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Composer and curator of the Sorabji Archive
ALISTAIR HINTON replies to Patric Standford's
recent article 'The essential difference'


It may reasonably be argued that few of Patric Standford's occasional series of 'thoughts' could be considered more 'provocative' than the present ones under the borrowed title of Simon Baron-Cohen's book.

There has for some time been no shortage of persuaders of both the well-meaning and the self-seeking variety that 'gender studies' is a vital associative component of so many aspects of present-day life, not least the creative arts. Leaving aside for a moment whether or to what extent this may be (a) true and (b) neurologically plausible -- and concentrating instead on Mr Standford's article -- two fundamental factors appear to thwart any valuable attempt to apply conclusions from this burgeoning 'science' to the act and art of musical composition; I will consider these together rather than separately, as they seem so closely linked.

We composers cannot predict by whom our music will be listened; we are therefore unable to calculate or determine how our listeners may respond to what we do (nor indeed should we). That said, it is a fair assumption that our music will be listened to by men and women in approximately equal proportion. Should we conclude that the music of a 'masculine mind' is -- or should be -- more amenable to better appreciation by listeners with masculine minds than those with feminine ones? Surely not. Can we conclude that there are instead two basic overall kinds of reaction to our music, one deriving from the recipient masculine mind and the other from the recipient feminine one? Again, surely not. We should therefore step back from association with any such delineating definitions, for fear that their acceptance may run the risk of undermining the very purpose of composition far more effectively than 'the female mind may undermine male authority', as suggested in Mr Standford's article.

After pigeonholing one set of characteristics and persuasions into the masculine and another into the feminine area, Mr Standford accepts that 'there are, as always, exceptions'. Let us momentarily accept both the premise and the inevitable exceptions, assume the latter to be amenable to proof beyond doubt and ask some vital questions. Why are there such exceptions? How do they arise? Do they derive from neurological abnormalities or from social or environmental considerations? Are those who exemplify them somehow deficient in the requisite masculine or feminine characteristics and attributes? What conclusions should we draw from them?

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Copyright © 30 October 2003 Alistair Hinton, UK


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