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Breaking the Glass Box MAG
“Why, hello there,Megan!” the music advisor greeted me, stealing a quick glance at the folder in her hand. “I hope you’re enjoying your time here. Let’s get down to business, shall we?” I nodded and smiled, hoping to get this over with. The college selection process had been tedious enough; now I just wanted to be done with the countless interviews.
We sat, and the smiling lady opened her folder. “Let’s see …music composition major … my, we’re breaking all the stereotypes, aren’t we?”
I looked at her blankly. “Excuse me?” I’m not sure what I felt more strongly at the time – annoyance at her use of the royal “we” or utter confusion about what stereotypes she thought I was defying.
“You’re a trumpet player and a composer,” she said matter-of-factly. “Girls don’t usually do those things. It’s strange.”
How can you say that like it’s okay? I wanted to scream. Like it’s not a problem that many girls are pressured away from activities like these?
It had been a while since I’d thought about the fact that I was a young woman in a man’s world. Sure, trumpet players are more often male, and most people would be hard-pressed to name one female composer (Clara Schumann, anyone?), but I hadn’t encountered such blatant bias until now. Not only was I singled out for being a girl in my field, but the college music advisor made me feel like I didn’t – shouldn’t – belong in it at all. The reality hit me like a falling piano. I’d grown up being told I could do anything I wanted, but once I started following my dreams, people saw my choices as strange.
During childhood, my interests varied drastically on almost a daily basis. I’m sure I went through the princess phase like most girls, but I also went through a knight-in-shining-armor phase and a detective/forensic scientist phase. My parents encouraged me to do whatever I liked. Girls don’t always want to do “girly” things, and they accepted that.
Eventually, composition became important to me, and I dove into the world of music wanting to learn. It didn’t take long to realize that there were far more men than women in the field. As a girl of 12 who wanted a career in music, I saw that if I wanted to become everything I’d dreamed about, I might have to do it without the one-on-one guidance of a female composer.
I had gotten my first glimpse of what’s usually called the “glass ceiling,”which I didn’t realize is more like a glass box, at least in the world of music composition. Musical women aren’t just prevented from rising in their chosen field; they are strongly encouraged, sometimes even forced, to go into fields that are more “appropriate.” It’s perfectly okay to play flute, clarinet, violin, or piano, or to teach or sing – but if you’re a girl like me, who loves the power of French horns and trumpets and the freedom of writing what I want to play myself, you’ll start running into opposition.
Those gifted, hardworking women who make names for themselves are applauded across the country for breaking the glass ceiling in their fields. In many cases, once one woman has achieved something significant in a particular field, it becomes easier for those following her. Take women in school band directing, for instance. A generation ago, there were barely enough of them to merit official recognition at conferences. Now they’re more numerous, but these women still face bias from some of their counterparts. How do I know? I was lucky enough to have a fantastic female band director in high school, and I learned from her experience.
As more young women pursue careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), the barriers between “male” and “female” disciplines are weakening faster than ever, but those barriers still exist in the minds and hearts of many. STEM programs and other gender-inclusive organizations will never completely solve the problem; this gender bias extends past big business and lab work. STEM programs are great for their respective fields, but you’re still not going to find a Girls Should Play Trumpet group anywhere soon.
Like the woman who sat me down and told me I was breaking stereotypes, plenty of people – women included – still discourage girls from pursuing fields that are deemed male-dominated. The more I hear “Good luck – you’ll need it,” the more I think they might be right – that talent alone, or even effort, might not be enough to succeed. Although I’ve seen that some can escape the glass box after devoting enough time, strength, and determination, that does not always mean that the path is clear for other women to follow. Glass shards strewn across the floor can do some serious damage to those who step on them.
The turning point for me came when I was talking to a friend late one night. As a fellow musician, I confided how scared I was of what might – or might not – happen if I continued with my music. “Look at the odds,” I said. “Ninety percent of people don’t make it in our field.” The next four words he said completely changed my outlook:
“But ten percent do.”
Women breaking into male-dominated fields like music composition are bound to lead stressful lives. We’re often stuck between what society tells us is right or proper and where our hearts and talents lead us. We are discouraged from believing we are capable of walking a different path, and we are hindered by those pesky stereotypes. Still, many of us continue to bang on the walls of that glass box in the hope that one day the glass will shatter and women will feel free to pursue any career they want. We continue fighting for the daughters we hope to have one day. We will break out of this glass box, and once we do, it’ll be time to face the music.