How I Survived in a Male-Dominated Music Technology Classroom – A Personal Story

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Ever unwittingly found yourself in the middle of a male-dominated classroom perchance? Well, it happened to me and here follows my light-hearted observations, highlighting both my insecurities and the predictability of male behaviour, on how to survive it and graduate with confidence. I was accepted for a place in the latest college course on campus, Music Technology, arrived punctually at beginning of term but as the classroom filled up, on turning slowly around in my seat, there appeared to be boys and more me.
I applied for this course as I intended to learn more about sound equipment to augment what I already knew about theatre lighting to further progress my career. It did not occur to me that I might find myself in what could be perceived as an enviable situation ie being the sole female in an all-male class.
I am sure there are male-dominated courses where everyone is at least on the same level of ignorance at the start, but it was certain that this was one where I would be streets, buildings and sewers behind before I even started. Getting to grips with some musical terminology was problematic at the outset. I mean, I thought a sampler was what my great-grandmother had spent needle and thread-sore nights sewing in quiet contemplation; MIDI a possible prediction of next year’s skirt length and wasn’t Cubase Captain Scarlet’s HQ?
In the first two terms I wore a lot of black, standing quietly in corners or against walls trying to blend in with the sound equipment and look as opaque, inanimate and unapproachable as possible. Keeping androgenously aloof seemed to work well to my amusement, particularly in the electronics class where everyone knew that the later they came in in the morning, the greater the chance that they would end up having to sit next to me. Ah yes, the desperate scan of the room as they entered and the coming to terms with the sunken realisation of where the last empty chair was. And God forbid they had to share a book with me.
However, I did grow to love my FRC (Front Row Centre) seat and my space and, well, suppose someone did sit beside me – it would obviously have been chat, chat, chat all the time, sweeties exchanged and no work done and who needs it really? Besides I had my piece de resistance. I always carried my blue pencil case with me which ‘The Borrowers’ could never resist. Men will always succumb to my box of tricks eventually what with pencil sharpeners, rulers, pencils and pens for ‘lend’.
There were those times, however, when I forgot that I frequented somewhere they could not. One day I lost my car keys and in one of the rare team-spirited efforts that I can remember, everyone was looking everywhere for them. I recounted everywhere I had been that day to no avail. Finally, I went to the college janitor and sure enough they had been handed in – someone had found them in the Ladies’ toilet! I realised I had only ever been thinking about where I had been with them all day – you can imagine I felt integrated at last.
Men do have this ‘herd’ mentality. They make ‘herd’ decisions, ‘herd’ on up there and announce that they are not going to ‘herding’ well go to such and such a time-tabled class. Of course, they were told to ‘herd off’ by the tutor and once they all got their antlers and hooves through the door and the dust had settled, the few of us who wanted an education got on with it. I am sure that this male herding behavioural condition still has a lot of dissertation mileage in it for psychology PhD students and can still hold its own merit for prime time discussion at summits round the world.
But, hey, let’s hear it for the Boyz – let there be not only songs but praise sung in those recording studios. I have to say I encountered nothing but the best in their behaviour towards me once I got more ‘in the mix’ particularly in the recording studio. They thought nothing of explaining in-depth all things technical and were totally unselfish with their time and expertise whenever I needed help to lay my couple of class CD tracks down. It was noted that they always held doors open for me and gave me a seat. And if that wasn’t good enough, they never stopped swearing and regaling me with humorous filth which is good because it shows they at least respected my sense of humour! Seriously, I cannot remember a course I enjoyed more and would not have missed this experience for anything.
Time finally roosted in the third term and I was still working hard at technical learning, however, I started also to be more musically creative since we all had to contribute to a class music CD. Well, I could play the piano and could sing but was shy so daring to try and collaborate with the rest of them and daring to think that they would even be interested in working with me on something was a huge out-of-comfort-zone ‘push’ for me. But they were! Which was great! So I sung a song! Could I ever have imagined that when I first embarked on the course? Resounding ‘no’ from the back there. So, cut a swathe through these guitars, basses and drums and dare something great will come of it! Take a leap for girl-kind! Your blind confidence kick will pay off.
Had there been other women on the course maybe I would have felt more overshadowed and remained submerged. I could see that, yes, if you were ‘Ms Pretty Personality Sing-a-Lot’ you would have gone down a storm, no question. That is actually OK but if that wasn’t you and you were more a ‘shy but can play the piano a bit’ type like me, then you had to work harder at fitting in the best you could and gain confidence over time bit by bit. However, you will endlessly surprise yourself and everyone else, like I did, at the time making ‘rock’ of it all and, looking back now and taking ‘stock’ of it all!
My abiding message is this – go for it, girls! Enter the ‘Boyzone’ (be it music technology or other male-dominated course) with bravado, even if you just find yourself in the situation unwittingly as I did. After all, if you entered a field of cows and did as they did, you might look different but you’re still chewing grass with the rest of them. But the less said about grass the better!

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