There are few women musicians whose talent supersedes their looks. There are lots of singers, but it’s usually looks > talent, at least as far as society is concerned: Lady Gaga, Britney Spears, Jessica Simpson, Madonna, etc. Even when they do have talent, their looks are highlighted a lot more than for male singers.
But full bands full of musical talent and creative genius? full of women? Not very likely. Can you think of one out of the top of your head? They don’t even have to be too good and/or successful. Or, think musical genius. Does a woman come to mind?
There’s a pattern here too. There doesn’t seem to be a problem with singing, but what about musicians who play instruments or compose? Why are there so few women bass players, drummers, trumpet players, sax players, lead guitarists? Why are some genres more accessible to women, like pop and indie rock, and others are not, like rap, salsa, metal or jazz (or punk, or vallenato, or classical, or ska, or reggae, or you-get-my-point)?
When it comes to solo musicians, there are exceptions, of course. The history of human civilization is rather long and male hegemony is not that complete, so a few, historically very recently, have squeezed through. Black-Haired Shakira (regardless of whether you like her or not, she writes her own music, plays guitar, harmonica, drums, sings, dances and writes her own lyrics–which are breathtaking in the first two CDs); Esperanza Spalding, jazz prodigy bassist, vocalist, band leader and composer; Edith Piaf, and Celia Cruz (no explanation needed), composer, producer and pianist Yoko Kanno, to name just a few.
Examples of all-male bands are too numerous to even attempt to start, but bands with one or two female members, that I am somewhat familiarized with, are for example, Bio Ritmo (salsa, Richmond, Va.), Monsieur Perine (jazz/pop, Bogotá, Colombia), Ekobios (salsa, Gainesville, Fla.), Umoja Orchestra (afrobeat/Latin/jazz, Gainesville, Fla.) where women usually sing and/or play auxiliary percussion instruments (which can be important, depending on the music genre. And in Bio Ritmo, the woman plays the piano and she is extremely talented). The women that I know in these bands are very talented, and I feel their musicality could go to greater depths –so obviously, this is in no way is trying to be disrespectful to the members of these bands, female or male– this is simply pointing out the current state of affairs, to question whether they are optimal and what can be improved about them.
I had this conversation with a male multi-instrumentalist/composer who is in a band of +/- 12 men and +/- 1 woman (singer). It went like this:
Me: “Why are there so few women musicians in bands?”
Him: “Because they don’t take the initiative.”
Me: “True. Why?”
Him: “Because they don’t care, they’re not interested.”
How true is this? And if it’s true, why aren’t they interested? Is it something inherent in women? Is it genetic, hormonal? In a sweep of collective generalization, what are they doing that they’re not out there making music? Cooking and having babies?
This could be a possibility. Household chores and motherhood have kept women out of the workplace for many, many years, so the same could apply to activities that require a lot of dedication and time, like music. Then I am reminded that not everything has to do with feminism, not everything shitty that happens to women is a result of an unfair power imbalance. Yes, one should consider all possibilities. Maybe they’re uninterested, apathetic. Maybe they just don’t like making music that much. Maybe they have better, more important things to do, like being state leaders, philosophers, engineers. Oh, wait.
Another possibility he points out is that maybe testosterone is needed to be able to play something like drums, (just like you need testosterone to play football, he says, and you don’t need it for ballet. For ballet you need flexibility, which women have more of, and that’s why each has its due gender distributions).
If that’s true, first, we would have to assume that women either a) have no natural inclination for music, or b) they like it, but they are incapable of reaching the level of skill necessary to start or be in a band, or c) they like it, they can have skill, but they lack the necessary level of creativity to lead and create music, not just consume it. You can also see this reflected in a lot of lyrics, ancient and contemporary, which present the scenario of women as audience and men as “creators” (religious pun intended).
Here we can go back to music prodigies like Esperanza Spalding and Shakira, who prove it’s not inherent in womanhood to lack musicality.
So if it’s not genes or hormones — in other words, nature — then it must be nurture. This is about being active vs. passive, about feeling the confidence to create, to contribute to society something that is strong and beautiful and worthwhile, like music can be. This is part of what holds back many women to this day, when it’s not prohibited by law for them to do certain things, but they are still “not interested”.
But before we understand why this happens, lets look at what this musical status quo means, for men, for women, and for humanity as a whole.
More on that on the next post.
- Black Gold – Esperanza Spalding (livingonsongs.wordpress.com)