Music Gear Bechdel Test
September 17, 2020 4:04 PM   Subscribe

The representation of women in that magazine was the first time it occurred to me that, perhaps, guitar wasn’t for me. Writing in the EarthQuaker Devices blog (EarthQuaker Devices being a small company in Akron, Ohio, that builds guitar effects pedals (recent previously on guitar effects pedals)), Hilary B. Jones, musician, founder of RIOT RI a.k.a. Girls Rock! Rhode Island, adjunct professor at the Rhode Island School of Design, suggests that it is long past time for music instrument manufacturers to use a modified version of the Bechdel Test when creating their marketing and promotional materials, very much including social media posts.
posted by soundguy99 (24 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
Related: Muff Wiggler.
posted by oceanjesse at 4:11 PM on September 17, 2020 [2 favorites]

It's an interesting idea. And definitely needed as a conversation - the music industry is a mountain of douchebags. The idea that women could only be shown holding a guitar (and it was unclear if they were actually musicians) was in a bikini or hot pants is so gross.

I really think there is no excuse anymore for bands that don't have women in them - if you are forming a band and your idea is "four guys" you need to get a better idea.
posted by awfurby at 4:18 PM on September 17, 2020 [2 favorites]

I dunno. From my experience 'forming a band' is what happens organically when your friends play instruments and you hang out a lot. I'm an old dude and a bar circuit player and I gotta tell ya: we *tried* to get women in the band.

Anyway, speaking of equipment and sponsors, bass genius Julie Slick.

And also, you're right about the 80s sexploitative advertising. Anne & Nancy Wilson had to deal with that shit their entire career (so far).
posted by j_curiouser at 4:27 PM on September 17, 2020 [4 favorites]

To be honest, it's harder to get a woman in a band than you'd think. In my experience (granted, another old dude on the bar circuit), women tend to not be too keen on joining a bunch of guys because of the exact issues with women's portrayal in the industry that the linked article discusses.

The few times I've played with bands that have a woman, she's the singer, even if she is a player in her own right. Which is also typical.

Things have to change, but it's going to take more than "add a woman to your band", it's going to take adjusting the gender dynamics through the industry to do it. IMHO, that is.

Weirdly, folk and bluegrass don't seem to have the problem I described, however there are other problems with those genres that are almost as bad.
posted by junyatwin at 4:44 PM on September 17, 2020 [2 favorites]

Plus, y’know, you might sell more guitars? To women?? Who have money and buy things???
posted by The Underpants Monster at 5:05 PM on September 17, 2020 [1 favorite]

Female musician here. There may be guys who are great to play with but I gave up on playing with dudes sometime around 1998 because I just don’t have the bandwidth for being told how to do everything. And most male musicians really, really want to tell me how to do things. I’m done.
posted by corey flood at 5:08 PM on September 17, 2020 [26 favorites]

It seems like a lot of manufacturers are waking up to the idea that women can be, and often are, musicians. Fender and others are marketing heavily to women right now, more female artists are getting signature guitar models, etc.

Speaking as a guitarist (who mostly really hates other guitarists), there's still a lot (a lot!) of entrenched misogyny, but I've noticed that even on pretty conservative guitar forums younger members call out overt sexism, particularly positive or negative comments about female guitarists' appearance. There's a lot less sexism overall on the forums where younger guitarists hang out.

There's still a ton that needs to be done, but there's been slow progress. Booth babes at conventions are almost a thing of the past with a few holdout companies who don't really get that it's just not cool anymore.

The way to get more women to join bands is to stop the BS that prevents them from picking up an instrument in the first place.
posted by mikesch at 5:08 PM on September 17, 2020 [2 favorites]

Hey if you want to support future Women Musicians, especially if you yourself are a musician, consider volunteering for any local Girls Rock Camp in your area! There's a Find a Camp menu you can use to search.

You can be a mentor and teacher, or even just donate an extra guitar or other equipment to your local camp.

(trans girls and non-binary kids are also welcome!)
posted by emjaybee at 5:45 PM on September 17, 2020 [5 favorites]

I've been in in a band with a female singer for 15 years - we had to kick out one drummer and threaten to do the same to another because of disrespectful treatment and sexist comments. Occasionally we take a break, so last time we reformed we stuck with family. Bass player has always been her cousin, so we got his son for drums.

I understand women only playing in all female bands. You're gonna get sexism from the guys at the shows anyway, who needs it at practice too? Can't count how many times I joined a conversation she was having after a set and it was a guy telling her what she did wrong.
posted by InfidelZombie at 5:49 PM on September 17, 2020 [2 favorites]

You could probably shorten the list to:

There is a woman

She is presented as a capable musician

All sexual or offensive social media comments about her are promptly and appropriately addressed or screenshot/deleted match the low bar of the original Bechdel test, TBH.
posted by subdee at 6:01 PM on September 17, 2020 [4 favorites]

I think bands with at least one woman in them tend to have better chemistry on stage, just in general (or maybe I just like them more). And I think having female promoters who specifically champion and book female fronted bands or bands with female song writers or just bands with women in them is one way to create a local scene that's friendlier to women.
posted by subdee at 6:05 PM on September 17, 2020

I'm on some facebook Bass-player groups. Overt sexism is reported (by me and others) and deleted (by the mods), but there's a specific form of mansplaining: people often post videos of themselves playing covers or original compositions on their basses. If it's a man, they mostly get 'right on!', comments about their gear, etc. If it's a woman, they ALWAYS get 'that's nice, but..' and then have their technique critiqued with helpful 'tips'. Always. The people doing it probably don't think of themselves as sexist, but it's annoying enough I've started pushing back against it.
posted by signal at 6:05 PM on September 17, 2020 [10 favorites]

Fender and others are marketing heavily to women right now, more female artists are getting signature guitar models, etc.

