Hogan: Visiting musician ignores privilege, erases importance of female identity

Renowned flautist and instructor Ali Ryerson came to Geneseo on Oct. 15 to speak about her life, experiences and offer advice to all budding musicians and enthusiasts alike. While her message was predominantly positive, her points were lacking and minimized the hardships that women may go through to get where they stand today. 

By separating herself from her femininity and privilege, Ryerson sent the message that sexism in the music industry is not important, possibly alienating her audience.  

For example, a point she tried to make and hit home many times throughout her seminar was the fact that she wasn’t a good musician because she was a woman, she was good because she could play.

The first issue with this sentiment is that she erases some potentially relevant factors that someone may face in their musical career as there is a very real and present bias against women in the music world.

When implementing blind auditions for major symphonies in the United States, the likelihood of female musicians being selected increased by 30 percent, according to Harvard University’s Gender Action Portal. 

The gender gap between successful males and females, and the maximum capacity for both, becomes even more apparent when comparing the statistics of more sought-after roles.

Slightly more than 11 percent of music directors of American orchestras are women, according to The Walrus magazine. This is beyond serendipitous happenstance and is a dismal reality for many women hoping to make their place in this industry.

It is also worth mentioning that it is easy to detach from womanhood when her privilege is her foothold to fame.

Growing up in the shadows and teachings of her jazz guitarist father, Ryerson was given the tools to succeed and the expectation to do so at a young age.

Whether or not her status and skill level is questionable because of her gender is not the issue at hand, as her position in this world as one of the immediate successors of the man who rubbed elbows with Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra and the like, precedes all other bounds.

Outright refusing to acknowledge how her environment and the circumstances surrounding it play into her career takes away from what other things she had to say. She is—and can choose to be—Ryerson first, woman second.

Her message, however, would have come across better if she had said, “I’m not a good woman flautist, I’m a good flautist,” because it acknowledges exceeding expectations set upon her, rising above and coming out on top, without erasing her identity and the identity of potential followers.

By erasing her gender completely, she polarized those who may have looked to her for guidance. Some people aren’t held back by their circumstances and predisposed environments. Others are completely defined by them. To ignore this privilege by removing herself is a disservice to her core and intended audience of the seminar.