on the

Status of Women

in the

Society for Ethnomusicology

 

by

 

Henry Kingsbury

 

October, 2007.  Ten years ago, in the SEM Newsletter for January of 1997 (v. 31/1), there was a report from SEM's then-newly-formed Committee on the Status of Women, in which the group's organizers indicated  "their concern that a glass ceiling exists for women academics in ethnomusicology."  They alluded to prior studies showing women academics to be disadvantaged with respect to tenure, promotion, and other markers of career-stability, and stated their "hope that one goal [of the new committee] will be to survey the careers of women ethnomusicologists... to determine whether or not these generalizations hold true for our field" (pages 12, 25).  No such survey was reported in subsequent issues of the Newsletter.  After I learned (from vol. 32/2) that as of 1998, SEM committee reports would henceforth no longer appear in the Newsletter but will be printed in a separate booklet, I wrote (10/1/07) to SEM's Executive Director asking if I might read the annual reports dealing with the Status of Women.  My e-mail missive to the Executive Director was neither acknowledged nor answered.  I do not know, then, whether any "survey" of female ethnomusicologists was ever conducted, nor do I know (assuming that there was a survey) what findings it produced.

So I conducted my own little survey -- I spent a few hours in a university library looking over old issues of Ethnomusicology (SEM's principal publication).  My search confirmed me in the impression that there has been significant -- in some respects, dramatic -- increase in women's participation in the SEM. Whatever the Committee on the Status of Women has or hasn't accomplished regarding a "glass ceiling," it appears to have had considerable impact on the SEM through its campaign of "career development, mentoring, and pedagogy" (Newsletter, Sept. '96). It may be that the Committee's efforts toward "promotion of women in leadership positions" (Newsletter, Sept. '98) has had its desired effect. On the other hand, the increased female occupancy of SEM leadership positions strikes me as a seriously misleading indicator of "the status of women" in SEM, and I will develop this point in a moment. There should be little doubt, however, that female participation in SEM has increased markedly.

In my own little survey, I did not generate any information pertaining to the existence of a glass ceiling -- of institutional bias against the employment, promotion, or tenure of women in academic ethnomusicology. That would be useful information to have, but I do not know anything of significance about it.  One thing I do know, however, is that although all of the first eight SEM presidents were men (Rhodes, Kolinski, Seeger, Merriam, McAllester, Hood, Wachsman, Nettl), six of the last eight presidents have been women (Heth, Stone, Shelemay, Wade, Koskoff, Wong).  I know also that the very small proportion of women in official capacities during the period of the founding, um, fathers had been transformed into majorities -- sometimes very large majorities -- of women in comparable positions in recent years.  Within the governance of SEM there has been a rather striking shift toward women leadership positions.

I also did a comparison-count of male-female authors (original published articles only -- no reviews or bibliographies) in Ethnomusicology, and in this survey also there emerged a shift in gender-ratio, albeit a slightly lesser on than with respect to governance. There have been more, many more, women in leadership positions, and more female authors. I have presented my findings in tabular form here.  (Caveat lector: my statistics should be read with caution and perhaps skepticism; I was working in considerable haste so as not to miss my train; I did catch myself in a couple of mistakes, but am certain that there were mistakes that went uncorrected. I did the best that I could under the circumstances; whatever its shortcomings, my survey is better than anything I have seen from SEM's Committee on the Status of Women).

