So, I’m an awkward 15 year old who uses her fringe as a veil to keep out unwanted visitors, because it makes me invisible (obviously). I’m walking to school, carrying my cello because my music lesson is today (which gets me out of half an hour of maths, which is awesome) and I hear the dreaded shouts. “There’s guitar girl!”
These people do not offend me, because:
- I’m carrying a cello, not a guitar, you unsophisticated fools
- It’s pretty cool that they think I can play guitar.
But what I do pick up on – on these miserable days when it’s raining and my spine is being bent out of shape trying to haul this god damned awkward instrument a mile down the road – is that they seem to be very interested in the fact that I am a musician who possesses a vagina.
I began my foray into musician-hood at the tender age of 7. I was playing in a local community orchestra by the age of 8, sat many grade exams, and played at many local events and venues. I even played at the Bridgewater Hall before I entered puberty. So it’s fair to say that I knew my stuff, I’m a little rusty now, though.
By the time I was the awkward 15 year old, I was classically trained on the cello, could play an awesome blues riff on the double bass, and had just been bought a bass guitar for my birthday.
This was when it began to get all… sexist. My bass guitar and I had opened the door into rock and roll, and found the biggest sausage fest this side of Bavaria. They didn’t like me and my modest Squier Precision Bass. Not. One. Bit.
Our school was a comprehensive, but someone had decided to slap ‘centre of excellence in the performing arts’ onto the end of our school name, (probably for extra money or something) so there was plenty of musical stuff going on. I was always in the rock bands, because nobody wanted to play bass, it wasn’t cool. Bassists didn’t set their guitars on fire, and if you tried to play one with your teeth, you’d probably end up looking like a hillbilly. But Squier P Bass and I marched on regardless to take on the patriarchy with our mad skillz.
It was a nightmare. Nobody would just let girl and bass rejoice in beefy harmony in peace. Between the ‘girls are shit at music’ statements, to the contradictory ‘it’s a good thing you learned bass, because girls can’t play lead’ (most often said by my very own band mates. Not cool.), and the parents and teachers cooing, ‘ooh, you just remind me of a young Suzie Quatro or a young Stevie Nicks’ after every single performance, I was ready to smash P Bass over their heads whilst screaming “YES, I HAVE A VAGINA” in their faces.
I am presently unaware of any condition that the vagina creates that stops women being able to play guitar- lead, bass or otherwise. Perhaps our cervixes spread up into our fingers and stop us being able to move them quick enough, or we can’t concentrate on playing a riff because we’re actually thinking about that killer pair of shoes we saw earlier in Topshop. And, just because Suzie Quatro and Stevie Nicks are the only famous females known to play bass, this does NOT make me look like them. Even though it’s kind of a compliment, it’s still just as patronising as when someone calls you a ‘rock chick.’ I am not a tiny, cute feathery animal in a leather jacket. I am a human being who has been known to pick up an instrument from time to time.
The sexist remarks weren’t the most frustrating part. It’s very hard to explain. I used to sense that I shouldn’t be there, as if I wasn’t wanted. I wasn’t part of the ‘banter,’ I was just left on my own in the corner to figure out the melody to the song that they had picked, while my suggestions were always ignored. If I ever pointed a mistake out, such as another member playing a wrong note, or did join in with the banter, I was most often met by silence.
It wasn’t a case of bullying, they tended to be friends of mine, but in the practice rooms I was alienated, and I know it was because I’m a woman. I was invading their territory. I could show that I was a good musician and they didn’t like it. When I played bass guitar, I was basically holding a big penis that wasn’t mine to hold, and the guys got offended by it.
Music is another area dominated by men because it’s another way for them to extend their egos and penises. I found that the sexist guys in the bands were the most insecure ones, and resorted to sexism for an ego boost.
Even now, after stopping playing (there’s not much call for playing bass guitar during English literature lectures) I can’t even have a conversation with most men about music without it veering off into a sexist discussion about what kind of music women supposedly like, and how they are supposedly less interested in music in general, and how they apparently aren’t as capable as men when it comes to learning how to play an instrument.
I therefore urge ALL women to learn how to play an instrument just so you can piss on the patriarchy’s parade. Just like Jimi once said, “if there is something to be changed in the world, it can only happen through music.”