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 and expressed in genderqueer or thirdgender persons.

Recently, 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 regarding APRA, that they’re a necessity, I also 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 or ‘women’ as a placeholder for White, straight, able, middle class women in general. However, these initiatives and, particularly, this study, are very good starting points. They do a good job of taking the pulse of the status quo.

‘Being’ a woman prescribes certain behaviours in social and cultural contexts, and is tied up with inclinations that operate at kin, cultural and subconscious levels. But, as feminism grappled with some time ago, gender is not the only salient form of oppression (Yeatman 1993); and women who do not experience ethnicity, race, class, sexuality, or disability may need to develop an 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. If a woman gets a supported opportunity in the music industry, or resiliently finds her way in, she might come up against everyday racism/ablism/classism that is entrenched implicitly in the culture. Opportunities also stop as female musicians get older (see Christine Anu’s story). We need to recognise that we are not only dealing with ‘opportunity’, with but process and existence. The social toll (what does it take to ‘be part of this’?) of professional belonging on a person of difference is significant.

While primarily this has to do with sexism, with men not 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 of difference — the how you got here, it is a blocking of the uncomfortableness of structural privilege. It is not being aware of our colonial 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.