“You want to talk of Keats or Milton, she only wants to talk of love
You go to see the play or ballet, and spend it searching for her glove!”
Professor Henry Higgins in “Let a Woman in Your Life”, My Fair Lady, lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner, 1956Above is a comical line, but interesting in its implications. Once upon a time, men were the ones who were interested in the arts and comprised most of the audience; women were seen as lacking the ability to fully appreciate plays, ballets, poems, and music, much less able to produce these works of art. However, over the past fifty years we’ve seen “the arts” become a female enterprise at least in its maintenance – the production of art is still largely thought to be a male endeavor.
In some ways, this is not a shock. Once women gain a foothold in an audience or area, the men start to leave in droves (or are pushed out). Career-wise, this can be followed in the gender ratios of men and women in the medical fields and advanced degrees in the biological sciences, among others. It has also been observed in the decline of male participation in Christian churches. There's even a trend in obtaining college degrees. I’m not going to attempt to undertake an explanation of why and how this complex sociological and psychological phenomenon occurs (or why there’s a branch of feminism that teaches “we’re all the same” even though men seem to disagree); I will instead focus on its repercussions.
In small degrees, it’s understandable why men have almost completely ducked out of the ballet audience. Men were once the largest portion of the ballet audience; it was even thought unseemly for women, in some cases, to attend. But since the rise of the Nutcracker in this country (spurred by Balanchine’s enormously successful production in 1954), ballet is seen strictly in terms of the Nutcracker’s adolescent heroine and the confectionary dream-land that she inhabits in Act 2. No matter that The Nutcracker can be an image of idealized childhood (when the production doesn’t make it have pseudo-Freudian sexual overtones of Clara/Marie’s initiation into THAT adult world) appealing to adults and children; it’s most frequent association is with pink and little girls through the multitude of ballet school productions every year. It is also interesting that the male audience for ballet remains strong in other countries, particularly in
When women began to increase their numbers (in attendance or in occupation in a field), there's a tendency for that art form (or occupation) to become associated with the feminine (or effeminate): men in fields that are dominated by women are thought to be gay. The consequences of this are negative for the arts: men still control many of the purse-strings and may be less likely to financially support something they see as a feminine enterprise, and the homosexual stigma on these men who are involved in the arts doesn't make it more attractive.
Also of concern is that, because of the female associations, men never learn to fully appreciate art. For instance, I heard many times in both primary and secondary school that "girls are the ones who are good at literature" (just like I heard many many times in college, from female classmates, that "engineering is too hard; there's all that MATH"). Both the former and the latter begin to sound like mantras, discouraging the opposite sex from interest and pursuit in those fields. In art, as I elaborated below, lack of interest can have dire consequences. We can't get by on only one gender cultivating the arts in our civilization