I became insane with long intervals of horrible sanity.
Edgar Allen Poe
The trouble with fighting for human freedom is that one spends most of one's time defending scoundrels. For it is against scoundrels that oppressive laws are first aimed, and oppression must be stopped at the beginning if it is to be stopped at all.
- H. L. Mencken
Many people would sooner die than think; In fact, they do so
What I have been telling you, from alpha to omega, what is the one great thing the sigil taught me — that everything in life is miraculous. For the sigil taught me that it rests within the power of each of us to awaken at will from a dragging nightmare of life made up of unimportant tasks and tedious useless little habits, to see life as it really is, and to rejoice in its exquisite wonderfulness. If the sigil were proved to be the top of a tomato-can, it would not alter that big fact, nor my fixed faith. No Harrowby, the common names we call things by do not matter — except to show how very dull we are ...
-James Branch Cabell
September 17, 2017 - 12:34 p.m.
Yesterday I said that if I spent all day binge-watching Gotham I'd be OK with that. Good thing as that's exactly what I did. Do any of My Gentle Readers watch it? I obviously enjoy it but doesn't it seem strange that the characters that would become Commissioner Gordon, Batman, Catwoman, The Penguin, and the Riddler, all interact with each other years before the events of Batman? Did they pic the actress who plays Selena Kyle, who becomes Catwoman, because she looks like a young Michelle Pfeiffer?
Here's a glimpse of the anxiety beast within me. When we saw Richard Shindell Dan and I discussed whether he was the greatest living folk songwriter. Or is that folksong writer? I decided to throw this out to my friends and posted this, on Facebook, "Greatest living folk songwriter: Go!" I enjoy those kinds of discussions. I started getting rapid fire notifications that people were commenting. Was my reaction to go and take part of the discussion? No, it was anxiety; I avoided looking at all Facebook notifications. Don't ask me what I was afraid would happen. That's not how it works. Late in the day I meditated and got myself to read what people said. I then got totally caught up in the thread. I did love it. Anxiety like inspiration acts likes it's outside the usual workings of the mind.
That reminds me that Brian made a graphic of my favorite line from Yesterday's Wise Madness; "Meditation is the duct tape of the mind." I thought that pithily and humorously made a good point and I'm so happy that somebody else appreciated it. Being pithy and humorous is something I think of myself as being good at. I am always afraid it's just the Dunning-Kruger Effect. That is a good self-doubt. You should always question your opinions on things you have a large emotional stake; question both your hopes and fears.
I've been hinting here about a study I want to do and I wrote about it somewhat on Facebook where it led to a useful discussion. I'm going to go into more detail now. The questions I want to resolve is are women underrepresented in folk music as they are in so many other fields. I have still not fully worked out my methodology but I want to discuss what I have, the reasons for doing the study, why I think it's important, and if they are underrepresented what we can do about it.
When someone first proposed to me that more men get booked than women I thought it was ridiculous. I know, because I have counted, that I see more women than men. I know that my friends see more women than men. I did start keeping my eyes open as I always doubt intuitive statistics, not just the person who said this to me but also my own. It seemed like she might be right. Then in preparing for a festival a friend of mine actually did a study of performers at festivals and it was highly skewed towards men.
I have enough of an academic and scientific background to want to do the study right. That means determining what data to look at, what numbers to count, and how to define the male:female ratio.
The friend who did the festival study was looking at it from a performers point of view, how many total musicians of each gender were on stage at festivals. So, if there were just too acts, one with a band of 4 men and 1 woman followed by a solo woman the male:female ratio would be 4:2 = 2:1. That's not how audience members would perceive it, they'd see one "male heavy" band and one woman. The approach that would capture that is to weigh each act equally, so the first band would be 0.8:0.2 and the second would be 0:1 The totals would be 8:12=2:3. The way you count is significant. They both capture something important. As I'll be looking at the same data either way I'm going to simply count both ways. They both contain some of the truth. There is a third way I could count that would be more difficult to do but is also a big part of the truth. Consider a band like Jean Rohe and the End of the World Show. At the CD release when she went all out I think it was Jean backed by 8 men so the ratio would be 8:1. It would count heavily male but from the point of view of an aspiring female musician it would be inspiring as she'd be seeing Jean's vision. The reason I'm not sure if I can do that is it's easy to say that when the band is X and the Ys. But what if Jean decided to call the band simply The End of the World Show? I would know what's going on because I know the band but if I am going through the list of performers at a festival or venue there will be plenty I don't know and it's not practical to investigate every act.
