In various competitive fields I notice that women usually do not compete against men due to the skill differential. For example, in chess there are something like 500 grandmasters and only a few of them are women. Of the top 100 chess players I think only a single one is a women. In other fields the results are the same. For example in marksmanship, billiards, archery, Starcraft, bowling, etc., the results are the same.

Yet, in music at the highest level I frequently see female piano and violin soloists in concert.

This seems strange to me because I know how competitive music is. I know of one talented musician who plays the double bass and he tried out for a spot that opened in the Chicago Lyric Orchestra and there were 65 candidates auditioning for that one spot.

Are female performers traditionally "given a pass" and held to a lower standard of skill than the males? How does this work? Does the producer just say, "I want a woman as the pianist" and they only audition women? I don't have the ability to tell whether one pianist is better than another, so I can't answer this question for myself.

The reason I ask this is that when the bass player auditioned I know he played behind a curtain so the jury did not know if he was male or female. Do they do the same thing for soloists, or is the choice of soloist "political" and the identity of the candidates known?

One complicating factor is that some complain that pianist competitions are hopelessly corrupt, so it is difficult to find an objective standard of judging.

To my mind, I would guess that there should be a an objective standard aside from interpretation because you can always determine whether a note has been misplayed or not, so at a crude level I would think you could judge simply by counting errors. If pianist A makes 20 mistakes and pianist B only makes 3 mistakes on the same piece, that is an objective standard.

closed as primarily opinion-based by Bradd Szonye, topo morto, Richard, Doktor Mayhem Jan 2 '17 at 21:08

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

  • 1
  • 9
    Why do you assume that competition in those fields are segregated because of skill differential? Most sports segregate because of gross differences in physical strength or size. The reasons for gender disparity in chess and video games are entirely different (mostly, blatant sexism that discourages female competitors from even attempting high-level competition). Given that you have some pretty clear evidence right in your question that neither of those factors are particularly relevant to music, then what are you looking for? This sounds like it is fishing for sexist rationalizations. – Bradd Szonye Jan 2 '17 at 9:33
  • 4
    I'd rather listen to a player make some mistakes, but play with feeling, than hear a note perfect bland performance - by male or female. Counting mistakes shouldn't even be part of the equation. At higher levels, they won't be there. – Tim Jan 2 '17 at 9:48
  • 1
    I would suspect that the answer to the title question may sometimes be "yes", because a female performer who scrubs up well is a saleable proposition! Nevertheless I am unclear, when you say "the skill differential" in the first paragraph, if you're trying to predicate the question on an idea that there is an overall, general "skill differential" between men and women? If so, I agree with @BraddSzonye that the examples chosen can't be extrapolated to support that. – topo morto Jan 2 '17 at 9:49
  • 3
    @BraddSzonye I agree that this question feels like an attempt at rationalizing institutionalized sexism. The genres of music I have more experience with are very definitely boys' clubs; only in folk music do I see more women participating on a performance level. – neilfein Jan 2 '17 at 18:18

After our conversation and your latest edits, I decided to rewrite this answer. It might help to make my thoughts clearer.

Your first problem is defining an objective standard of goodness for music. It's much more of an art than a sport. There are no concrete rules to judge a performance. I might like one interpretation better, and you might like another. We're both right. Sure, there is some (almost) objectively bad performances, but at the high levels, it's not that clear.

You start with an assertion that men are better than women at a range of sports. [We can discuss why this is the case, but as has become evident, I'm not the right person to do that]. I'm not sure you can extend this observation into music. You need to flesh out this connection.

For example, I suspect that women are better than men at a different set of activities. You could take this observation, then make the conclusion that men are artificially advantaged. Historically speaking, that might be closer to the truth!

At the amateur level, in my experience, there is no difference between men and women when it comes to music. This covers around 60 musicians of different ages and abilities. If there was an innate advantage, I would expect it to manifest at all levels. Hence, I do not think there is any artificial advantage given to female soloists. This is one data point, so tablespoons of salt are required.

To summarise my thoughts:

  1. It's hard to objectively say that one player is better than another, especially at the high level.
  2. I'm not sure there is any connection between the sports that you mention, and the field of music. I think there is a weak generalisation here. This doesn't invalidate the question, but it does cast some doubt on the premise.
  3. I have not observed any difference, in my admittedly limited experience.
  • None of the sports I listed have anything to do with physical strength. – Tyler Durden Jan 2 '17 at 6:39
  • 1
    @TylerDurden Archery certainly does. The others, less so. The cause might be something other than gender; I'm not an expert. But your conclusion than men are better than women at everything is a little over the top, no? – endorph Jan 2 '17 at 6:43
  • You obviously know nothing about archery. Women have more than enough strength to fully pull a competition bow. – Tyler Durden Jan 2 '17 at 6:49
  • @TylerDurden. Ok, you learn something every day. It's not my main point. As I understand it, your logic is [men are better than women at some specific areas] therefore [men are better than women at everything] therefore [men are better than women at music]. It's a weak generalisation, surely? – endorph Jan 2 '17 at 6:53
  • 3
    Women can certainly pull a lower poundage competition bow than men, but at Olympic level men and women compete in separate classes. Whether women could shoot 6 arrows a minute continuously from a medieval military longbow with a draw weight of 100 - 200 pounds (as measured from surviving weapons) is another question, of course. Even medieval male archers ended up with muscular-skeletal deformities after a lifetime of doing that! – user19146 Jan 2 '17 at 7:23

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.