What did the researchers want to know?
Do older students perceive stronger gender stereotypes among musical instruments than younger students? Can exposure to counter-stereotyped musicians affect students’ instrument preferences?
Given that existing research shows many women perceive gender-related discrimination in their jobs as secondary band teachers, is there a significant association between band festival ratings and director gender at the middle school or high school level?
What did the researchers do?
Pickering and Repacholi conducted a study involving 156 kindergarten students and 158 fourth-grade students. They showed the students videos of high-school musicians playing one of eight instruments that had previously been identified as either feminine (flute, violin, clarinet, cello) or masculine (drum, saxophone, trumpet, trombone) by Australian adults. The musicians wore school uniforms and all played the same musical excerpt. Participants were divided into three groups: one who viewed videos that aligned with gender stereotypes (e.g., females playing “feminine” instruments and males playing “masculine” instruments), one who viewed “counter-stereotyped” musicians (e.g., males playing “feminine” instruments and females playing “masculine” instruments), and one who simply viewed a static image of the instrument (with no musician visible). Pickering and Repacholi had each student view their assigned videos individually (in a room separate from their classroom) and then asked them which instrument they would most like to play.
Shouldice and Eastridge accessed 6 years (2013-2018) of District Concert Assessment ratings sponsored by the Virginia Band and Orchestra Directors Association (VBODA), which are publicly available on the VBODA website. Data included ensembles’ overall performance ratings and director names, which Shouldice and Eastridge used to code each ensemble performance according to the assumed gender (male/ female) of the director(s). If the first name of a director was ambiguous or gender-neutral (e.g., Robin, Jamie), they performed an internet search to ascertain gender (via pronouns, title, and/or photograph). Finally, Shouldice and Eastridge then conducted statistical analyses to ascertain the percentages of ensembles receiving each rating (by level and director gender) and whether there was a statistically significant relationship between director gender and overall performance rating.
What did the researchers find?
Students in the control group (who saw static images rather than musicians) were significantly more likely to select instruments consistent with gender stereotypes than those inconsistent with gender stereotypes. There were, however, no significant differences in stereotyping by gender or age.
When all three groups were compared, Pickering and Repacholi found that students in the control group and the gender-consistent group were equally likely to prefer gender-consistent instruments. However, students exposed to the counter-examples were significantly less likely to choose gender-consistent instruments.
At both the middle school and high school levels, male-directed ensembles were more likely to receive a I rating while female-directed ensembles more likely to receive a II rating. The table below shows the percentages of ensembles receiving each rating by director gender, and the bar chart shows the comparison of I and II ratings by gender and level.
*Due to required assumptions of the Chi-Square test, multiple ensemble performances from the same director were randomly removed so that only one listing was included for each director, which is why 3,229 performances are reflected in Table 1 but only 730 in Figure 1.
What does this mean for my classroom?
The issue of gender-stereotyping of instruments persists in music education. However, the results of this study suggest that exposing students to musicians who defy gender stereotypes can help them resist rather than perpetuate these stereotypes. When choosing audio/video or live examples for use in the music classroom, music educators should be conscious of who is represented and work to actively combat gender stereotypes. In addition to noticing the gender of instrumentalists featured in the music classroom, teachers should also pay attention to the gender of composers and conductors so that students see women represented in these roles. Music educators might also notice who is (or is not) represented in our professional materials, such as textbooks and journals. (For example, this study shows that women have been much less likely to be represented as conductors in photographs published in the Music Educators Journal.) Similarly, teachers can notice the race/ethnicity of those who are represented. This noticing is the first step to taking action in ensuring that the representation in our classrooms is one that allows ALL students to see themselves represented in a diversity of musical roles.
We cannot definitively infer the cause behind the association between ensemble ratings and director gender discovered by Shouldice and Eastridge. However, it is worth reflecting on possible explanations for this finding. One explanation might be that societal norms expect and permit men to display the behaviors and characteristics that are associated with being a successful band director (such as assertiveness and competitiveness) whereas these traits may be less expected and/or acceptable in women. Another potential explanation could be that women are more likely to be hired for band teaching jobs in smaller and/or rural schools/districts, which may be more likely to earn lower ratings than ensembles from larger school districts. Finally, female-directed bands may receive lower ratings than male-directed bands as a result of gender bias, either explicit or implicit.
One possibility is that gender bias might influence judges to rate female-directed groups differently than male-directed groups. Given that previous research findings suggest larger ensembles or those performing more difficult classifications of music may tend to receive higher ratings than smaller ensembles or those performing easier music, it is also possible that gender bias may be an influence in the hiring practices that lead to greater numbers of men than women securing jobs in larger, more prestigious programs that are likely to perform more advanced repertoire.
The results of this study indicate that although improving, a gender imbalance still exists in the secondary band teaching profession. Discrimination in the hiring process may be one possible explanation for this persistent gender imbalance, as suggested by findings of existing research. It is critical that those involved in the hiring process examine their own biases and actively work toward more equitable hiring of men and women. It is also crucial to strive for more equitable representation of women in the field of secondary band teaching. Rather than reinforcing the common image of conductor as male, music educators and music teacher educators might actively work to provide students with images of women in these teaching roles.