difficult gender

Gender continues to be difficult. The different dimensions one can approach gender through, the different lenses and ideologies, are many. In spheres of public life one’s identifiable gender, if one is a woman, is a noticeable and salient feature. If the sphere is one dominated by men like the output of much of electronic music generation, production and composition in subcultural, commercial and academic contexts then to think ‘gender’ is often, to think ‘women’. To be a woman or person of difference is to be noticed. Some women may want to be recognised as women in their difference and some women may not want that difference recognised, wishing that the accordant social roles would become background to the tasks at hand: composing, audio production, performing, engineering, publicity, mixing, DJing. There are feminists in music with both opinions.

Gender is not only about social roles or apparent physical sex, it is also about male-female difference in idea. Binary opposition, through culture, shapes understandings of male values as Universal and female values as contingent, lacking and deficient (Hansen 2000). These values operate beyond corporeality. For example, we may associate feminine with a queer man who is based in the home. While male/female seems distinctly binary in our society — most especially played out in mainstream cultural norms and family units — there is a continua where a sequence of imperceptible elements move from one edge to the other. This is the range of gender complexity, which is also becoming more widely recognised through transgender campaigning.

Recently, in the media there has been much talk about women being under-represented in the Australian music industry. This has sparked articles on the jazz sphere, a conference, and an APRA initiative. While I welcome all these initiatives and believe, particularly of APRA, that they’re necessary, I think there are some concerning blind spots. It is the role of feminism to draw attention to to the needs of a diversity of women and inequities. It is not the role of feminism to employ a term like gender as a placeholder for White, straight, able, middle class women in general. However, these initiatives and, particularly, this study, are good starting points. They do a good job of taking the pulse of the status quo.

‘Being’ a woman can be prescriptive in social and cultural contexts, and is tied up with power and inclinations that may be operating on a subconscious level. It takes mindfulness and awareness of the multiple and interlinked forms of oppression that can make lived experience a struggle for people of colour, for those with disabilities, mental illness, queer folk, the working class and the poor. In many instances, even if she gets a supported opportunity in the music industry, or claws her way in, everyday racism/ablism/classism occurs because the comportment of the person may not match the culture. Opportunities stop careers at a certain point (see Christine Anu’s story). There are insiders and outsiders and this can make existing within the culture difficult. There can be friction while one tries to adapt to the norms of the music industry.

While primarily this has to do with sexism, with men accommodating women, it is also about white women and those women who occupy positions of privilege accommodating women who do not. Failing to meet the reality of black experience and avoiding discussions on race is what Reni Eddo-Lodge believes white people do. It is the skating over difference and the how you got here, it is a blocking of the uncomfortableness of structural privilege. It is not being aware of our histories and trajectories. It is holding bold ambition in check, while listening for and with others; it is about including discussions on race in music and composition. It is acknowledging the fine-grained inter-dependency of the human, which is another way of speaking about diversity (Butler 2015). These are my aims. 

Threadbare: Ludmilla Petrushevskaya’s family drama

“Russia is a land of women Homers,” Petrushevskaya has said, and it is this informal narrative tradition of ordinary Russian women which gives shape to this novel.

Such women as the protagonist, Anna, who move us throughout day and night, through the piecemeal actions that patch her story, herself and her family, and who pull us into a bleak drama of family tensions that are quite often comedic. Anna is a struggling poet whose adult children continue to depend on her and use her. And it is through this window that Petrushevskaya’s language shows the striations and micropolitics of the Russian state.

Petrushevskaya’s novella has elements of purposeful realism brought into the domestic sphere. There are many details of Russian poverty, and yet there are glimpses of a life lived, Anna’s engagement with language, for example; her performance at readings. “The time: Night” is repeated throughout the novella and becomes like a rhythmic refrain, in which Anna unspools her thoughts about her family members, a different register each time. Aesthetically, it becomes linked with indoors, the place where she can write.”The time: Night”: and now a further narrative progresses that is not exactly linear.

Even though Anna’s voice is forthright, I think Petrushevskaya’s work has postmodern tendencies in that Anna does not present as a traditional subject. From the beginning it is clear that she is writing to her family from beyond the grave, and is a decentred/deconstructed construct. The conceit here is that her poems and narratives are on scraps of paper and telegrams. Character development is also disruptive in temporal peaks and troughs, and the novella tends to blur the line between tragedy and comedy. However, the force of affect is apparent in Anna’s desire to both connect and sever relations with her family members, and this is perhaps a sign that the gendered subject is in motion in a new way. This is most exemplified by Anna’s harsh questioning and refusal of the ‘mother’ role and, in turn, by her melodramatic swooning over her grandchild, Tima.