Sexism in the Music Industry, and why we’re talking about it all wrong.

So, this morning I woke up to find a reverb article on sexism in my inbox. I actually very rarely read reverb articles. Actually I rarely read any articles that come in my inbox, because really, goodbye day if I start actually reading all of that crap. I have a hard enough keeping up on the blogging ones (ok, I’m lying. I don’t even keep up with them all that well, but I get to them eventually.).

Still, feminism seems to be the catch phrase of my weekend, so my curiosity was piqued.

It’s an interesting article, but one that leaves me with some really mixed feelings.  I would be curious to hear what more experienced women have to say about it. I’ve only ever been to a small local shop and Sam Ash, and the only sexist thing that I came across was just as likely not sexist at all. The clerk at Sam Ash assumed I was looking for strings for a short scale bass. Now, that could have been because I’m a girl. Maybe. But, it also could have been because I’m 5’4 and petite, and he, being around my height, happens to play a short scale bass, so may have been projecting based purely on body size. I honestly couldn’t guess. In retrospect, it could have been a ‘because you’re a girl’-ism, but it could just as likely not have been.

So, I would have to say I haven’t experienced any blatant sexism myself. Not yet, anyway. But, I have heard stories, and can’t help but wonder just how prevalent it is/is not. I can’t talk about that because I’m not someone who can play who is being treated like I can’t. I’m someone who has no idea what I’m doing, and who is also totally not even remotely shy about that fact. I just don’t have any unnecessary amount of pride on the subject. It seems to me it would be a huge mistake to act like I know more than I know, and by doing so lose out on the opinions and advice of people further along than I am. Actually, most of the time I probably act like I know less than I actually know. I want to hear all of the opinions. I might disagree with some of them, but I want to be open to knowing they exist, because knowledge is power and pride is only ever just pride. So, I don’t know how strong sexism is in the industry. I just don’t know enough to have an opinion, and that’s okay. But, I would be interested in hearing the opinions of people who have experienced it more than I have.

However, as the gender spectrum has sort of been the theme of my week(it is literally everywhere I look. Funny, how sometimes that happens.), I do want to take a minute to talk about this as it relates to music. Just a little.  Because, as I read this article, I see two very divergent things going on.

On the one hand, we’re acknowledging ‘hey, women can be awesome musicians, too, and you should acknowledge that and treat them like that’. It’s kind a ‘no shit’ sentiment, but one that sadly still needs to be talked about because sexism does still happen even in 2015.

But, on the other hand, the article still treats women as something foreign, different, and partially incomprehensible.  There’s still a lot of commentary built in that ‘women do/think this’ versus men ‘do/think that’. That might be true some of the time, but I find this sort of blanket statement really uncomfortable. By acknowledging women, but only as something different, we’re not removing the sexism, but only shifting it to a different part of the room.

Sexism doesn’t disappear because you’ve decided to acknowledge women musicians exist, if you think of them as something foreign.

Because, you know, women are all the same. They’re all bossy, they all have less physical strength than all men, they’re all smaller than all men, and they all like pink. And yes, I’m exaggerating. But, you can see the problem with this way of thinking. This article lets women in the room, but only so long as they conform to the place that’s being built especially for them.  I know men who are barely taller than I am. And, I know women who are over 6 ft tall. I know women who fix their own cars, and men who can barely even open a gas cap without someone showing them how. And, I know the opposite.  The fact is, most of us are somewhere in the middle. It’s just that we’re brainwashed into ‘men do X’ and ‘women do Y’, so if you’re a man who does Y or a woman who does X, you’re brainwashed by the burden of social guilt to not admit it.  But, social guilt doesn’t make us hugely different from one another. It just makes us less willing to admit we’re basically the same.

It is probably true that women might prefer to have some added features in instruments to better conform to their anatomy, sure, (just like lefties do, FYI) but we are not a completely alien entity. We are fully capable of maneuvering within your man space. Some of us -gasp- actually really fucking hate pink. Shocker, I know, but true. I fucking hate pink. The only thing worse is purple. This mentality is not exclusive to the music industry, to be fair. I just spent my weekend hunting through three different stores trying to find a pair of simple, basic sneakers that didn’t look like a my little pony exploded on them.  In the end, I had to resort to shopping mens’ and boys’ footwear in order to find something I would be caught dead in. It’s hard to tell the music industry ‘don’t be sexist’ when everywhere you turn, every other industry is just as bad, but you’ve got to start somewhere.

My point is that people exist everywhere on the spectrum. But, when you say you’re trying to make a space for women by keeping stock of ‘brighter colors’…fuck you. Really, fuck you, and while I’m at it, I will bend over so you can kiss my ass.

It’s true that some women may really want the ‘pretty colors’, but those women are still musicians first. I can guarantee you they are way more concerned on how an instrument feels and plays than whether or not it comes in pink. Though, yeah, you probably are not going to be able to sell them something featuring a cartoon bombshell who’s barely clothed. Probably.

