Women and Music Censorship – Past to Present

25 April 2005
by Eva Fenn    

A summary of the restrictions women have had as singers, as composers and as instrumentalists from the Middle Ages until today, illustrated with individual examples

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Eva Fenn is BA-student in “Popular Music and Media”, Musikwissenschaftliches Seminar, University of Paderborn, Germany. She was an intern at Freemuse in spring 2005. 

Table of contents
1.       Definitions of censorship
2.       Restrictions on musical women in the Western hemisphere
3.       The situation of female musicians in Iran and Afghanistan
4.       Afghanistan
5.       Women and censorship – Asia – present time
6.       Sources
7.       Bibliography
8.       Timelines
8.1.     Europe / Western Hemisphere
8.2.     Asia
8.3.     Middle East
8.4.     South America
8.5.     Africa
8.6.     Russia

Historian and lyric poet Plato from ancient Greece was aware of the power and function music had within society: Music serves to establish the morality and to confirm desirable civic virtues, but simultaneously music also poses a danger that might divert people away from the Good Life. Thus Plato distinguishes in his famous work Res publica between good and bad music and recommended that bad music, as a potential threat of the state, had to be controlled or banned. That’s why dictators throughout time have promoted accommodating composers and music genres and have censured the unaccommodating. But Plato writes nothing of the music of women being worse than music of men. Throughout history many examples can be found illustrating that fact that female music was deemed less valuable.

The article ‘Censorship in female music – from past to present’ is 28 A4-pages long, and provides examples from all over the world of the censorship of female music over time.
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Excerpts from the Timelines (page 21-28)

Time: June 2004
Country: China; Chang Hui-Mei (known as A–Mei) – the Taiwanese pop singer canceled a concert in China after a protest accusing her of supporting independence for the island. Reason: China views Taiwan as a renegade province and is suspicious of independence-leaning president Chen Shui-bian.
Source: BBC News, June 13, 2004.
After she had sung at the inauguration of Taiwan’s President Chen Shui-bian in May 2000, she was totally banned from performing and selling records in China. Coca Cola, which had employed her as a poster girl, dropped her under pressure from the government.
Source: Newsweek, January 08, 2001

Chang Hui-Mei
Europe / Western hemisphere
Time: March 2003
Country: USA; Natalie Maines (Dixie Chicks) – many radio stations in the US refused to play their records. Reason: her statement of feeling “ashamed” president Bush came from her home state Texas during a concert in London’s Shepherd’s Bush Empire.
Source: Christiane Rohr, Musiker unter Druck: Zensorische Maβnahmen im Irakkrieg, in: 9/11 – The world’s all out of tune – Populäre Musik nach dem 11. September 2001, Dietrich Helms, Thomas Phleps (Hg.), Bielefeld 2004
Natalie Maines

Middle East
Time: March 2002
Country: Israel; Yafa Yarkoni – the Israeli singer, an Israel Prize winner and an advocate of the consensus, also known as “War Singer” having entertained soldiers in the front for more than half a century, declared that the images she saw of “Defence Shield” reminded her of the Jews and Holocaust. Thus all her concerts were immediately cancelled and she even received threats on her life. Her music almost disappeared from public radio.
Source: Noam Ben-Zeev, The sound of silence: conformist musicians in Israel, in: Marie Korpe (Ed), Shoot the Singer! Music Censorship Today, London, Zed Books, 2004

Yafa Yarkoni

Time: 1990s
Country Algeria; – Souad Massi – She was threatened and censored for her political stance in her native country, now she makes music from her self-imposed exile in Paris continuing the fight for the rights of women and Berber in Algeria.

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 Souad Massi - read more
Souad Massi


Fondazione Adkins Chiti: Women in Music

Donne in Musica (Women in Music), came into being in 1978 as a movement promoting and presenting music composed or created by women worldwide, of all genres and in all times. The International Adkins Chiti: Women in Music Foundation organises festivals, concert series, exhibitions, research projects, publications, conventions, and master classes. Its library and archives house over 32 thousand scores of women’s music. The Foundation is an Italian cultural organisation, partner within cultural agreements undersigned by the Italian Foreign Ministry, member of UNESCO’s International Music Council and the European Music Council, and is internationally recognised for its activities advocating equal opportunities in the cultural sector.The Women in Music Foundation has the largest collection of women’s music in the world.

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