Why Are there No Great Women (Rock) Artists?

This is the question asked by Andrew Cedermark, songwriter and recording artist/rock journalist, in the current issue of C-Ville Weekly. The reasons are social, cultural, and historical – stretching back to constraints on women’s ability to be “alone” in public spaces, to ongoing girlhood socialization as quiet and non-aggressive.

The article covers the experiences of eight local artists in genres from indie to noise to metal. I contributed as one of the artists who also happens to write about issues of gender and music culture. Andrew was kind enough (and patient enough) to incorporate my academic research on music instrument stores into the piece:

There is also the question of buying gear. Haughty gearheads, piles of tiny, useless stuff, bowling shirts that faintly smell of weed—it’s no secret that music stores can be uncomfortable places to visit. Double the discomfort for many women. Carey Sargent plays drums in the local bands Dzian! and the Pinko Communoids, and is a sociologist who has published on the topic of local music stores. “For others with different experiences,” Sargent wrote in a 2006 paper, “such as playing privately, knowing more about hip-hop than rock, or having classical training on the guitar rather than immersion in the rock music practice, the experience can be a struggle to comprehend the language and interactions of the environment. Finding themselves in this position, these musicians may defer to others to perform, speak and choose in their place.”

Landragin’s experience as a young player bears testament to Sargent’s research. Landragin says that she “never, hardly ever” sees women in local music stores. As a classical guitar player, she slipped inconspicuously into music stores to buy nylon strings.

Music store employees “started getting interested and asking about my playing” when she started buying steel strings for her electric guitar. “I never started playing guitars in music stores,” Landragin adds, “until I got the balls to realize that it didn’t matter.”

Overall, the women interviewed do not cite direct exclusion as the source of the problem, so much as a wider rock culture that sees femininity as a detriment to authenticity. This culture is in the music instrument store, but it is also in performance expectations, the lack of female role models and instrument teachers, objectifying lyrics, and rehearsal room (locker room) banter.

The burden has always been on women to adapt to the culture of rock in order to prove themselves. Its something we have previously only discussed with each other and occasionally, carefully, with the men we perform with. This article, and the men and women involved in its production, opens up what will hopefully be an ongoing conversation, rather than a lament or blind celebration of equality.