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Provocative thoughts from Patric Standford

The essential difference

Applying Simon Baron-Cohen's observations to the creation of music could be the answer to a long term mystery. Because men are by nature the single-minded structural organizational gender of the species, and women are emotional, intuitive, selfless interpreters, it seems quite apparent that composing music will be a predominantly male occupation, though it may clearly be a female preoccupation. There are, as always, exceptions. But it is the masculine mind that will be most absorbed by structural challenges, the architecture of abstract ideas, the intrigue of contrapuntal complexity, the logical movements from dissonance to consonance, measuring tension against load, weight against relaxation. It is the male that wishes to impress with skill, to prove the profundity of his thought, to manipulate the complications of texture, balance and organization, of orchestration and presentation. It is a masculine inclination to build barricades, boundaries around a limited focus of thinking so that their inventiveness can be secured comfortably within a predictable range of possibilities and their authority over their resources can remain paramount.

The questioning of women is uncomfortable. The female mind will undermine the male authority, and yet will not be inclined to follow the same path or pursue the same goals. Composing music is not a process to which most musical women will wish to devote time, thought or energy. And because they do not possess the same type of structured outlook on life, materials and the reasons and causes for art-work, there is, in general, no real need for them to entertain any ambition or interest in a sphere so well suited to the temperament of the male.

There may however be a loophole, an escape route through which a woman may find that, with certain alterations to the causes for the male mind's interest in musical composition, the female preoccupation with composing could be turned into an occupation. If, for instance, there was less need to be challenged by any kind of structure or specific laws of contrapuntal or harmonic movement; if there was less need to command a management strategy than to create an abstract soundscape, purely intuitive; if there was greater interest in travelling than arriving, then it is reasonable to assume that a greater number of women will join the guileless route. A change in the production process will inevitably open the game up to unlikely participants in any market. But the historical facts remain explained quite interestingly.

Baron-Cohen's book 'The essential difference -- men, women and the extreme male difference' was published earlier this year by Allen Lane.

Copyright © 28 October 2003 Patric Standford, Wakefield, UK


From: J Hall, UK

Baron-Cohen takes great pains to point out in his book that the differences he is talking about are group differences - that is 'mean' differences between the sexes. The book continuously reminds the reader that the majority of men and women are comparable in the way that they think. When looking at the raw data on sex differences it is often the case that the majority of individuals are comparable across sex, whilst a few outlying data points create an overall group difference.

Also, I would like the author to realise the 'essential danger' in using biological sex differences to excuse existing inequalities between men and women in various spheres.

If the author believes that biology chiefly determines an individual's path, I would remind him that in terms of group differences between the sexes, women are more acute across all senses (bar visual motion), including sensitivity to pitch.





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