Music is a male dominated field, particularly when it comes to playing musical instruments.
I’m on an acoustic guitar list and periodically the topic comes up regarding how few women play guitar in comparison to men. Invariably the few women on the list will point out how few role models women picking up the guitar have. The men then grind the mental gear box and come up with Maybelle Carter.
Women my age come up with Joan Baez, Joni Mitchell etc as influencing our picking up the steel string acoustic guitar.
In 2004 we went to Eric Clapton’s Crossroads Festival when it was here in Dallas. We saw hundreds of guitarists, some of the best in the world. Of those hundreds of guitar players there was exactly one woman and she played with J. J. Cale’s Band. She was not a featured artist.
I came away from the festival wanting to start playing guitar again after not having played for nearly 20 years, so seeing those guitar players was inspiring. But I was also struck by the fact that Clapton had not considered one woman a serious enough guitar player to have as a featured artist.
Later that year we saw Bonnie Raitt and I thought, “Why wasn’t she one of the artists at Crossroads?”
The next year I was turned on to Kaki King. She blows my mind with some of the stuff she does and could blow half the male guitar players I’ve seen in my life time off the stage.
We saw her in a small club and unless you follow independent women artists like Ani di Franco or cult guitarists you may well have never heard of her.
We’ve seen Joan Baez twice since we have been here in Dallas. Both times at a smallish theater. Once upon a time she used to fill concert halls and large theaters, but she is politically out spoken and folk music is considered passe because it has substance and today style and sexiness counts more than talent or substance.
Tina and I listen to jazz. Jazz is a genre with a small fan base that once filled concert halls and like folk music today often depends on “house concerts”. I can name hundred of players and can often identify them by their style of playing, yet I am hard pressed to name women instrumentalists. The women in jazz are mostly singers. Lady Day, Nina Simone, Dinah Washington, Ella Fitzgerald I could go on and on.
In fact I can only think of a handful of women playing instruments and they are piano/keyboard artists. Carla Bley, Jessica Williams, Toshiko Akiosho, Kiko Matsui.
The sexism of the jazz world makes me want to ask why does having a dick seem to be an essential part of playing an instrument.
Rock and roll. I’m old enough to remember falling in love with Suzi Quatro because she actually played the bass and wore leather when she performed. She strutted on stage and screamed out the songs as she played. That was in the early 1970s when the Second Wave was cresting. I bought a Gibson SG because it was really popular in the 1960s acid rock/psychedelic bands and was lighter than the Les Paul that was so popular in the 1970s.
But damn it was like pulling teeth to get male guitar players to show me or tell me anything about playing electric and we didn’t have all the DVDs filled with lessons in those days. But we had The Runaways, The Pretenders and Tina Weymouth with the Talking Heads. Punk was kind of DIY and girls could rock too, no experience or training necessary.
In the early 1970s I took up photography. I had seen the movie Blow-up in 1967 and couldn’t decide if I wanted to be one of the models or the photographer. About the time I bought my first Nikon, a Nikkormat actually, I also went to modeling school and tried modeling. I thought, “I’m really cute and modeling/acting seems like it would be fun.” I soon discovered I was more interested in what and how the photographers were doing when they were taking the pictures than I was in posing and prancing in front of the camera. I was cute and the photographers liked me. We would hang out, smoke dope and sometimes fuck. They were more generous with explaining how lighting and developing pictures and offering a critical eye regarding my photographic efforts giving advise and telling me when they thought something was good.
I found it far harder to get that sort of respect from rock musicians.
Lead guitars are more than happy to fuck cute chicks and smoke dope with them but their misogyny gets in the way of actually showing that same cute chick how to play a certain lick she might want to learn.
I’ve found male folk musicians more generous in that area than rock dudes.
I have been going to art galleries and museums since the 1970s. I’ve taken classes in Art Schools CCAC and the Art Students League. There are a lot more women taking classes than are ever shown in galleries or museums.
So much so that women founded the Guerrilla Girls in the 1980s to protest the absence of women artists in museums and galleries.
This last week end we watched the Grammys. Women performers seem to be required to be glamorous babes, youth and sexiness seem more important than the music they produce. Guys can be of any age and widely varied in appearance where as women seem to come with an expiration date of around thirty something. They also seem to have to come from the sex object clone factory.
Lost in all the assertion of gender that is part of the anti-feminist backlash is the idea that women can be serious musicians or artists and not be the wet dream for some dick.
Not that guys are particularly into seeing women perform. When we go to concerts featuring women often times the audience is made up of women and gay men. When heterosexual couples are there it often seems as though the man is there because his wife dragged him there.
This seems to vary somewhat with the age of the audience. When the audience is full of boomers who lived through the 1960s and 1970s one is more likely to see men as well as women who are as able to show appreciation towards a female artist.
It isn’t just in music and the visual arts, where women are few and far between.
Have you been to the movies lately?
Intelligent movies have to do battle at the box office with inane CGI driven action films with grotesquely distorted male leads and if there is a female in the cast she will almost certainly be a sex object. The other genres favored seem to be movies of developmentally impaired Peter Pans acting in a manner that should have the MRAs (men’s rights advocates) up in arms.
Films that feature intelligent women or more than one or two sex objects are called “chick flicks”. The default for movies being “dick flicks”.
Sexism is alive and well, it is as though second wave feminism never happened.
Now we don’t even dare call it sexism because we are scared shitless by the word sex. Now it is gender and is supposed to define us as men or women.
Never mind that gender defines being an artist as being male by default.
Never mind how gender has returned us to a level of sexism at least as bad as the 1950s particularly for women in the arts.
Maybe it is time to ask why women have to be sex objects to be heard in the arts and maybe wake up to the idea that sex objects can never be taken seriously.
Maybe it is time to ask why men can be performers at 80 while so many women’s careers as artists in the field of music end with the beginning of winkles, when they are no longer perfect sex objects.