A recent article from the Guardian has been making its way around my friends- sent via email, shared on social media. The piece is about a new survey which highlights that half of beginner guitarists in the US and the UK are female. I think people expect me to go, THAT IS FRICKING FANTASTIC!, and be filled with glee. AT LAST girls are picking up instruments! And I do feel like that. I think it is amazing. As a girl growing up in the 80s, the THOUGHT of PLAYING an instrument did not even cross my mind. I remember when I was 10 years old, and I first saw the Go-Gos, I was floored. I had literally NEVER seen a girl play guitar, let alone a bass, DRUMS!?!?! It seemed as fantastic as me sprouting wings and having a pet unicorn- In other words, I did not even contemplate or ponder it as a dream, as it was just so far out of reality that it was not even a ‘thing.’ I thought it was much more realistic that I would get to go on a date with Ricky Schroder, the TV Justin Bieber of his time.
So, when I see that there is RESEARCH being done to look at the buying and learning and engagement with girls- and women- who pick up instruments, especially the ‘male’ heavy ones like guitar- it is really exciting. To think that there is no question, no barrier, no elusiveness to the possibility of a female BEING a musician, an artist is a beautiful thing. It shows that we are seeing ourselves across the media, not just in one-off moments, like my Go-Gos obsession. However, I can not help but also think- WHY ARE WE STILL TALKING ABOUT THIS? As someone who sees the world through the trifecta of academic theory, pop culture and marketing, it seems so weird to me that it is NEWS that women are keen on pursuing this. Like it is shocking. Like it is such a disruption from what was happening before and what is expected. The difference, I would say, is not in the longing or interest to play, but in the birth of accessibility- we see others doing it, it is (being) normalised, it is not an unreachable reality.
I also have a bit of an issue of people saying it’s the ‘Taylor Swift’ factor, as it erases so many women who came before. I look at icons like Joan Jett all the way to our own bad ass, Julia Ruzicka, College Principal at BIMM London. These ladies were rocking out WAY before there were mass memes, YouTube or any easily shared ‘content’ outside of the pages of a magazine. I keep going to gigs, and it is still a mostly dude heavy environment. If there is a female presence, it is usually as the lead singer, not an instrumentalist. So, while it is the proverbial ‘progress’ that we celebrate, I think there is a lot to still be pondered, the idea of women being MORE than the object to be viewed in the center of the stage- the re-visioning of a girl performing a guitar, bass, drums, a lute through an amp, ANYTHING- as an artist first, and not be foremost defined by the ovaries.