Music helps women survivors of violence heal and challenge sexism, Concordia professor says
For an industry that is all too often dominated by men, music can still be a vehicle for women to get themselves heard — and to heal, says Sandi Curtis.
The recently retired Concordia professor of music therapy has long believed that listening to and creating music can be a source of empowerment for women. This can be especially vital to those who are escaping situations of male violence.
Curtis is capping off a long academic and teaching career with the publication of Music For Women (Survivors of Violence): A Feminist Music Therapy Interactive eBook, with an official launch on Tuesday, September 17.
Over the course of 10 chapters, she says, the book “looks at how pop culture in general and pop music specifically have been used to keep women in their place but also how they can be used as subversive voices to challenge the status quo.”
The issue of pop culture’s often-problematic relationship with women is not new, but Curtis’s book is also a celebration of music as a therapeutic tool.
“Music connects with us in a unique way,” she says. “We may listen to it cognitively but it also hits us physically and emotionally. It’s really a wonderful medium for personal change.”
Songs of their own
As a music therapist, Curtis believes there are curative powers in the acts of listening to and making music. In the book, she outlines a music therapy program specifically geared toward helping survivors of male violence. The goals are to first, break the social isolation many victims suffer from at the hands of their abusers, and then to get the women to recognize that they are not alone and not to blame. Third, it gets women writing songs.
“This gives women their own voice to tell their own stories,” Curtis says. “This matters, because they have been silenced for so long.”
The songs the women write come from an authentic place and with an honest voice, she adds. They have to if they are to have therapeutic value.
“We’re assuring these women that they don’t have to sound like some fabulous, articulate, university-educated person,” she says. “You can sound like yourself, which is a great thing.”
The eBook contains a long list of songs that Curtis says can be used in therapy. They span multiple genres, from country to pop to indie rock to punk to hip-hop — and from the Indigo Girls to Lady Gaga to Lizzo — but they are all by female singer-songwriters.
“As a therapist, I know it is much easier for the women I’m working with to hear themselves, their lives and their experiences in a woman’s voice,” she says.
Pushing for changes both personal and political
Having recently retired, Curtis says the eBook’s publication is both a great finish to a rewarding career and a call to arms for women now and in the future. More than ever, she says, women need to assert themselves and call out a culture long based on male dominance and misogyny.
“Working with women survivors, we often find ourselves behind closed doors, and that’s necessary for their safety, as their lives are at risk,” she says.
“So I began to think that I’ve got to reach out to other people outside of the therapy room. My work has not only had a therapeutic focus but has also focused on social justice. We don’t just need personal transformation, we need a sociopolitical one.”