I guess I’d call myself a feminist. Although, in order to avoid the negative baggage that seems to have got lumped in with that tag, I’m more “equalitist”, or whatever the word is – striving towards a place where men and women have genuinely equal opportunities. Sadly, looking at the world today and the place of women in it, I don’t think we’ve reached that state quite yet.
In my working life, I’m lucky enough to have swapped a relatively male-dominated world – science – for the female-dominated charity sector. It’s not uncommon to find myself in meetings consisting entirely of women, or peppered with just one or two men.
I’m surrounded by exceptionally talented and passionate women (and men!) all working hard to make a difference. Where I work, as far as I can tell, your gender is unremarkable – what counts is whether you can do your job, although a love of musical theatre helps…
This all sits happily with my egalitarian leanings. But there’s another world I inhabit – the world of popular music. And it’s here that I need to challenge my own prejudices, and some ingrained baggage that I seem to have picked up along the way. Namely, why do I do a mental double-take when I see women playing rock guitar, drums, or bass, DJing or fiddling about behind a mixing desk?
I’ve been wondering about this for a while, but was inspired to write this pathetic-excuse-for-a-brain-dump-of-a-post by watching the Michael Jackson documentary This Is It. Among the cast of dancers and musicians I noticed a stunning blonde female guitarist (the awesome Orianthi Panagaris) shredding it up and pulling off some kick-ass solos.
Clearly, this woman wouldn’t be have been picked to be in the band if she wasn’t an exceptional musician, but she stood out as being the only female. And she totally rocked. But it still seems unusual to me to see women in the ‘back line’ – seeing a female drummer makes me want to run around shouting “LOOK! LOOK!! THERE’S A LADY PLAYING DRUMS! AND SHE’S GOOD AT IT!”
I have no idea why I’ve picked up this bizarre notion that there’s something odd about women being guitarists, drummers, sound engineers, bassist or whatever. Perhaps it’s the legacy of growing up feasting on male bands like the Beatles and U2, and a popular music culture that says that women can only be singers (oh, OK, maybe they can strum an acoustic guitar whimsically or bash a piano a bit. or even – god forbid – play the flute…).
Or perhaps it’s years of subtle indoctrination that says women simply can’t rock, have crap taste in records, and can’t tell one end of an XLR cable from the other. None of which is true, but all of which I have heard more than once in my life.
But why should we be surprised when a woman can shred a guitar better than most guys? What’s the difference between a girl who spent years learning classical violin and the one who spent hours a day fiddling the frets on a Fender Strat? Nothing. They’ve both diligently put the hours in to master their instrument, and we should celebrate their expertise.
And while there’s still a gender disparity in classical music, it feels to me – trawling round the live music scene – that the situation is even worse on the other side. There are certainly plenty of women out there who are incredibly talented, and rock it hard, from the famous ones like Kim Deal and Meg White to the not-famous-yet ones like Laura Kidd and Dana Jade.
However, I’ve been gigging for more than 15 years now (I started young, OK?) and I’ve seen endless female singers, but I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of lady bassists, drummers and sound techs who’ve crossed my path.
Do girls lack the nerdiness and dedication required for those long hours of practice? I say not – after all, I’ve done my time in solitary, as have the many talented female musicians I know. And although I’m pretty nerdy, they’re certainly not.
So what’s the problem? Are women discouraged from learning instruments like the bass, electric guitar or drums? Where are all the female superstar DJs? Do we still have a sexist culture in popular music? Who are your female music icons? And why are there so few female sound techs?
I don’t know – you tell me.