Sexism and Agism in the Freelancing Business

May 19, 2008 at 02:58 AM · Being a woman, blonde, and relatively young (at least I look young), I have often entered situations in various orchestras where someone doesn't take me seriously until I play and "prove" myself. Most people I meet on jobs are very respectful but there have been instances where I have felt condescended to or brushed off at first. Please share your thoughts and experiences.

Replies (30)

May 19, 2008 at 03:09 AM · Ohhhhhhhh jeez,

just be happy with what you are !!!!!!!!!!!

May 19, 2008 at 06:17 AM · I can't seem to be taken seriously. I think I know why, though. It has less to do with the outside and more to do with my quirky personality.

May 19, 2008 at 11:12 AM · well, here is a beehive to poke into:)

a while back in wall street journal, there was an article about a survey on "looks" between the sexes (probably in the biz world, not performing art). if i can remember it correctly,,,,for females, the less better looking ones are considered more competent and reliable; on the other hand, for males, the better looking ones are considered more successful.


May 19, 2008 at 11:33 AM · Al, reliable along the lines of "she's ugly, therefore she can't easily run off with another guy"? Sounds like caveman logic to me.

May 19, 2008 at 11:52 AM · ben, not talking about logic from you or me, but the result of a survey of fellow homo sapiens in this society, a slice of mass psychology if you will.

i forgot if there was a description of the ratio of the sexes who took the survey. i would speculate that most are males and their thinking can be interesting often enough:)

it will be inappropriate for me to guess what marina went through. if 2 female candidates have the same violin skills and one is much more charming and good looking, there is little doubt in my mind who should come ahead for the solo spot. it is performing art after all and visual input is very important in the whole scheme.

ps. i don't mean to have the lady to show skin. just elegantly beautiful.

May 19, 2008 at 11:53 AM · well, the last cavemen were homo sapiens, too, or not? Apparently our logic hasn't changed much since.

May 19, 2008 at 12:36 PM · well, couple things make the world goes around and around:)

May 19, 2008 at 04:40 PM · Emily, what is it about your quirky personality that gets uneven reaction?

May 19, 2008 at 08:20 PM · When you get older, there are some gigs you may not be hired for anymore because the contractor wants the orchestra to look a certain way.

May 19, 2008 at 08:27 PM · I remember when I was studying violin I got booked to do a TV commercial along with some friends. When the producer saw our age that was the end of it for us, for him a classical musician only had grey hair...

May 19, 2008 at 08:38 PM · I'm also blonde, short, and relatively young-looking, and I definitely think it affects the way other people treat me. I feel I'm often brushed off, and not taken seriously, until I prove myself. Not only in music, but also in every day life. It's very aggravating.

May 19, 2008 at 11:07 PM · "I feel I'm often brushed off, and not taken seriously, until I prove myself."

Is that why you did? :-)

May 20, 2008 at 12:50 AM · Generally speaking, it’s more a matter of one’s overall demeanour than the look that makes the initial and sometimes lasting impression. We were taught in law school that one’s presentation is more important than how much one knows. To be taken seriously, you’ve got to look smart and act slick. It's a game that anyone cares enough to participate will soon learn the rules and be pretty good at it. For me though, I prefer not to play this game but rather like just be me --goofy, casual, crazy and talk funny. Consequently, I’m frequently not taken seriously by others. But I find it amusing rather than annoying because what follows later is often surprise for them and fun for me.

Never underestimate the power of being underestimated!

May 20, 2008 at 12:50 AM · ^

Great work Yixi !

May 20, 2008 at 02:46 AM · Well, there are perhaps two angles, Marina. I have a rampant imagination that doesn't quit, which makes me easily distracted and absentminded. Makes for poor orchestra rehearsals and lots of forgetfulness.

Secondly, I underestimate myself in new situations, which leads to my acting insecurely, and subsequently leads others to treat me as though I don't know anything.

Because of those two childish traits, people tend to want to "take care" of me. It's funny though; when no one takes care of me, I take care of myself just fine. Actually, I like to do a lot of things by myself.

May 20, 2008 at 03:19 AM · "When the producer saw our age that was the end of it for us, for him a classical musician only had grey hair..."

Haha, I can't say I dislike that, something to look forward to when I go grey :-)

May 20, 2008 at 03:22 AM · Benjamin,do not worry.

Your hair will turn colours soon,very

soon !

Just be patient.

May 20, 2008 at 04:26 AM · How you are initially perceived, as mentioned above, is almost 100% how you carry yourself. Keep you head level, shoulders very slightly back, stand tall and slow deliberate movements to start with. In other words, look up body language on the internet and study how successful and powerful people of both sexes

look. Being only half facetious, carrying yourself impeccibly well won't hack it if you're wearing short skirts and a tank top. Cultivate the "successful look."

Oh yes, when spitting out prune pits keep your right pinky in the air with a haughty attitude.

May 20, 2008 at 08:27 AM · Definitely experienced discrimination - not so much in chamber or orchestral work but in the commercial sector.