With respect to "gender equity," however, the most significant finding of my little search -- and I made no mistake on this issue! -- is the fact that in its 49 years of publication, Ethnomusicology has had only one female editor (Norma McLeod, 1972-4).  It seems hard to doubt the proposition that the editorship of Ethnomusicology is the single most important and influential office with respect to the scholarly quality of the Society, and the perfectly stunning disparity of male-female authority in this position calls for discussion.  For example: from 1999 to 2002, when SEM's Committee on the Status of Women had already been in action for three-plus years and when the SEM had a plethora of highly-regarded women (Anderson, Becker, Diamond, Djedje, Frigyesi, Guilbault, Kaeppler, Maultsby, Myers, Rasmussen, Sakata, Sturman, etc.) who might have been available, the Society instead selected a retired man -- Emeritus Prof. Bruno Nettl, who had been the journal's editor thirty-five years earlier.  That deserves to be said twice. In 1999, when its President was a woman, and when 75% of its Board of Directors and 65% of its Council were women, SEM appointed a retired man to edit its scholarly journal -- shades of Bobby Riggs.  We may wonder where and how SEM's Committee on the Status of Women was expending its energy during this period (or, for that matter, during any period).  My investigation has left me with the residual concern that this little group has concerned itself precious little with "gender equity" and very much with the career advancement of particular women. 

I am alluding, here, to an astonishing academic-sexual hoax that was perpetrated within the profession of ethnomusicology, and to the fact that this fraud was monitored with open eyes -- but sealed lips -- by the organizers of SEM's Committee on the Status of Women (all of whom, as far as I know, are women). One of today's fastest-rising academic ethnomusicologists is a woman who appears to have jump-started her career by filing a fraudulent sexual harassment charge at the bidding of her (ahem) male superiors. Her name is Katherine Hagedorn, and various oddities of her conduct as a Brown University student during the early 1990s came to be major issues in a lawsuit, such that under the authority of federal law, numerous university documents pertaining to her conduct were brought out from under seal. These documents make it unambiguous that in the spring and summer of 1993 Ms. Hagedorn participated in a series of secret discussions with senior faculty members (James Baker, Jeff Titon), and that these discussions focused on the prospect that she might file a devious sexual harassment charge  (I have detailed the particulars of these machinations on another page -- here). The sexist implications of this fact -- and the implications for The Status of Women in Ethnomusicology -- are unmistakable, and they are grave.  And they are hardly diminished by the fact that in the midst of these secret discussions, Ms. Hagedorn took a faculty position at Pomona College. Then (after moving to California) she filed a Brown University sexual harassment charge against me. This having been done, she was awarded the Ph.D. by Brown, several positions in the governance of SEM, academic tenure by Pomona College, and a sparkling assortment of academic prizes and honors.

One of the prizes that Ms. Hagedorn won was the "Alan P. Merriam Prize" for 2002 -- this, for her Divine Utterances, the book that SEM pronounced to be  the most distinguished ethnomusicology book of the previous year. Now, the praises that have been sung for this book within SEM strike me as an parallel with the ballyhoo that came from the US government around the supposedly dramatic rescue of POW Jessica Lynch in Baghdad in April of 2003. Methinks the SEM, like the American government, doth protest too much. Ms. Hagedorn's prize also carries a personal irony for me, because the man memorialized by the prize was, at the time of his plane crash, my teacher. As his student, I delivered one of the two testimonials at Dr. Merriam's campus memorial service in 1980; as an ethnomusicologist, I now feel compelled to memorialize him once again -- his memory is very strangely served by the prize that was awarded to Prof. Hagedorn. I rise, then, in defense of my teacher's memory.

Near the beginning of Divine Utterances, Prof. Hagedorn cites the writings of Lila Abu-Lughod, an extraordinary feminist-anthropologist, as a primary influence on her own work. It's an invocation that strikes me as remarkably inappropriate, since Divine Utterances not only fails to exemplify either "writing against culture" or "ethnographies of the particular" (two highly productive theoretical-philosophical notions of Abu-Lughod), the book turns out to be an illustration of the very opposite, of writing about culture, about Afro-Cuban spirits and spirituality. It seems clear that Prof. Hagedorn doesn't understand what Abu-Lughod's writing was about, and her "Merriam" prize suggests that the SEM committee don't understand it, either.  And the cultural-personal character of Divine Utterances is given rather fantastic play in Hagedorn's description of an incident in which, according to the author, her own ancestral sprits (as had been divined just the previous day by two Cuban associates) dramatically incite the fury of Afro-Cuban orichas. Hagedorn claims that one August day in 1992 she deliberately tested her diviners' credibility by defying their explicit warning not to walk unaccompanied into the cemetery. Once in the graveyard, she writes, she was driven by the orichas to seek shelter from their sudden and terrifying tempest -- driving rain that subsided each of the four times she hid in a tomb, only to break forth in full fury whenever she attempted to emerge and resume her afternoon stroll.

