Female conductors: the incarnation of power?
The term 'orchestral conductor' seems to evoke images of greatness, divinity, authority, power and tyranny. In the conducting profession those who have had the power to create this role have been men and, thus, through weight of historical and societal precedence masculine leadership is largely unchallenged as the norm on the podium. Renowned for their mythical status, visual prominence, high paying rank, and commanding relationship with the orchestra, conductors have visibly embodied a gendered form of leadership. Up until recently, the only way that women have been able successfully to negotiate these powerfully gendered constructs has been by desexualising themselves and conforming to a male-oriented paradigm in their dress, gestures, behaviour, leadership styles, and familial commitments. (1) In this paper I will limit the discussion to issues relating to power and leadership. Women conductors have had to mould their behaviour in ways that have often been contradictory to what society expects of them as 'normal' females. They have had to find a subtle balance between the authoritative leadership that the conducting profession demands and the more collaborative approach to leadership that they are often socialized to follow. In this paper I will use narrative descriptions to explore the tensions that a number of the world's renowned female conductors have faced in negotiating their way into this leadership position. I will also examine how feminine approaches to this role have the potential to work with the changing dynamics of orchestras today to redefine a number of the role's masculine power constructs.
Hecate: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Women's Liberation