I am in a small string ensemble, we hire ourselves out for recording sessions, live and TV work etc. All the players involved have been invited to join based on their strong sight reading, good sound, reliability and professionalism - but we do get enquiries from agencies/ producers etc for "young, female players to appear in the video" or "a young, attractive quartet to appear with the band"

We get suspicious when a potential client calls and asks for 'photographs of the musicians' rather than CV's, references or audio samples. When we ask them politely why they want photographs, they'll say that they're trying to create a glamorous look for their video or promotional event.

The players in our group are all different ages and genders - they sound good and can play pretty much anything you put on the stand, but we do sometimes lose out on work because we don't have a certain look - and I suppose that's sadly the same in all walks of life.

Thankfully the vast majority of clients who get in touch do want us based our playing, but it's always disappointing to get these discriminative enquiries.

It's disappointing too for the players who do get booked for these 'glamorous musicians required' gigs - knowing you've been booked based on appearance rather than because someone liked your playing must be demoralising to say the least.

May 20, 2008 at 09:21 AM · By the way, Marina, your bio is so intimidating! I would totally respect you if I ever met you. Heck, I'd be afraid to talk to you! ;)

May 20, 2008 at 10:16 AM · "It's disappointing too for the players who do get booked for these 'glamorous musicians required' gigs"

Vaughan, I think those who ask for appearance only are not actually looking for musicians, they are looking for stand-ins to appear as musicians. Looking at the output of the modern commercial music industry this would seem to me to be the norm. They are not even calling them musicians anymore, they call them "talents". In the very unlikely event that such talents survive more than one product run, they may get promoted to be "artists" but it's extremely rare that you hear anybody refer to these people as musicians. Just make sure that you state in your promo material that you are really musicians, not talents. That should keep the talent seekers away (lest they're stupid) and probably earn the respect of those who are actually looking for musicians. Anyway, keep up the good work!

May 20, 2008 at 11:54 AM · It's funny you should say that Emily, I used to be intimidating while in college, at least I carried myself as a walking threat. That's way back when I was extremely cocky and didn't see my own limitations. Nowadays I catch more flies with honey, and I value my weaknesses as well as my strength. I need to update my bio anyway, I'll try to seem more "nice."

As a woman it is difficult treading the line between authority and coyness, aggressiveness, and flirtation, cockiness and confidence.

I've noticed that in many freelancing gigs I'm involved in in the nyc metro area that most concertmasters are women. Anybody else experiencing that?

By the way, this discussion was not meant to exclude any other types of discrimination, so if you have other experiences please feel free to share.

May 20, 2008 at 12:20 PM · "any other types of discrimination, so if you have other experiences please feel free to share."

You will find that if your profile is put forward for an assignment in the Arab world and your first name happens to be benjamin the only question that comes back will be "is he jewish?"

May 20, 2008 at 06:12 PM · Unless you're talking about performing, it's not how you act, but what you are. That's what people react to. This applies whether you're head of General Motors, or the hottest blonde fem in school :)

May 20, 2008 at 08:55 PM · Ok, it doesn’t apply to freelancing generally, but since it had been asked for “any other types of discrimination:

Seriously, how many female conductors do you know? (... and I know there’re M. Alsop and a couple of others, but compared to men?)

How many (contemporary) female composers are regularly played? (... and I know there’re Ms. Gubaidulina, Lena Auerbach and a couple of others, but compared to men?)

Isn’t the percentage of Asian musicians much higher in conservatories than their new engagements in orchestras since let’s say 15 years (I wonder what the proper term in English is for “Neueinstellungen ” (help, Megan!))?

How many female classical music reviewers do you know?

Yes, of course there’re a lot of female soloists, but why not as many female composers and conductors? Still generally a sad situation, I think.

May 20, 2008 at 08:57 PM · Mischa - 'new hires' or 'new appointments'.

I have something to say on this topic, but I'm still trying to put it into words. Will check back soon.

May 20, 2008 at 09:49 PM · Mischa, my response is to simply give some examples that relate to me personally. Two works important to me have been conducted by female conductors. Most recently Elizabeth Askren conducted my Serenade for Strings, and this work was given its premiere under Sarah Bisley (NZ). Also, in 1992 Miranda Adams conducted my one-act opera At the Hawk's Well.

May 21, 2008 at 04:40 PM · Does anyone find themselves favoring a certain kind of person? Who would you rather see as concertmaster? Man, woman, younger than you, older than you, etc?

May 21, 2008 at 05:14 PM · I find as a freelancer in a lot of rock bands that soundmen often think they know better than I do what I want. I'm positive it's because I'm a woman (women who run sound NEVER give me trouble in this way!). Sound men often feel the need to tell me how to set the EQ on my direct box, or where to plug my cable in, or how to raise the microphone... And often they don't even know how to make a violin sound good (or I should say the way *I* like to hear it). They also don't know very well how to take input from me "please turn the hi-mids down... no the hi MIDS... right. thank you!"

I used to get very frustrated by that. Now I find it amusing. I just go into my Patient Place and treat them like a child who doesn't know any better. Sadly, it actually works!

May 21, 2008 at 06:06 PM · Thanks for sharing your experience, I can imagine the technology world in itself must be swarmed with sterotypical misunderstandings.

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