When I first entered the cemetery the sun was shining brightly... As I progressed toward the tomb... dark clouds began to gather overhead... it started to rain hard...  it fell in horizontal sheets... I ran for shelter. The closest shelter was an open marble slab over a tomb... Once I was safely inside the rain subsided and the sun came out again. As soon as I tried to go back outside, however, the rain started falling once more... I tried to leave the shelter three more times, and each time the rain began again...  (Divine Utterances, pp 207f)

She then tells of deciding, in spite of everything, to brave the tempest as far as the tomb she'd originally been headed for, placing a few coins of respect and retreating from the cemetery, where, "as I got to the entrance, the rain gradually stopped and the sun came out again."  This passage strikes me as utterly incredible -- or perhaps as funny, as something that George Burns or Mel Brooks might have put into one of their films (you know, with soundtrack adapted from Beethoven's "Pastoral" symphony or the Wolf-Glen Scene from Die Freischutz). But Prof. Hagedorn's passage is hardly funny. She is asking readers to actually believe that her own Afro-Cuban ancestral ghosts are so powerful and unpredictable that they could and did direct a terrifying rainstorm directly and personally at her, focusing the tempest here, and there, whenever she should venture out from under cover.

All of this, we are told, happened at the very beginning of Ms. Hagedorn's experience of Cuban culture, just a few weeks after she had "signed up for... a two-week intensive course aimed at teaching non-Cubans the rudiments of Afro-Cuban music and dance" (p. 4). It happened a mere 24 hours after her ancestral spirits had first been divined by friends visiting her apartment (pp. 206f), and a year before she had taken so much as "the first step of initiation into Santeria" (p. 5). Prof. Hagedorn's account is of course ridiculous, and yet it appeals to irrational fascination with exotic spirituality. It appeals to lurid stereotypes of black Caribbeans, and to essentialist notions of primitive music -- especially to primitive drumming. It appeals to all manner of ignorant superstitions, such as those that were so cleverly played on by the wily slave women who finally brought down Simon Legree in the denouement of Uncle Tom's Cabin (chapter 42). But the story of the tempest-over-the-tombstones is told to us not by some bible-thumping yahoo-redneck (let alone, by an antebellum slave-driver), but by a progressive young scholar with an Ivy-League Ph.D., a woman who claims to be working in the tradition of today's most forward-looking and sophisticated of feminist anthropologists.  Her narrative appeals, it would seem, to the members of SEM's Merriam-Prize Committee.  The whole thing reeks of Piltdown. (note)

There are two significant elements to this portion of Prof. Hagedorn's narrative. First is the fact that she is the only person to have witnessed the alleged event. Second is the fact that it was only a few weeks later (September, 1992) that Ms. Hagedorn returned to Providence. There, she alleges that she began putting out water-glasses in her bedroom to mollify her ancestral spirits (Divine Utterances, p. 210), and it can now be demonstrated that during this same period she also began a series of highly secret machinations with a variety of professors and deans at Brown for the purpose of bringing off a phony harassment charge. There's nothing about this, of course, in Divine Utterances, but it might be said, in a manner of speaking, that it was in Providence that two competing theological systems were placed in direct and mortal conflict. For Ms. Hagedorn, the matter of "making contact with my ancestors" (Divine Utterances, p. 210) began to run afoul of a more familiar divine utterance (and I quote), Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor. 

