Yes... Women Guitarists Can REALLY Play

August 19, 2014
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A lot of times, people putting together bands are looking for a female or male player specifically. This is problematic, but it doesn't make me terribly antsy on a day-to-day, looking-for-work sort of basis. Frankly, if a band is looking for a male guitar player, I'm not going to get that gig any time soon. More troubling to me is the barrage of questions I endure when I am considered for a gig that doesn't have a gender ‘requirement,' a barrage inevitably beginning with, "Can you really play?"

First of all, I can play. I'm not a virtuoso but I do my job well. If you are asking me to play music that is beyond the scope of my ability, I will not take the gig and recommend a friend who can play the music. I don't put myself into situations where I won't perform well. Having to explain that to someone without sounding cocky is complex. I usually take the route of identifying mutual friends and offering recommendations from them, or if we're emailing I'll send some Youtube links.

The problem is this: men are not asked if they can "really" play. Men presenting an equally professional appearance as I present (website, references, etc.) are not required to take that extra step to prove themselves. I am actively discriminated against in my work on a near-daily basis, and it's not just because I'm masculine-of-center, although that probably doesn't help. Rather it's because I am a woman.

I could talk all day about my experiences with audio engineers not trusting my knowledge of equipment, or band managers asking me to "consider dresses" instead of my preferred stage wear, but that's not what I want to get at. My fellow musicians perpetuate sexism among each other and it does no one any favors. Gender-diverse business units perform better than gender-exclusive ones, and the music business is — spoiler alert — a business. Check this out for background. Or this.

It's tiring to feel like I have to knock every gig out of the park in hopes the guy who hired me never says something about female instrumentalists again. I'd much rather knock the gig out of the park solely because I want to do my job well. We can get to that ideal by educating ourselves. Learn about the history of female instrumentalists; Sister Rosetta Tharpe and Carol Kaye are great places to start. We have to be aware of the way we talk about female players, because "good for a chick" is not okay. Recognize that the women in our bands have to do more to be taken seriously, because sexism is a system hundreds of years old and ingrained in every part of modern society.

We all need to take steps to disconnect gender from musical ability. If we hear another person saying, "I've just never been impressed by a chick bass player," there so many ways to shut that down and keep the conversation civil. That's a priority for me, because most of the time I'm just trying to hang on to a gig.

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