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Music I Like Race, Class, Gender, Sexuality

Gender in bands

It doesn’t really surprise me when I see this in Christian churches, but the phenomenon also spills out into secular society as well, and that does surprise me. I’ve seen a lot of bands with a woman lead singer who sings and plays no instrument (except maybe a tamborine) supported by men playing bass, guitar, and drums. This gender dynamic is odd.

Of course, there’s nothing terrible about being the lead singer. I don’t want to make it sound as if that’s an example of gender oppression, to be in the spotlight, but why aren’t there more women guitarists, bassists, and drummers? I know they exist. I’ve seen them before—just not in great numbers.

When my wife and I saw Sara Bareilles in concert, the opening act was a band called Raining Jane. They weren’t bad. They weren’t amazing. But she and I both agreed that it was pretty cool to see an all-female band—vocals, sitar, guitars, drums, bass. I also saw only once an all-female worship team at a church in Cambridge, Massachusetts (don’t know if they’re still there). Doubt I’ll ever see that again.

I wonder what the sociological factors are that go into band gender dynamics. If women do play instruments, they’re far more likely, it seems, to play piano and rhythm guitar than solo guitar, bass, or drums. Is there something deemed by the women themselves (or by society discouraging women) supposedly unfeminine about these instruments?

A while ago, I went with two women to see the documentary Girls Rock, about a one-week rock camp for girls. The girls didn’t have to have any previous musical experience, but within the course of one week, they all formed bands, wrote songs, practiced, learned instruments, and gave final performances. Even though there is some musicianship involved in the camp, a one-week camp can’t really train you that much on playing instruments well. A lot of the camp has to do with self-confidence and self-expression. Both women I saw it with loved the film and found it empowering. Neither particularly wanted to follow up by forming a band or learning guitar (or bass or drums) themselves, though.

I’m curious as to what other people’s experiences have been around bands and gender. If you’re a man, do you feel any particular affinity toward guitars, drums, or basses? If you’re a woman, do you feel any particular affinity toward singing, piano, and guitar? What messages of encouragement or discouragement in the realm of instrument-learning and musicality have you experienced?