In awarding the "Merriam" prize, UC/Berkeley's ethnomusicology Professor Bonnie Wade proclaimed that "Hagedorn's book is a compelling ethnography... [that] explores the complex relationship between race and  religion in Cuba... a deeply felt and finely wrought book" (SEM Newsletter 37/3, 2003). To this the reviewer in Ethnomusicology added that Divine Utterances is "meticulously researched... clearly written, and at times positively poetic...  an excellent text for courses on Cuban history and culture" (Ethnomusicology 50/1, 2006). In truth, of course, the book is seriously tainted, and this returns me to my basic point. The Status of Women in Ethnomusicology is being seriously degraded by dubious academic kudos showered on a woman whose professional output is so provocative and whose origins are so encircled in secrecy. One need not subscribe to Alan Merriam's insistence that "science" remain at the center of ethnomusicological theory to realize that there is such a thing as nonsense in academia. Dr. Merriam knew how to scoff at bad scholarship, and in his memory, I scoff on his behalf. Notwithstanding the SEM's urgent "promotion of women in leadership positions," The Status of Women in Ethnomusicology is not raised when a giddy fuss is made over one woman's snake-oil-scholarship. Quite the contrary.

Now. Katherine Hagedorn is not without academic skill, and it is not beyond imagination that her professional achievements have some legitimacy. There is much of genuine scholarly merit in her book (among other things, the discussions of different performers and performances, as they articulate with the accompanying 20-track CD, are quite instructive). But the hyperbole that has burnished her professional successes, combined with the surreal secrecy and bizarre conniving that inform her academic origins, makes it impossible to distinguish the legitimate aspects of her career from those that are tainted. Notwithstanding my recollection of Bobby Riggs, it seems hard to imagine a set of circumstances that is more demeaning and degrading to The Status of Women in Ethnomusicology than the cloud of sexist corruption that hangs over Prof. Hagedorn's apparent accomplishments.

For comparison: the status of women was in no way raised by the American government's wild tales of super-heroism by Pfc. Jessica Lynch, or by the cover of Newsweek, or the fictional NBC-TV film of her supposedly dramatic rescue in a Baghdad hospital in the spring of 2003. No, but the status of women was indeed raised when this 20 year old woman addressed these issues with her own voice, spoke the truth -- "it's wrong" -- into the teeth of a gargantuan and mendacious communications industry. Therein, at least, I place my faith. Naomi Klein, on the other hand, writing in The Nation, remarks that "In many cases, fake versions of events have prevailed even when the truth was readily available.  The real Jessica Lynch... has proven no match for her media-military created doppelgnger" (Nation, 1/26/04).

The consistently trenchant observations of Naomi Klein are worth far more than the cost of a subscription to The Nation, and I am hardly prepared to dissent from what she has said on this matter.  On the other hand, it does seem significant to me that the two photos I have reproduced here are by now figuratively buried in the same metaphorical trashcan that holds such colossal boners as the DEWEY DEFEATS TRUMAN banner from 1948 -- pace Naomi Klein, it may be that that we can choose what's right from what's wrong. It is my very dear hope that we have not heard the last from "the real Jessica Lynch."

By the way.  It would be well to remember that the 1973 Bobby Riggs/Billie Jean King tennis match took place in the open, on national TV where everybody could see.  Riggs and King had challenged each other, noisily, openly, boldly, dramatically. Riggs was the caricature of male chauvinism, King was the aggressive-progressive feminist.  The battle lines were clear. Riggs lost, King won, and the status of women -- and of tennis -- was raised immeasurably. There is no such transparency in ethnomusicology. The sexism in the Society for Ethnomusicology is much more insidious, hidden, and dangerous.  And so here is my apology to the late Mr. Riggs:

Way to go, Bobby, you stood up there and took it like a man --  we all gained from it. If only ethnomusicology had someone like you, Bobby, then we might come up with our version of Billie Jean.