Then there's a breakdown by venue type, Festival, Club/Theater, Coffeehouses, and House Concert. If I mashed them all together something like Rockwood Music Hall with three stages, with multiple shows every night would overwhelm Coffeehouses which are at most once a week and more often once a month. So, I'm going to break them down and I might just leave out clubs and theaters for two reasons. One is they rarely play only folk music and there would be so much data I'd never finish. Maybe I can restrict myself to places like Passim and Godfrey Daniels.
I expect to find the bias because gender bias is found in most endeavors. It doesn't mean the people doing the booking are biased. There is one factor that is biological, women have children and men don't. We all know musicians that took breaks from touring because they had a baby. Almost everything else people think of as biological is deep-seated societal bias. Pick any profession, there was a time when people, including women, who thought that woman weren't capable of doing it. Doctors and Lawyers were overwhelmingly male. Now, the majority of people graduating from both Medical and Law School are women. People will say things like:
"Women are less assertive."
Even if those things were true, and I'm not conceding that they are not, it doesn't address why those things are true. People are always quick to assert biological difference but history has shown they disappear upon further study. It's much more likely that differences in attitude are the result not the cause of bias. Women are treated differently than men so of course they react differently than men. If there's a band with women and men the tech people, sound, lighting, and such, will often address a man in the group even when it's lead by a woman. Even when the name of the band is the woman's name.
There's also the issue of the perception that male presenters book women because of their looks. This is complicated. Knowing people of course this happens. I'm more concerned though with people assuming that's what men are doing. There are so many presenters that people will say, "Of course he likes her, she's beautiful." That's an insult to both the presenter and the musician. It's not even just men. I have heard men say it about lesbian presenters. No one wants to be thought of as prejudiced which can lead them to acting prejudiced and hiring less women to prove that's not what they do. I am one of those presenters I've heard accused of it and by feminist women. They don't even think of it as accusing. It's "Gordon likes cute girls with guitars."
My plan is to do the study and present it at NERFA in 2018. That gives me over a year to get it right. I'm going to do a version of peer review and ask friends familiar with experimental protocols. The read it and give me criticism so I can make it better. Then I will propose a NERFA panel on gender bias where I will present the study and we can discuss what we can do about it.
One thing I want to stress is that I don't think that the presenters are misogynists or think that women are in any way inferior. These things are a complex interaction between individuals and society. We all have implicit biases. My hope is that if the study finds that the skew towards men is real that presenters will actively push back against it. Not enough women submit to a festival? Then recruit women to submit. Don't assume that men make the decisions in a band. Give women extra encouragement. If you find that you over-represent attractive women, I'm sure there are talented women you aren't attracted to. You don't have to compensate with men. If your season is heavy on women? Leave it, you're just making up for the deficit elsewhere. Women you don't get off the hook. If you take the attitude that the Y festival doesn't book woman submit anyway. I'm not going to name names but if you see that venue or festival is biased, tell the people running it. They will deny it but then to prove that they are not biased next year they will try to be more inclusive. Most importantly, don't get discouraged. It's difficult, you feel you are running into a brick wall, but if you run into it enough you might make through or make it easier for the next woman to. It's not fair, that's the point, to make things fair requires sacrifice. It doesn't happen on its own.
Now back to my anxiety. I'm afraid that it will stop me from doing the study. I'm feeling it well up inside me now. But I'm going to keep running into that wall until it breaks or I do. I should meditate now but it's 12:30 and I have not eaten. It's time for brunch.
I signed the Pro-Truth Pledge:
please hold me accountable.
Memories: Not that Horrid Song - May 29, 2018
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