A 1995 winner of a MacArthur Fellowship, in Feminine Endings, among other things, McClary describes how sonata form may be interpreted as sexist or misogynistic and imperialistic. McClary set the feminist arguments of her early book in a broader socio-political context with Conventional Wisdom (ISBN 0520232089). She argues that the tradition musicological assumption of the existence of 'purely musical' elements, divorced from culture and meaning, is a conceit used to veil the social and political imperatives of the world view which produces the classical canon most prized by supposedly objective musicologists. However, one should not receive the impression that McClary ignores the "purely musical" in favor of cultural issues, it is a crucial part of what creates cultural meaning. She examines the creation of meanings, some oppresive and hegemonic, some affirmative and resistant, in music through the reference of musical conventions in the blues, Vivaldi, Prince, Philip Glass, and others.
While seen by some as extremely radical, her work is influenced by musicologists such as Edward T. Cone, gender theorists and cultural critics such as Teresa de Lauretis, and people who, like McClary, fall in between such as philosophre Theodor Adorno.