enough for one person to stand up for music therapy services and capacity.
Collectively we must stop haranguing each other in music therapy with the accusation that one or the other is relentlessly ambitious and/or an empire builder. How can we say that about any one of us when in some areas of science professors have 400 people working in their lab? We see these men as successful, not only ambitious and their ambition is unremarked. It is OK for music therapists including of course female music therapists to be highly ambitious. I suggest that any time you hear a music therapist describing another as ambitious, especially when this intended as a put-down for a female colleague, challenge them to re-word the statement using successful instead of ambitious. Then the person’s envy will be evident, maybe not for them to see or hear at that particular juncture but possibly through later quiet reflection. Growth and ambition are friends. Ambitious growth plans during an economic downturn are essential. Rather than criticising growth agents and the many individuals who feel empowered and permitted to think big, it is a crucial time to encourage anyone with the energy, gumption and know-how to build and grow music therapy programmes, even if we don’t always like them very much.
Postlude: action speaks louder – reading, thinking and remonstrating often are just the beginning. To take action, I encourage you to join in. Some readers may be interested to participate in the Half the Sky movement http://www.halftheskymovement.org/pages/book
But there are many other ways to be advocates for change in the world – just look around you for a chance to make a difference.
Baines, S. (2013). Music therapy as an anti-oppressive practice. The Arts in Psychotherapy, 40(1), 1-5.
Hadley, S. (forthcoming 2013)(Ed). Exploring race, exploring ourselves: Music Therapists share their personal narratives. Gilsum, NH: Barcelona.
Hadley. S. (2006)(Ed.). Feminist perspectives in music therapy. Gilsum, NH: Barcelona.
Ledger, A. (2010). Am I a Founder or am I a Fraud? Music therapists’ experiences in service development. The University of Limerick. Retrieved from http://ulir.ul.ie/bitstream/handle/10344/1131/Ledger_PhD_2010.pdf?sequen...
Ledger, A., Edwards, J. & Morley, M. (awaiting proofs). A change management perspective on the introduction of music therapy to interprofessional teams. Journal of Health Organization and Management.
Loewy, J. V. (2007). Developing music therapy programs in medical practice and healthcare communities. In Jane Edwards (Ed.), Music: Promoting health and creating community in healthcare settings. Newcastle Upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars.
Moore, T. (2003). The gap between hope and happening: Feminist consciousness meet phallocentric smog in a regional Australian university. Central Queensland University. Retrieved from http://acquire.cqu.edu.au:8080/vital/access/manager/Repository/cqu:3367
Professor Jane Edwards, PhD
Director, Music & Health Research Group
University of Limerick
Edwards, Jane (2013). Universities, Music Therapy, and Change Advocacy. Voices: A World Forum for Music Therapy. Retrieved May 15, 2013, from http://testvoices.uib.no/?q=fortnightly-columns/2013-universities-music-therapy-and-change-advocacy