My only experiences with musical instruments were a week of piano classes in elementary school and half a year of guitar at the start of my middle school years.
Those clearly did not work out, and a few years and a Blink-182 cover band later I find myself running an independent label alongside my friends. This altered my schedule slightly, since now I spend more time consulting my co-workers (it feels really weird to refer to them as co-workers) on how to reply customers’ angry shipping-related emails than staring at the ceiling thinking about death. I also mostly plan my weekly schedule around shows these days, since we sell our releases at events, too.
Since attending more shows, I’ve noticed a scene that keeps reoccurring whenever a band that consists of one female member among three, maybe four, male members would play. It is the custom that the presenter/presenters would ask the band mundane questions (like what the band name means) to kill time as they set up their gears.
More often than not, they would at some point turn to the sole female member of the band and say, “Kita tanya dia yuk, yang paling cantik sendiri!” (Let’s ask the prettiest member what she thinks!). Or: “Wih, basisnya cewek!” (Wow, a girl bassist!). Or some variation of those.
This occurs in interviews too, whether on-air or printed. I rarely listen to this kind of small talk, but whenever I do, I feel like growing out more fingers and getting a knuckle tattoo that spells out SECONDHAND EMBARRASSMENT. But it’s happened so often that I’d never actually asked how girls in bands that I know feel about it until recently.
At first glance, it may seem that the person who directed the aforementioned remarks to the female band member did nothing wrong and those who are offended are just too darn sensitive. But it is actually a form of microaggression.
“It gets really annoying,” Smita of bedchamber confirms.
This kind of singling out actually does much more harm than merely subjecting the member to embarrassment on stage. Smita is always trying to be a better bass player, and has even considered taking lessons so as not to be seen as the proverbial Girl Bass Player. Most girls in bands have to strive harder than their male counterparts to prove that they’re not just a tool to further their bands’ careers, and not many realize that.
Another friend, Prinka of Pansy Love, had actually been encouraged to play the bass because it’s “easier than guitar (for a girl)”. An unnamed friend has even heard male friends she hangs out with talking about inviting a band (that of course has a girl in it) to one of their events because they “play okay, but a lot of guys will definitely attend (the event)”. Rather than getting excited to play a show, girls in bands have to worry about ulterior motives instead.
I’ve also noticed that the sole girl in a band is treated differently from girls in an all-girl band, or the female frontman (frontwoman?) in an otherwise all-male band. The girl band member is mostly seen as passive, pandering to the decisions of the other guys. Some girls in bands feel self-conscious about personal decisions they make, especially those that are related to their appearance, such as their haircut or hair color, since people may see the move as a gimmick to attract more fans.
“I want to shave my head just so that people don’t realize that I’m a girl,” admits Smita. But wouldn’t that seem gimmicky as well? “Sometimes I don’t want to think that way, but I’d eventually do.”
Let’s not forget about the lists – those “girls lists” that local websites just love to run. The titles of the piece usually follow this template: “(Number) (Pretty/Good-Looking/etc.) Girls of (Name of University/any location) that You Should Know.”
I’m baffled that nobody has ever talked about it because they are exactly what they sound like – a list consisting of girls’ photographs, sometimes preceded by their full names. Not even a sentence noting their achievements or why they are featured (although that would only make it a tad bit less icky).
Girls in the independent music scene do not escape this phenomenon. I remember when some of our friends got featured on one of the lists and everybody who knows them on Facebook either liked or shared it. After all, it’s a compliment, right? But what do the girls themselves really think about it?
“I don’t like it, it makes me feel like… an item on a menu,” Smita puts it simply.
It’s very possible that the author meant well by letting the world realize the existence of all these wonderful individuals. But it’s degrading, if anything, and he’s probably only directing strangers to the girls’ Facebook profiles and marketing the featured girls’ bands not for the music, but the physical appearance of the girls who are in them.
It can be tough when interviewers ask your male band mates why they chose to have a female guitar/bass/whatever player or, when they hit on you multiple times, rather than focusing the questions on what you and your friends have worked hard on and poured your hearts into. Most people who are in bands chose to be in them and were not forced by another member to be in the band, so why do we think that male band members are always responsible for the inclusion of female ones? Why is it so hard to get past the fact that some band members are of a certain sex?
In a perfect world, there would be no redundant remarks about whether an instrument player is a guy or a girl. Nobody would invite bands that play rather badly to their event, girl or no girl. Instant noodles would look exactly the same as their packaging once cooked. And everybody would stop it with the damned lists.
But eggs and instant noodles are still sold separately; and until they come in a package, we still have to work together to make the scene fun for everyone.
Katyusha Methanisa works at Kolibri Rekords while waiting to be accepted into a university. Her best time on beginner level Minesweeper is 15 seconds. She complains about subreddits at @ofUlthar.