It was a routine trip to my local music store – one I have made many times before to buy strings, rent PA equipment or simply to look longingly at the vintage Telecasters hanging far above the reach of customers. Most of the staff at this music store know me on sight and for the most part they treat me the same as the guys.
On this trip, I was simply looking to add a boost pedal to my pedal rack to enable me to play solos on my electric guitar without adding additional distortion or muddying my sound. I walked up to the counter and there was a new guy on staff who had recently arrived from London. I was dressed in my part time day job clothing with nice dress pants and blouse, most likely looking more like a parent seeking music lessons for my child than a professional guitarist. The new guy was friendly enough as I asked him about boost pedals, but I recognized that familiar response – the one that I’m sure many woman experience when they negotiate buying a car. It’s that unspoken assumption that we really don’t understand and shouldn’t really trouble ourselves with the details. It’s a talking down to rather than a conversation with and coming from nice guys it’s often quite subtle. After years of going into music stores and being ignored while the guy accompanying me gets asked what he needs, I recognize this feeling.
The best part of my story is what happened next. At my music store, I have a great connection with one of the staff. He’s a very tall bearded hipster who is soft-spoken, introspective and shares almost the exact taste in music and guitars as I do. We’ve spent quite a few lunch hours simply talking – about our mutual preferences for telecasters and older Gibson’s over anything Strat-like, about weird guitar modifications and the players we most admire. He listens well, has heard me play and really gets me. So as I talked to the young British clerk, my buddy on staff walked over to the counter and said listen to Jill – she’s a seriously good blues guitarist – “she’s ridiculous”.
Now, not being a hipster, I’m not entirely sure what he meant by “ridiculous”, but I think it was a huge compliment. He was telling this well-meaning clerk to take me seriously as much as he would any other player – he was demanding respect for me. I returned to my part time day job beaming – not because of the compliment about my playing, but because after all these years of struggling to be respected as a player, a fellow guitarist stepped up and softly affirmed my credibility and requested that I be given respect. In that moment, I felt proud and had the thought that maybe things are shifting – maybe women players are starting to be taken more seriously and I just hadn’t noticed.
Whether or not things are getting better, we need guys like my buddy in the music store who realize that women players deserve the same respect as the guys. Not only does it make a difference, but it just might just show upcoming female players that they too can be seen as “ridiculous”.