Last week, our family traveled to Ireland for my son’s winter break from school. While there, we visited a pub known for traditional Irish music. There are no scheduled performances; musicians just show up with their instruments and sit in a circle and play and sing.
About ten men showed up with a variety of instruments, including guitars, pennywhistles, bodhrans and two bouzoukis. The music was wonderful, and, as is typical of our Irish experiences, the social interchanges were even more rewarding than the event we had come for. Nearly everyone in the pub that night was chatty, interesting, and fun to talk to.
Because I’m myself, I couldn’t help asking all of my new acquaintances why there weren’t any women playing. “Is it always all men here?”
The responses ranged from, “I’ve never really noticed” to “Now that you’ve mentioned it, I’ve never seen a woman in the circle,” to “It’s not that a woman wouldn’t be welcome, but none ever seem to show up.”
This is not a comment on Irish pub music, or Irish music, or Ireland. Truly. I know that there are great Irish musicians who are women, and that Ireland is the first country in the world to have two successive female heads of state. It’s a fine country, and my son’s aspirational home, and I would not insult it for the world.
But it seems to me that this is another example of the maxim that fish don’t notice the water they swim in. The responses I received were reminiscent of the comments I’ve heard and read about the underrepresentation of women in mathematics, the hard sciences, etc., in the academic world. It’s not that there is an active conspiracy against women, but that if an all-male cohort is the default, a lone woman might not feel welcome—and without role models it may be hard for women to even envision breaking into the boys’ club.
But the music was spectacular. It really was. And we can’t wait to go back and hear more.