Actually, the ‘girly’ colors really infuriate me about the girl brands. You will never catch me shopping Daisy Rock, for example. They might make functionally sound instruments that are physically built for the female anatomy(or, so I hear), but they are also so indescribably Barbie that they make me want to hurl.  So, if I don’t want to look like I jumped out of Jem and the Holograms, apparently I’m not really a girl?  And, I need a special space carved out for me in a market that already exists? Don’t even get me started on the logic that only women could possibly ever want something in a different color. Do you know how many guys I’ve seen talking about the gorgeous paint job on a blue or green guitar? Clearly, there’s a degree of aesthetic appreciation regardless of your gender, which is obvious to anyone existing in the universe. There is SO MUCH nonsense in this concept that I have no words to describe it.

You want to know how to make women musicians feel comfortable in your store? Treat them like people. Done. Seriously, it’s not that hard to figure out.

Until Next Time, torn between approving that sexism in the industry is being talked about, and hating HOW it’s being talked about.

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6 thoughts on “Sexism in the Music Industry, and why we’re talking about it all wrong.

  1. You know, some of this is really akin to what my wife has documented in her thesis on women in metal, and also falls in line with what two other really smart metalhead women I know have experienced. Neither of them is a bass player, but one is an excellent guitarist. She’s from England and plays in a black metal band called Denigrata, and was formerly in death metal bands.

    Both of them presented at the metal conference in Dayton, Ohio when my wife did and had really interesting things to say about women’s experiences in metal – and in music, in general. The other one is from Canada and now lives in NY. She’s black and her experiences might have been even more severe on account of being what some people look at as two types of “outsider” to metal.

    I’m going to share your post on FB so they can check it out – and some of their friends too.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah, I think we’ve spoken in brief about the latter, and a bit about your wife’s work.

      It’s this idea that women need a special space in music that really rubs me wrong. It’s really very similar to assuming lefties need a special space. We may like some equipment better suited to our biology, but ‘creating’ a space for women implies you want to keep them out of the one that’s already there, which is just entirely the wrong approach.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I completely agree with that. After reading on feminism so I can help edit my wife’s work, and learning about the Bechdel test in movies, I’ve noticed it more and more. I might be a little more aware of it because I’m also a minority and because I have a daughter and am always looking at how other parents apply gender roles to theirs – something I don’t do.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I’ll have to look up the bechdel test.

        I totally agree that minorities tend to be much more sensitive to the needs of other minorities. They’re just naturally tuned into that, since they’ve lived very similar experiences.

        I was never particularly feminine in my tastes, so I think I got frustrated with gender roles very young. If you don’t fit that formula, you grow up feeling like you’re broken, or somehow wrong, and let these social expectations brainwash you into acting a certain way, dressing a certain way, whether or not it feels natural to you. It’s a hard won battle to break out of that cycle. A huge percentage of my friends are part of the LGBT community, so I find that between my own experiences and watching them deal with theirs, I’ve become almost hyper-aware of gender boundaries.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. I swear, you’re like the female, NJ, alternate version of me sometimes. 😉

        The Bechdel test is interesting – its basically about women having a significant or meaningful role in movies and is tested by 3 measures. Read about it though – I put everything I see through it, and when it comes to movies, its appalling what I find.

        I’ve always been somewhat aware of struggles against repressive majorities because of being Indian – but it was by other Indians. We’re from Trinidad, so folk from India don’t even consider us Indian, and when we were growing up and would drive out to Queens, so my parents could get Indian stuff – spices, clothes, movies, and whatnot – the men would always give my sisters dirty looks and make nasty comments when they were walking, because they held each other’s hands while walking – so they’re automatically lesbian and maybe even incestuous. They didn’t do that to them when I was in the picture, because of the male presence, and maybe because I was an angry metalhead who didn’t get on with other Indians and was looking for an excuse as well.

        I saw the shit that my sisters went through though, and its always stayed with me. I hate that my daughter is going to run into idiots in life who will try to diminish her like what people tried to do to them… but if I’m around, I’m going to step in, and when I’m not there, my hope is that she’ll have the self-confidence and general strength to do it for herself and for others who need a helping hand.

        A lot of our friends are also LGBT. I don’t want to out anyone on the internet, but Joan and I had a backyard wedding and even our officiator, who went to undergrad with Joan is gay, and we had him run the show. Its not on account of sexuality or anything – he just knew us as a couple for s long time and has a fun way with words (and also plays guitar, bass, keys and all kinds of electronic stuff and sings – I was a fan of several of his bands (they’re like low-fi indie and new wave and experimental noise) for a long time. Joan did their cover art years ago.

        But yeah, I see the boundaries and the people who are trying to keep them in place. I also see the ones who are doing their best to push past it.

        Liked by 1 person

      4. With any amount of luck, the world will be a much better place for minorities and women as your daughter grows up. We are definitely living in a world in transition, but it seems there will always be old and/or white men to belittle whatever is not them. I actually recently had an anti-feminist troll after releasing a feminist piece on the poetry blog; there’s really no point arguing with the stubbornly ignorant.

        It’s really interesting (if horrible) how you talk about not being a “real” Indian. Proof that haters come in all colors.

        I think you’re right in the fact there are parallels which can be drawn. My roommate happens to be gay (I’m not outing him since he’s quite out already.), so as I move in his social circles more, I meet some really amazing people. The steam punk community, also is extremely open and welcoming to all minorities, and with one of the members of one of the biggest steampunk bands having transitioned after the band was “big”, so to speak, the culture of steampunk remains extremely inclusive, so there is a good deal of talk about gender and feminism in that subculture. It really exposes you to a varied group of people.

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