Academic journal article Forum on Public Policy: A Journal of the Oxford Round Table

Breaking the Gender Barrier

Academic journal article Forum on Public Policy: A Journal of the Oxford Round Table

Breaking the Gender Barrier

Article excerpt


I used to believe that gender was the issue that held me back from moving forward in my career, Conducting. Conducting has been largely a man's arena. But the old gender conflict represented in the tennis match between Bobbi Riggs vs. Billy Jean King is no longer relevant, either in sports or music. What is relevant is that the individual (in my case, a woman) perceives that what she is capable of is of equal benefit to herself and her career, and that she is responsible for what she produces. It is my argument, that what would be a very convenient excuse for women, gender inequality in higher education and elsewhere, is really not the pink elephant in the room.

Let me use an example to explain. My conducting professor at the University of Washington, after a conducting class, met with me to review my video-tape of the conducting that I had just finished. While watching the video tape I became crest-fallen, feeling that my conducting was, for lack of a better word, "wimpy" or not strong enough. I immediately thought in my mind, "If only I were a man!" I voiced this last statement to Abraham Kaplan, and further cemented my victimhood status by whining, and finished my statement with, "I should conduct like a man!" Kaplan, asked, "Why do you think this way about your conducting?" I answered, "Because I am not being effective." He said, "Being effective has nothing to do with whether or not you are a man or a woman. The measure of a fine conductor has nothing to do with male or female." His words hit me like a hammer, for I had always believed my premise to be true. I had known many women colleagues in the conducting world that had changed their conducting to reflect a greater masculinity and less femininity. If his statement was true, then everything that I had based my assumptions upon was no longer relevant.

In my career years, nine since that moment in time, I have revisited this conversation many times in my mind. I have realized my professor's statement to be true. It is much easier to blame your inadequacies upon something or someone else. It is easier to accept your weaknesses as being produced by another or caused by another. What I have learned, and have continued to learn, is that I create my own beliefs about myself and the world around me. What I believe about myself and what my belief systems hold about the world around me are both how I am perceived and how others perceive me.

Joan of Arc, Hildegard Von Bingen, Mother Teresa, and Teresa of Avila are all examples of women who were not held back by their belief systems, or by so-called gender issues. Compared to us today, they had many more gender issues to deal with. Yet, it did not hold them back. I use these women as examples because while they also were in religious communities often viewed or thought of as greater gender discriminators, these women had an incredible influence. Why and how did this happen? My response to this question is that so-called gender issues may never really have existed in their reality. A belief system is only true if an individual or society holds it to be true. What happens when an individual no longer accepts a commonly held belief system? What happens when an individual is able to make a significant impact upon a commonly held belief system? Does the belief system control the individual, or does the individual control the belief system? What power does the individual have in determining the outcome of a particular event, or belief? Given a specific event, is it the event itself that determines the outcome, or is it the individual's response to the event?

This paper will examine the lives of four women, what they were able to accomplish, why they were successful, and how we can apply their collective wisdom to break the gender barrier.

Mother Teresa

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