a token ain’t just for the subway

A couple of years ago I played bass in a punk rock band with my boyfriend at the time and a few of our friends. We didn’t play the kind of music I’m super into, really, but it was fun, and we even got to play with Circle Takes The Square. One show we played, my boyfriend asked the fellow setting it up if his other band could be on the bill. The dude said no, mostly because it was pretty full already but also because “well, every band on here has a woman or queer person, and I know your band isn’t bro dudes, but…”

I understand that line of thinking. I’ve been to countless shows that were top-to-bottom sausage fests. Even in the ostensibly egalitarian world of punk rock, it’s still disproportionately dudes who play in bands. It can be a little intimidating, as a lady interested in playing music, to see that almost every person currently playing music that you like is a dude. HOWEVER: my main feeling, upon reading the message the fellow sent, was one of mild irritation.

I remember reading Davin‘s complaint about this kind of thing a while ago: how punk rock promoter kids would book her band alongside bands that sounded nothing like them, but who happened to also have female singers. Likewise, the bands we were playing with on that bill didn’t really sound very similar to us. Which is fine, I don’t mind playing with odd lineups. But it just goes to show that “female fronted/female members” isn’t a genre. And if you listened to my band and you weren’t looking directly at us, you couldn’t tell we had a female member at all – I just played bass, I didn’t sing or make any vocal contribution whatsoever.

I don’t want to be thought of as “a girl in a band.” My musical stylings don’t have anything to do with my gender. Well, I guess they do in the sense that everyone who plays music has their music influenced by their life circumstances, but it’s on the same level as anything else in my life that influences my playing. When someone classifies a band I play in by me and my genitals, not only is it insulting to the other members (what are they, my anonymous wang-bearing backup band?), it’s limiting for me. I hate hearing punk or metal bands described as “female fronted” – I mean, what is that besides a veiled allusion to the notion that “the ladies don’t usually like this kind of thing, so this is unusual”? Besides, with those kinds of bands it’s often hard to determine the singer’s gender anyway. (I remember listening to the radio in the early ’90s, when I was 5 or 6, and assuming that the shrieky singers in hair-metal bands were all women. Conversely, can you tell from listening that the singer from this band is a lady?)

I am very pro-girls in bands. I think it is important to encourage girls to play music, and actively contribute instead of being the passive receptacles/witnesses of Dude Genius we are often encouraged to be. I just don’t think the way to do that is to tokenize female musicians.

~ by Smellen on February 11, 2010.

3 Responses to “a token ain’t just for the subway”

  1. also, the bass player of the “other band” is gay.

  2. er, drummer.

    • yeah, that bothered me a lot. Way to totally dismiss queer folk who don’t present in stereotypical ways! (I know we talked about this earlier but I just wanted to state it for the record/internet)

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