- Laurence Libin
Many types of instruments throughout the world have been assigned male, female, or sometimes ambivalent gender. These attributes, rooted in prehistoric animism and sexual dualism, bear on the perceived nature of the instruments themselves (which might be thought to embody male or female spirits, or to personify abstract sexualities) and also on their musical and social functions and the circumstances surrounding their making and playing. Even if an instrument is not given a gender, customs may govern whether it is appropriate for use by men or women or both. An attribution depends on many aspects of an instrument and a society’s attitude toward those aspects, among them morphology (e.g. phallic, like many bagpipes; womblike, like many bells and drums; or evoking pregnancy, like the rounded body of a lute), material, means of sound production (e.g. blowing, beating, stroking), high or low pitch, sound quality and power or affect, degree of apparent physical effort involved in playing, and playing posture (e.g. many Victorians considered holding the cello between the legs unladylike; in Kerala, India, a woman who raises her hand near her breast in order to strike a drum could appear immodest)....