Thoughts on Girls and Guitars

I play guitar in a rock/funk/metal band. Yeah, I know, it’s a bit of a mishmash, but it’s fun music to play albeit technically pretty demanding since you gotta know a bunch of very different genres, some of which are technically inherently challenging, like most modern metal.

For years now, we’ve been on the lookout for a second guitarist and a second female vocalist: we figured since we have two male voices, it would be nice to also have two female voices to balance things out. Thing is, five members is already plenty, six would be almost too much, seven… just no; we barely fit on the small stages of our usual venues as a fivesome. That being said, we figured it would be practical if the second guitarist and second female singer were the same person.

We’ve searched high and low, far and wide, but haven’t found anyone to fit the bill, and we’re not even picky! We’d take any girl with a guitar, enough skill to plow through the songs, and a kickass attitude, but… where are they? There are a few very skilled axewomen in the local circles, but they are exclusively focused on the jazz/funk/r&b side of music with no interest in the heavier stuff.

When we look at female musicians in the metal circles, we have plenty of singers (but only a few express themselves any other way than by what’s traditionally “feminine,” i.e. by clean, melodic singing), a few keyboard players, and the odd bass player, but where are all the skilled, female metal guitarists?

Where are all your fellow female axewomen, Lita?

Where are all your fellow female axewomen, Lita?

And don’t get me started on female metal drummers. I know a few exist here and there, but they are about as rare as a live T-Rex with a degree in chemistry and microbiology. Sure, drummers are rare even among men, but male guitarists are a dime a dozen. It’s among the world’s most popular instruments, so what gives? Usually female guitarists aren’t even “proper” guitarists, but singer/songwriters who just strum their guitars to back their main instrument, their singing, or they are punk players who are content banging away their power chords. Most modern metal, however, takes quite a bit of technical skill which, in turn, requires diligent practice.

So, don’t girls like to practice, spend endless hours woodshedding, working on their shredding and tapping? Some call that the musical equivalent of wanking, so since a larger portion of guys have regular onanistic pursuits in comparison to girls, is that the reason? Girls aren’t enthusiastic fiddlers?

No passion for practice?

No passion for practice?

Okay, bad humor aside, what’s the real reason behind this lack of interest in serious practice? I’ve read one interesting theory: in popular culture, it’s practically always the men who are the guitar heroes, the rock gods, while the audience consists of screaming girls who have posters of the cutest band members adorning the walls of their rooms.

Popular culture itself, music videos, movies, even the posters help perpetuate this dichotomy. Kids see images of men performing onstage, of girls screaming in the audience or swooning next to the band members backstage, so naturally the kids usually relate to the pictured representatives of their own sex: the boys see themselves in the role of the worshipped rock gods, the girls see themselves as the worshippers with only the very few exceptions daring to think outside the box and imagine themselves in the place of the rock gods, being worshipped by the adoring crowd. I would hazard a guess that more girls would probably feel comfortable with that setting if the poster depicted a female guitarist and an adoring crowd of cute boys.

Girls can be rock god(desse)s too.

Girls can be rock god(desse)s too.

I’m not sure if we can lay all the blame on social conditioning, but I do believe that theory has some merit if we accept that other kinds of social conditioning affect our behavior as well as our thought processes.

Luckily today, more than ever, we have girls and women paving the way for their future sisters: technically adept ladies are more abundant than ever, but despite the likes of Leah Woodward, leading by example of a serious female guitarist who likes to crank up the gain and blast all-out metal with the best of them, she’s still one of the very few exceptions.

Now if only (wo)mankind would catch up to the new millennium and stop antagonizing girls and women who choose to follow their hearts and dreams instead of social conventions, we’d face a far more diverse palette of talent. Imagine how many wonderful songs remain unwritten because so many girls have been discouraged from picking up an instrument by either their families, friends, or the society in general.

However, even today, being a female rock guitarist is a double edged sword: I’ve heard of a local all-girl punk band who got their first gig before their first practice session! And some of them hadn’t even picked up an instrument before the first band practice. Imagine that: someone proactively sought them out… and offered them a gig… before some of them had played… a single… note. Some club owner had just heard from a friend of a friend of a friend of a new all-girl punk band and immediately called them to play at his club because apparently girls sell.

Then again, it is largely because of that kind of preferential treatment why so many people, men and women alike, don’t take female players seriously. The basic assumption being that the girl guitarist got all her fame, gigs, sponsors etc. simply because of what she has in her pants (or under her skirt).

So being a female guitarist can prodive you with extra opportunities, but also an uphill battle when it comes to earning respect. Without respect, without being taken seriously, several people have a hard time persevering in their chosen activity unless they really, truly love it. And even if they do, having to constantly prove yourself over and over again to hostile doubters may start eating at you over time, causing frustration and even making you give up and quit.

Taking all that into consideration, the next time you see a beginner female guitarist, do us all a favor and offer her some encouragement instead of doubts and criticism even if she gets more attention than you (if you’re male or a non-musician female) because of the combination of her sex and hobby.

When we first start out, a little support can go a long way.

When we first start out, a little support can go a long way.

I do know from experience just how unfair it can be when you see a beginner get far more attention simply because she’s a girl guitarist than I after years of diligent practice and hard work, but so what? None of us like unfair treatment (unless it’s in our favor), but it’s not the girl who’s at fault; it’s the jackasses who place different values on people depending on their sex instead of their skill level. So instead of directing your anger at the rocker girl, either redirect it into practicing or aim it at those who perpetuate inequality, be it for the detriment or benefit of men or women.

Until next time, peace out rock on.