The Frustration of Being a Female Guitarist

The world has known for a long time that there’s a very real inequality in the music industry when it comes to female performers.  With most festivals not coming close to closing the gender gap, it’s obvious that women and non-binary musicians are sorely underrepresented.  But when you step into the alternative genres, the gap widens further, despite all of the inspiring women who have worked hard to pave the way for us.  Although I’m by no means a professional musician, I’ve both observed and experienced these attitudes, from micro-aggressions and ridiculous assumptions to blatant sexism as a female electric guitarist.  It’s time to talk about it.

“I’ve never seen a girl play electric guitar before”

To this day, I cannot believe that a grown man said this to me during a guitar lesson.  Luckily this individual only taught me for a week or two, but these are the words that come racing back to me every time I see a woman face criticism just for playing an instrument.  I was 14 years old.  Perhaps if I had been more confrontational at that age, I would have retorted with a particularly creative insult involving guitar strings.  But I didn’t.  There’s a lot to unpack in this simple statement:

First of all: way to call out your own music taste.  If you haven’t seen a woman kill it on electric guitar before, it really can’t be very good.

Second of all: you had better get used to it.

I’d like to say that was the last time I heard such a ridiculous observation.  I would sometimes get asked why I didn’t choose a more ‘feminine’ pastime.  Eventually I got more confident in myself and could very easily list off all of the girls who had moved me to pick up my guitar and to never put it down.  In all likelihood, these absurd questions had the sole purpose of provoking me; although I refrained from responding in anger, but as time went on, I was able to stand up for myself to the people who saw something wrong with me.

Unfortunately, the I then discovered the hellscape that is social media.  But don’t worry, friends, I experienced the horrors of Reddit so that you don’t have to!  In this part of the internet there’s an omnipresent assumption that if you play electric guitar, you are a guy.  For a while I saw these online forums as a way to get great advice from fellow enthusiasts.  But I found that when I posted in these communities – Reddit is fairly anonymous, but I did have pictures of myself on my profile – I would get referred to as ‘he’.  To a lot of people, these might seem insignificant.  But this is a bold assumption which only serves to reflect and reinforce the bias that exists in the alternative music industry. 

I didn’t even bother to correct them this time around.  I was just tired.

A few weeks after I deleted that soul-destroying app, a video was shared to a Facebook group I’m a member of, in which a young woman plays metal on an electric guitar, incredibly well.  It was shared with a positive caption, praising her flawless musical skills.  Wondering who she was, I clicked on the original post to find out more.  What I actually found was the comments section, which comprised solely of zoomed in screenshots of her chest.  By the time I had scrolled far enough to find a positive comment that didn’t objectify her, the video had ended.  The message felt simple – you will only be noticed for your talent if you are a man.  As if women can only hope to get noticed for their body. 

But we are not here to be objectified.  We are not here to justify the space we take up in the alternative music scene.  And we are not here to answer to the people who believe that we belong somewhere else.  We are here to express our passion and to carry on the work of those who came before us.  Legends like Poly Styrene, Brody Dalle and Joan Jett helped to give us a space in rock music and we will fight to keep it.  A few weeks ago, I was lucky enough to see the all-female punk band Bad Cop/Bad Cop.  After a few weeks of looking at this garbage on social media, seeing these strong women let out all of their passion through their music was cathartic in so many ways.  And so for all the women I look up to, I’m not going to stand by and let this inequality slide.  I’m ready to stand up for myself and take my place, whether the rest of the world thinks I’ve earned it or not.

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