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women's music? Anyone who is involved in the world of music has some idea of what women's music is, but any attempt to define it is like attempting to define art itself: You know what it is when you hear it - or see it - and that experiential definition suffices. Or rather it may suffice on a personal level but it does not suffice on an analytical one. If we are to examine the history and development - and future of women's music then we must be able, at least to define it. That is the task that this paper sets out to do.
Any investigation into the world of women's music quickly reveals that there is no single vector along which a definition may be constructed, and this is no doubt one of the reasons that an easy definition tends to elude us. Women's music is defined by its performers, by its audiences, by its content, by its style, and by its mode of transmission. Unless all of these elements are present, the result is not women's music. Or it may fall into a category recognized within the women's music community as "not quite women's music" - a tacit recognition of its qualification along some but not all essential vectors. These different aspects of women's music will be discussed in turn. Each of them allows for some ambiguity of classification, but women's music is only considered to be such if at least some of the categories are unambiguously met.
The performers of women's music are indeed women, or at least primarily so. (Again, it is important to remember that there is a certain amount of latitude permitted in each of these categories, a certain degree of ambiguity.) A women's group may certainly have a man fill in from time to time in the place of a regular women. It may also have a regular male musician if the group is large enough. Women's music groups may play music by men - but not most of the time. Women's music groups can be released by mainstream companies and even be played on MTV - but it must also use other means of transmission as well.
In general, women's music is played by women, bought and listened to by women, addresses issues of concern to women, favors certain musical forms over others (there is little women's hard rock, but any musical style might well come to be considered women's music if the other factors were in place), is released by "women's music" labels (which come to be known as such because they work primarily with women musicians and usually also have a higher-than-usual percentage of women executives) and is played at women's music festivals.
Women's music can never be defined (as McClary  argues) by any single criterion. Attempts to do so almost always originate from outside of the women's music movement and are usually dismissive of the movement - and usually made by men. These attempts to categorize all women's music as fundamentally the same (as well as fundamentally unworthy of notice) sound a good deal like cross-generational arguments over the value of rock.
Much research into gendered art forms (e.g. Hanna 1988) suggests that content and style are the most important criteria in determining whether an art form should be considered to be masculine or feminine; however in the case of women's music this may not in fact be the case. Although both content and style are important, mode of transmission may be equally so within the realm of music, setting it apart from other forms of communication (viz. Tannen 1990).
Indeed, as Giroux (2001) argues, the mode of transmission for those elements of popular culture that are genuinely challenging of the status quo are often defined by modes of transmission that lie outside of the corporate mainstream. This is, it should perhaps be pointed out, only true in those cultures in which monopolistic corporations hold substantial power. Those countries that lie to some extent at least outside of the sphere of the modern, industrialized world are not inclined to define art in terms of its modes of transmission. There is certainly (as Koskoff  notes "women's music" in traditional cultures such as that of the Bedouin, but it functions in a different way in such societies in which women's formal power is so substantially limited.
In societies such as the United States, women have at least some access to formal power (which exists within…[continue]
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