Tuesday, September 03, 2013

Why Women Shouldn't Conduct Orchestras

 Vasily Petrenko - Picture © Mark McNulty

It's year 2013.  The apples are ripe, the leaves soon turn yellow, and the luscious Vasily Petrenko (the principal conductor of the National Youth Orchestra and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic in Britain, as well as the principal conductor of the Oslo Philharmonic in Norway) tells us that girls cannot conduct orchestras.  

The reasons have to do with male sexuality, pretty much, and also that cumbersome thing called "family" which men don't have to worry about:

The principal conductor of the National Youth Orchestra and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic has provoked outrage by claiming that orchestras "react better when they have a man in front of them" and that "a cute girl on a podium means that musicians think about other things".
When conducted by a man, musicians encounter fewer erotic distractions, Vasily Petrenko claimed. "Musicians have often less sexual energy and can focus more on the music," he said, adding that "when women have families, it becomes difficult to be as dedicated as is demanded in the business".
In translation, all orchestras consist of nothing but heterosexual men or perhaps of lesbian women*, and seeing a "cute girl" on a podium means that sex rears its nasty head.  The fault for that is in the presence of the cute girl, of course.

In case you think that older and/or ugly women could do the job, Petrenko points out that women have families and then can't be dedicated to the business.

This is more delicious than a freshly-out-of-the-tree red-cheeked and blushing apple (I hate apples, too)!

I like Petrenko's defenses even better!  He explains that he meant all this would be true in Russia, not necessarily elsewhere, but he also suggested that if he had made these statements in Britain rather than in Norway they would have been AOK!  High-Fives Dudebros!

The only good point Petrenko makes that different countries indeed are at different places when it comes to the general approval of sexism of all types.  There are places where you can open your wide mouth and insert that elegantly shod foot and not much happens, except perhaps some applause or high-fives.  In other countries people like minor Greek goddesses go on for reams (or would be for reams if this was paper) about the logical problems in Petrenko's views.

Such as these:

Everything he says pretty much would apply to school teachers!  They stand in front of the class!  They are often women!  Even young women, gasp.  And the class may contain teenage heterosexual boys.  So there.  Let's get rid of all female teachers, too.

Come to think of it, we should probably make sure that no woman ever leaves her house, just to make sure that all that sexual energy doesn't spill about and make hard-working male conductors slip.

Sigh.  Petrenko is an asshat here.  He lives in the late 1950s.  He also fails to notice that the career he thinks only men can have while having families is so probably because some woman is taking care of his family.  Things are interlinked. 

And he appears to know nothing about the fact that orchestra member auditions were one of the first places where real sexism was shown to exist.  When the auditors for a place in an orchestra played behind a curtain, many more women passed the hurdle than was the case before, and over time orchestras (at least in the West) began employing many more female musicians.

Most of them are probably heterosexual, so one could argue that having Petrenko standing up there might make their sexual juices flow, too.  But were that the case, Petrenko would probably advocate excluding them, rather than firing his very own self.
*Added later:  I don't think either group would have any actual trouble following a female conductor, of course, but Petrenko appears to assume something of that sort.