If the SEM has no need for a Billie Jean Kings, it may be because it has hidden its Bobby Riggses. The sexism in the today's SEM is of a more hidden nature than in 1970s tennis, and an improvement in the Status of Women in the SEM is very much in need of, not a Billie Jean King, but a Jessica Lynch -- oops, make that a real Jessica Lynch -- a female ethnomusicologist who will rise to the challenge, not from her ethnomusicological Bobby Riggs, but from the academic-media bureaucracy that is responsible for having molded her into a malleable, feminine, doppelgnger of herself. 

The prospect that a woman's Ph.D. in ethnomusicology might have been made contingent upon that woman's willingness to perform sexual mischief would be a most degrading circumstance indeed, for it would demean the significance of ALL women in ethnomusicology, and of the men as well. I strongly believe that just such a prospect IS a circumstance of today's SEM, and I am hardly heartened by the mixture of artful evasiveness and clenched-jaw silence that I have been given by leaders of SEM's Committee on the Status of Women as I attempted to confront them on this matter.

In the fall of 1990, when I was a teacher and Katherine Hagedorn was a student at Brown, she told me in the course of numerous conversations that the previous year, when Jeff Titon had been on sabbatical leave, she had taken her doctoral qualifying exams and that although the three-member examination committee (Babiracki, Frigyesi, McAllester) had voted to give her a passing grade, Jeff Titon had intervened in a capricious and unexplained manner, insisting that she NOT pass and requiring her to re-take the exam a year later (which she did). Our conversations on this traumatic incident occupied a substantial portion of our friendship that year. Then in 1993, with another doctoral exam (dissertation defense) still hanging over her, Katherine was subjected to a series of written communications from Jeff Titon in which he instructed her to take administrative action against me. All of this led to a bizarre sexual harassment charge against me (details here). Then in 2004, during pre-trial proceedings of my federal lawsuit, I submitted some written questions to Katherine's deposition (she had been subpoenaed by Brown; I was not present) in the hope of addressing the quid pro quo implications of the Titon-Hagedorn interaction of 1993, as well as the gratuitous character of her charge against me. I am concluding this essay, then, with a reprinting of a few lines from the 2004 Hagedorn deposition, because it dramatizes the most harrowing challenge to The Status of Women in  Ethnomusicology -- the prospect that, perhaps quite irrespective of the quality of her dissertation, Katherine Hagedorn was awarded her ethnomusicology Ph.D. in compensation for having accomplished some extraordinary sexual mischief.

Certainly, employment statistics and glass ceilings are relevant to the Status of Women in ethnomusicology. I insist, however, that there might be a moral status of women as well. And the moral Status of Women in the Society for Ethnomusicology is profoundly degraded when -- as now -- there is the appearance that certain senior male ethnomusicologists can condition the academic advancement of their female students on the latter's willingness to engage in sexual mischief (and/or REWARD sexual mischief with professional advancement). A woman's advancement in ethnomusicology should not be conditioned on her willingness to carry out dirty tricks or to protect the secrets of male ethnomusicologists who conduct themselves in such a fashion.  Consider, for example, the significance of the following deposition testimony.

The reporter: Is it correct that at some time prior to Mr. Kingsbury's arrival in Providence in the fall of 1990, you had already taken a set of qualifying exams and not passed?

Mr. Little: Objection. But you may answer.

The witness: I actually don't remember.

The reporter: Was Jeff Titon away from campus at the time of that exam?

The witness: I don't remember.

The reporter:  It is Mr. Kingsbury's memory that you told him that the professors on campus who gave you the test at that time would have passed you, but that Jeff Titon, who was off campus, saw to it that you did not pass. Is that about right?

The witness: I don't remember.

The reporter: What role did Jeff Titon play in giving you a failing grade in your first doctoral exam?

The witness: I don't remember.

Katherine Hagedorn's pre-trial deposition, Pasadena, 3/9/04

 

Now, a college professor who claims not to remember whether or not she flunked her own doctoral qualifying exams should be afforded about as much credibility as a woman who claims not to remember whether or not she just gave birth to triplets.