Things women musicians say to me

A few weeks ago I asked women musicians on Twitter and Facebook for all the silly things folks have said to them, and/or any silly things they’ve observed folks saying to women musicians. It sparked a lot of maddening responses, which I rounded up in a blog post that got cross-posted at HuffPo entitled “Infuriating Things People Say to Women Musicians”.

Initially, they asked if I’d like to re-title my post “Infuriating Things Men Say to Women Musicians”, assuming most of the quotes came from men. But I know all too well (and too personally) how easy it is to internalize misogyny as a woman-identified person growing up in The Patriarchy. Well, now I know, but for a long time I didn’t. It was during that time that I would say things like “I don’t ‘get’ girls, I just get along better with guys”. Sometimes internalized misogyny works like that – turning you against other women. Other times, it turns you against yourself. So I knew it was highly likely that at least a handful of the silly things said to women musicians were uttered by other women.

Today, I met a warm and funny woman who had read the piece. She plays a few different instruments and writes about music, but hadn’t worked on a musical project in a long time. She partially blamed this on a self-defeating, all-or-nothing “if you can’t play like Zeppelin, what’s the fucking point” attitude. As you might imagine, this made jamming with others extremely intimidating for her, and discouraged her from improvising for fear of screwing up. Guys sometimes have these thoughts and insecurities too, for sure, but as you can see from my post, many women musicians face a kind of wall of dismissal and condescension from all corners of their industry.

When she read my piece and saw how many other women were being dismissed and condescended to, she realized that maybe this had something to do with the feelings that had prevented her from diving into a jam. At the same time, she remembered a story her female friend had shared awhile back about putting up posters seeking new bandmates, and getting a bunch of calls from clueless and/or intrusive dudes looking for dates. At the time, she had laughed off her friend’s frustration in a “what a problem: too many dates, not enough time” kind of way. Reading my laundry list of similar micro-aggressions shifted this old anecdote into a new light for her. Commiserating about it with her friend, the two of them felt emboldened and kindled a new musical project together. This story thrilled me to the core.

It was interesting that she used Zeppelin as her example of a sound to aspire to, because one of the comments on my HuffPo piece reads as follows:

This might've made me shed a tear or two.This guy’s remorse for dismissing Nancy and Ann’s own soul-shattering music in favour of covers (though Heart’s Zeppelin covers do rule), and his retrospective appreciation of their own unique sound, really touched me. I couldn’t resist recounting the comment to the awesome woman I met today. She, like me, was visibly moved by it. Before our goodbye high-five, I told her “Girl, you can play like Zeppelin, or you can play like you”.

Things people say to women musicians

My band, Patti Cake, is making a zine for our show this Thursday at the Silver Dollar in Toronto. Since our lead singer Kritty Uranowski is a counsellor at Girls Rock Camp and I am mostly always thinking about feminism (ALL THE DAMNED TIME), I decided to submit a collection of crowdsourced “things people say to women musicians” for the zine. I tweeted this:

Here’s a sampling of the responses I got. Note the frequency with which the word “girls/girl” appears. Also, music store employees? DO BETTER.

“Girls can’t play bass because they’re not technical.”

“You girls must be singers.” – music store employee to women customers looking at mixers

“Do your parents know you’re out with old guys?”

“Let me explain to you how soundchecks work.” – sound tech, who went on to patronizingly explain Soundchecks 101 to a musician with years of experience

“WOW, a girl drummer!”

“So you’re a solo acoustic act, right?”

“Are you the singer?” “No.” “…Are you the keyboard player?” “No.”

“Girl bassists are hot.”

“……..” – the sound of a woman musician being ignored a million times by music store employees

“They make you carry that?!?!” – onlooker to woman musician lugging gear

“You know about amps?! Whoa, you just blew my mind. I love a chick that knows about gear.”

“Oh, you’re IN the band!”

“There’s a girl’s voice on this recording but no girl in the band.” – reviewer about a band in which there is, in fact, a “girl”

“I almost had a show for you with [female artist], but decided against a woman opening.” – booker

“I bet you’re buying the blue tambourine because blue is your favourite colour.” – music store employee

“This headshot won’t work for your poster… You need a body shot!” – agent

“It’s pretty hard to know what this stuff does unless you really study it.” – male music store employee to a trained audio engineer who is also a woman

“I didn’t know girls liked Iron Maiden.”

“Oh, so you’re in the jazz program. Singer, right?”

“You were actually good; I was surprised!”

“You play this?!” – male┬ámusic repair shop employee re: a woman musician’s guitar

“You must’ve dated at least half your band.”

“We always thought you were waiting for your boyfriend.” – male music store employee when a woman musician asked why she never got any service from them

“Ha! Like YOU could ever sing Zeppelin.”

“Want a Betty Boop strap to go with that new guitar?”

“I didn’t know girls played saxophone.”

“There are no female music producers because women can’t understand the technicalities involved.” “[Names a female music producer]” “She must have had a guy helping her out.”

“I can no longer book you because you want to tour with your baby.”

“Girls don’t play jazz.” – man, to a woman who auditioned and beat a tonne of guys for a spot in the ensemble

“Just shut up, smile and sing, honey.”

“You should specialize. People don’t like girls who do too much.” – man, to a woman who sings and plays a variety of instruments

“I hope you girls know what you’re doing with those covers, the bass parts are hard! I know because I have the tabs book.”

“Are you shopping for your boyfriend?” – male music store employee

If you groaned at least once while reading these, please consider making a donation or spreading the word about Girls Rock Camp or the Resampled music production workshops for women and trans folks (there’s one at the Tranzac this Sunday).