I often write about the difficulty women musicians, face being shut out of opportunities in favor of guys or how women are unfairly judged based on looks and other factors that have nothing to do with the caliber of their playing. A female bassist who I’ve played a number of shows with recently made a Facebook post about sexism in music and after a few hours there had been hundreds of comments. I shared my story of an experience going to a jam session in a community where I didn’t know the host or the players. I told them I play professionally as a lead guitarist and that I don’t need any additional guitar support. Unless I’m playing with other professional caliber players who listen, I find the music sounds better when I stick with my trio format, guitar, bass and drums. So, the host ignored my request and said I think I’ll just put my guitar player up with you “for support”. I can’t imagine a male player receiving the same response, but I got up anyways and played as hard as I could. In fairness, the “support guitarist” was a real pro and a decent guy and once he saw that I know what I’m doing, he completely backed off and let me do my thing. I got the usual surprised and enthusiastic reaction from the audience and clearly showed that I didn’t need any support from another guitarist. The jam host eagerly invited me to drop by any time and I suspect that if I do, I won’t be given a backup guitarist.
I posted this story on FB and I got a very encouraging reaction from some of the best Washington based female players – “you go girl” and other types of comments were common. Some of the guys really do get this issue and also liked my comments. But one comment from a touring musician/acquaintance really bothered me. He said, perhaps it was the way I introduced myself and asked to play that needs to change. Perhaps if I didn’t use the term “lead guitarist”, that might suggest I just play a few lead notes, the host would have allowed me onstage without additional guitar support. After pondering this response and calming myself down to write something thoughtful – I let this guy know that the issue of sexism in music isn’t about how women ask to be included, it’s about guys changing their mindset and recognizing the disparities that women face. It’s about guys and women who have the privilege of booking acts, running jams and festivals recognizing that women instrumentalists don’t get as much opportunity to perform especially at festivals and other big events. In a world filled with conflict and chaos, this may not seem like an important issue. But it is important, for future generations who love playing music that we create more opportunities for women to shine!