During lockdown I signed up to Fender's free couple of weeks on their learning channel. There was a good mix of tutors in the videos I saw, though obviously this is anecdotal as they have 100s of the things. Still, seeing a professional female guitarist showing you how its done can't hurt in the (much overdue and sadly necessary) normalisation process.
posted by Sparx at 7:10 PM on September 17, 2020 [1 favorite]

Oh, god, yes. I started playing guitar in 1984 at the age of 14, and if I wasn't ornery I would have run right away. The domination of male imagery and values in rock music is disgusting and relentless. I got accustomed to dealing with the bias and prejudice immediately; I am still repulsed by it, even though a couple of intervening decades have taken off some of the condescending edge a woman can expect to experience in music stores and on music forums.

"We tried to get women in the band" - spare me with this bullshit. Seek out women musicians, learn from them, be their fan, treat them as equals or betters rather than accessories or visuals or complements, be as interested in their creative vision as you are in your own, and you might have had a different result. Male bands that set out to 'recruit women" are/were definitely to be avoided. That's not an organic, authentic process.

There is a reason women like me started out in rock and moved to Americana, country, old-time and bluegrass. It's not that we didn't love the music.
posted by Miko at 8:43 PM on September 17, 2020 [19 favorites]

1984 at the age of 14

Yeah the ads were really gross back then. As bad as that 2016 magazine cover, even. Hmmm. But here's the "not all ads" bit: I can remember one ad in the Guitar Player of that era that depicted a woman, guitar slung over shoulder, about to go take the stage. The copy read something like "While others partied, you practiced. Now it's your turn to play". I don't recall what brand this was though, and I wish I did - I'd like to give them credit. Because the norm was very much the kind of thing depicted in the blog post.
posted by thelonius at 9:41 PM on September 17, 2020 [1 favorite]

Related: Muff Wiggler.

MW is devoted to DIY modular synthesizers, and thus isn't very mainstream. It's not like your typical musician or audio engineer hangs out there.


They hang out at GearSlutz.

On the bright side, I hang out in some music-making communities on Reddit and they've come a LONG way in the last few years.

Also, I agree with the article, this is why I stopped reading all guitar magazines except for the UK Guitar Techniques.
posted by mmoncur at 3:30 AM on September 18, 2020

Not about bands — but in the same neighborhood. The guy who wrote this is an old friend; I think it was one of his first articles for Reverb. Don’t Be That Guy: Is Sexism Hurting Guitar Shops?
posted by lemon_icing at 5:12 AM on September 18, 2020 [1 favorite]

MW is devoted to DIY modular synthesizers...

It's a specialist site but not quite that specialized -- it's by far the largest/busiest Eurorack forum as well as other modular formats, DIY or not. There's also a fair amount of discussion of non-modular synth gear and a little bit about guitars and FX, software etc. I don't DIY at all but find it an extremely useful resource for synth stuff.

There has long been a bunch of support for changing the name from a lot of forum regulars, as well as things like disallowing softcore porn in peoples' profile pics. But the staff's attitude is it's "harmless fun" and any discussion of trying to make the site more inclusive and comfortable is banned as "politics." (Although I feel like if Kent were fired from the staff and approximately three regulars banned, the place would immediately improve.)
posted by Foosnark at 5:15 AM on September 18, 2020 [2 favorites]

Girls Rock! is such a great organization and I’ve been leading workshops at my local one for the last few years (sadly, not this year). It always comes at a really busy time and I’m like “ugh why am I doing this?!” but it’s one of my most rewarding projects all year.
posted by jeweled accumulation at 7:49 AM on September 18, 2020 [4 favorites]

My friend's 16-year-old daughter (who shreds) did a TED Talk on this subject called "A Girl Walks Into a Guitar Shop."
posted by Ben Trismegistus at 12:26 PM on September 18, 2020 [3 favorites]

Ben Trismegistus, that TED Talk was fantastic. Thanks for sharing.
posted by ceejaytee at 12:46 PM on September 18, 2020

If she is presented with an instrument that has a traditionally feminine aesthetic (pink, with flowers or sparkles, etc.), there is a companion ad featuring a woman with an instrument that is not traditionally feminine in aesthetic

I've been playing guitar since I was a girl in the 1970s, I have performed in rock and funk bands, I have recorded albums, I have worked as a recording engineer for bands you have heard of, and I would've loved to have had a sparkly guitar. What's wrong with sparkles? Why is "not traditionally feminine" neutral? You're either feminine, or you're normal.
posted by The corpse in the library at 11:38 AM on September 20, 2020 [3 favorites]

The corpse in the library, there's a great Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie TED Talk - The Danger of a Single Story - that has helped me answer that question for myself. She talks about how when you only have one story or representation of something, the danger is that people will take that representation to encompass the entirety of that something. Think here of the "Pink Power Ranger" standing in for every girl.

So the problem with the traditionally feminine portrayal is not that feminine is bad - but rather that when it's the only portrayal in the whole magazine, it limits the universe of possibilities to This is The Way that Female Guitarists Are. That's why the OP's test advocates for a feminine guitarist (if that's how she rolls) to be paired with an ad or another depiction that is less overtly feminine. The end goal is to broaden the universe of The Way that Female Guitarists Are to include All the Ways that Female Guitarists Are, not-so-femme included.
posted by librarylis at 12:35 PM on September 20, 2020 [5 favorites]

The "single story" problem would be solved if they just featured actual female guitarists. Some would be pink and sparkly, others not.

What they have right now are literally models holding guitars, dressed as a creepy male's idea of what a female guitarist would look like.
posted by mmoncur at 6:24 PM on September 26, 2020

« Older "Did you catch the debate last night?"   |   Spinach and a sunbeam Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments