I find it hard to believe that the topic of gender parity in math and science is even an issue anymore. Yet it was one of the most talked-about stories for parents last summer thanks to the study published in the journal Science, which noted that standardized tests in the United States indicated that girls score just as well as boys in math. Certainly I'm not the only one who shouted “Duh!” at the top of my lungs when I read that. It seems completely obvious that there are no biological reasons why males and females cannot master the same subjects in school.
This recent study showed that 2nd- through 11th-grade boys and girls tested equally in both subjects. However, the researchers of the current study admit that some parents and teachers still believe that men are better in certain academic subjects. It's interesting to note that in studies done two decades earlier, girls tested equally with boys in elementary school but lagged behind in math by the time they reached high school. Most of us can grasp intuitively that years of negative reinforcement from peers convinced young women at that time that they weren't capable of doing anything technical. That still may be the case with music technology.
This topic really hit home for me at the end of the fall 2008 semester at Diablo Valley College, where I teach a beginning recording class. During our staff meeting, I learned that the California Community College Chancellor's Office lists the recording-arts classes as Commercial Music, which falls under the Nontraditional category, a coded way of saying that there is a gender or ethnic imbalance in a particular trade. Based on employment data collected over several decades, the state has found that in certain fields, one gender is dominant — low numbers of men become nurses and dental assistants, just as few women go into welding, police, fire, and paramedic programs. Although women do take the music-technology courses at DVC, they are far outnumbered by men. Remarkably, the state has plans to actively recruit students to balance out the so-called nontraditional trades.
Despite it being a male-dominated industry, I have noticed a significant increase in the number of women in pro audio over the past decade — not only mixing and mastering or running sound in clubs, but also in game audio and other new-media professions. In one sense, females may have a biological advantage over males in this field: it's widely recognized that women retain their high-frequency acuity later in life than men (iPod earbuds and loud rock concerts notwithstanding).
The best encouragement for young women who are interested in the recording arts is through educational and work opportunities, as well as pointing out role models in the industry, such as Leslie Ann Jones, Cookie Marenco, and Emily Lazar. In addition, organizations such as Women's Audio Mission (womensaudiomission.org) in San Francisco and the Institute for Musical Arts (ima.org) in Massachusetts offer programs that allow students to get their feet wet without the major financial commitment of a full-time recording program.
Educational resources should be available to anyone who wants them, and it behooves each of us to encourage young women who show an interest in recording and music technology.