We have all heard the legends of ancient Amazons, female warriors who gallantly fought battles against their fiercest foes. Unfortunately, these powerful images of female strength have been largely erased in our modern age. Time and again, we see images of bravery and valor, but women are generally excluded from these visual messages. Though women are not often portrayed as warriors who possess inner strength and courage, I believe that many women fight everyday in the trenches of cultural inequality. Female musicians perfectly exemplify the necessary doggedness and daring required of women who wish to succeed in male-dominated professions. As in most industries, women in music have to work much harder than our male counterparts just to be taken seriously.
While there are countless women represented in the music industry, they are typically assumed to be solely singers and pegged as one-dimensional figures. It is much more rare to see female musicians, producers, sound engineers etc. Though I have nothing against female singers, as I count myself to at least partially fall into that category, I always have greater respect for anyone who can prove themselves competent in many creative aspects, and it’s unfortunately uncommon to see female artists with control over the various realms that construct their career. Most of these female singers are merely eye candy used to sell the creativity of others working behind the scenes. In contrast, men are not judged merely on their looks, but rather their skill. It’s easy for us to see beyond their image and enjoy what they creatively bring to the table.
I’ve witnessed this double standard at nearly every gig and recording session I’ve been a part of. For example, while preparing for a show, I notice guys checking me out at the venue. I assure you I don’t attribute this to my own attractiveness so much as the attention-grabbing stage clothes I don at most gigs. As I grow painfully aware of this attention, I’m left to wonder what they’re thinking about me. I’d like to believe their thoughts go something like this, “I bet she plays a mean guitar” or “She probably understands how best to order her effects pedals and dial-in her amp tone.” However, I’ve found that it’s more often, “Damn her ass looks nice in those leather shorts” or “Look how long those legs are!” Nearly every night that I perform, I have to deal with drunk creeps in the audience who think it’s permissible to stare at my boobs or crotch the entire set. These are simply things that men in my field don’t have to deal with.
The worst part of being seen as merely eye candy is not the disrespectful stares or degrading shouts from male members of the audience. The worst part is having my ability dismissed before I even play a single note. It’s relentlessly frustrating to have my skills doubted at every corner. It’s assumed that I’m just going to sing and dance around on stage while the guys in my band do the real musical work. Any signs of real creativity or substance are repeatedly attributed to some man who must be working with me; the work behind anything great I do cannot possible be my own. I can understand why there’s that misconception since there exists an incessant stream of false images of women in music, but I assure every reader that I do most of the creating on my own. I’m an intelligent individual who is incredibly committed to developing my craft, the same as my male colleagues.
Every creative endeavor is a collective effort, and I don’t want to sell that short. I’m especially lucky to have family and friends that support what I do. Even more rare, I have male colleagues and band mates that encourage my creative ideas and trust my musical instincts. I’ve been immensely fortunate in that I have possibly the world’s greatest band mates for both bands that I’m in. They all respect the leadership I bring, and I cannot begin to express the freedom that gives me creatively. A great support system and trustworthy colleagues of substance are crucial parts of any artist’s success, but it’s particularly important for women to find this as they will encounter a myriad of challenges that men do not have to worry about.
To any female musicians reading this, I’m sure you can relate to some of the venting I did in the previous paragraphs. I think it’s invaluable for female musicians to have a safe space to vent and empathize with each other’s frustrations. However, it’s more important that we encourage one another, especially since the world around us will most likely fail to do so. Have heart and stay the course. These obstacles are not going to be moved anytime soon, but they are also not insurmountable hindrances. We may have to work harder, but we will be stronger. We may be pushed back further, but we can soar to greater heights and use that negativity to fuel our creative output. We are Amazons. We can fight. We can affect change. We can be victorious. We can overcome anything that stands in our way. We possess all of the ability, perseverance, and courage that we need. In short: we can do it.