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"R-E-S-P-E-C-T (Find Out What It Means to Me)": Feminist Musicology and the Abject Popular

Cook, Susan C.  Women & Music; Lincoln Vol. 5,  (2001): 140.

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As a feminist first and a musicologist second, my research and teaching start from the premise that the work I do matters, and it matters in a way that can be called political. It is more than embracing the well-worn feminist belief that "the personal is political"; it is also practical. I don't have the time resources to do lots of things, and so the things I choose to do must advance my interrelated goals of creating community, achieving equity, and, well, having fun. Doing work that matters also comes from my desire to live holistically. I am the most productive and easiest to live with when I feel how the various parts of my life are building resonances with each other. A desire to do scholarly work that mattered brought me to the pleasures of feminist musicologies (the plurals are intentional), and it is now what keeps me committed to doing feminist research and writing on "popular" musics.

My self-identification with popular music is relatively new, although I've been working on a ragtime dance study for more years than I care to remember. Initially I identified with this century; I was a "Twentieth-Century Person," labeling myself as we musicologists like to do by our chronological focus. (Although as an old boyfriend used to chide me, "We're really all twentieth-century people.") Then I became a card-carrying Americanist through my affiliation with the Society for American Music.(1) Now "the popular" has become my passion, because for me the most troubling legacy of twentieth-century modernism perpetuated by twentieth-century scholars regardless of their historical foci has been the creation and maintenance of hierarchical -- and largely fictitious -- dichotomies of all kinds. One of the most fiercely believed in draws a distinction between "classical" and "popular," or "serious" and "popular," or "cultivated" and...