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I play the drums in a two-piece band and I have been surprised at how often I find myself noting the ways in which my male bandmate and I are treated differently.
Even though women have been playing and creating rock and roll for decades, many people still seem to have hard time accepting that their presence and participation equals that of their male band mates.
Here are a few helpful tips for what to do when you encounter one of us in the wild:
1. Avoid your overwhelming urge to assume the girl is not in the band.
Stereotypically speaking, girls are supposed to watch the band, dance to the music, and love the men in it. Sometimes, if they're lucky enough, they'll date a band member and get to be a "costume mistress" like Faye in That Thing You Do!
When we play a show, I don't dress in a way that shouts, "I'm in a band!" to people. Not that I’m exactly sure what type of outfit shouts that. However, when I'm carrying in equipment just like my male bandmate is, it's safe to assume I'm a part of the band.
At our last show my bandmate was walking in the venue ahead of me and had a brief interaction with the door guy who stamped him and let him up. When I came in carrying equipment he stopped and asked me, “Are you in the band or with the band, sweetie?” I understand that it wouldn’t be uncommon for a significant other or friend to be helping out, but if you feel the need to clarify it shouldn’t only be with just the girl. And hell, my bandmate is very nice and maybe he would like to be called sweetie too once and a while.
So just remember, both girls and guys can be fans, significant others, AND members of the band.
2. Accept that women are capable of playing a variety of musical instruments and genres.
Not every girl in a band is the singer, plays acoustic guitar or the piano. A lot of girls play loud, aggressive music and are not the focal point of the band. I've never heard anyone ask my bandmate, "What do you do, sing?" when he mentions he's in a band. I'm not mentioning this because I think being a singer in a band is in any way less significant or interesting than playing an instrument. I’m also sure being a female lead singer comes with a whole other set of tips for how to avoid being a dick.
I think this is an important point to make because people who don't know anything about me ask me this question and are then surprised I play the drums. I don’t think they would be surprised if I were a dude.
When people are constructing the idea of a band they just found out I'm in, they seem to always place me at the microphone because that's where it makes sense for a woman to be. Women seek out being in a band for reasons other than being the focal point or eye candy. So, when your new girl friend asks you to come see her band, ask her "What do you play?" just like you would your new guy friend.
3. Don’t assume the female is seeking attention for her physical appearance.
Men in rock and roll bands have been sexualized since it started. Groupies exist for a reason and I know that in most cases no one on either side is complaining. However, it's important to remember that not everyone who is performing in a rock band is doing it for sexual attention.
Because there are fewer women than men in rock bands, people seem to view women as a novelty or as eye candy. My purpose in my band is to play the drums. It's not to make our band look cooler or to get more guys interested in us. It's cool to use your sexuality if that's what you're into, but that's not the case for every band, just because there's a girl in it.
It's true that boobs do jiggle when you are moving around performing and playing instruments. When that happens it's not necessarily a woman purposefully trying to entice you.
Once I got used to my boobs being on my body about 10 or so years ago, they really became an afterthought for me. All of that changed after a show where I was wearing a V-neck and multiple people commented on how my boobs look when I drum. I’m someone who has been generally comfortable with my body for a long time, and it sucked to feel like I was 11 years old again. Playing instruments under hot lights isn’t super comfortable. Please don’t make women feel like they need to wear a hoodie in order for you to pay attention to something other than their bodies.
It's safe to assume that a female musician is creating and performing music because she wants to express something. When she takes the stage it’s not necessarily because she wants to show off her body, but it’s kind of hard to perform without it. So, if you want to make a comment about her performance, I would suggest you refrain from focusing on her involuntary body movements.
4. Have the same musical expectations for a girl as you would for a guy.
When I performed drums for the first time, I was pretty nervous about what people's perception of me would be. I'm good at playing drums that fit the type of music my band plays, but my style is very simple and straightforward. I was expecting people to be polite, but not to really mention my playing at all. I was very surprised afterward when people told me that I was “really amazing” and “so good at playing the drums.”
Musical capability is not the same as athletic ability where because of science (I’m very specific) men and women have a different physical capacity for speed or strength, etc. However, when it comes to instruments, it seems as though most people expect men to be more talented than women. Because of people's lower expectations for women, if they're not totally disinterested, they are often either overly nice and encouraging.
Either way is unfair.
My bandmate and I have talked about this and he mentioned that he doesn't get a ton of compliments on his guitar playing. He's definitely better at guitar than I am at drums, but he's a dude so the bar is higher for him.
So, if you’re complimenting a girl in a band, and find yourself telling her, “You’re really good!” and then thinking silently, “for a girl,” try to think of a more genuine compliment. I appreciate it when people tell me that the way I drum sounds good in the type of songs we play or that I play well with my bandmate because I know they were actually listening to our music and not just focused on the novelty of a girl on a drum set.
5. Don’t treat the girl as if she is a secondary band member.
When it comes to the “biz” part of Show Biz, people seem to be more inclined to approach my bandmate. For instance, no one has ever handed the money to me after a gig. We are always hanging out together when the time comes, but every time they approach him and hand him the money.
When the two of us are talking to someone, they usually focus on talking to my bandmate and I have to interject when I can, and when someone is interested in working with us in the future, they always seem to seek out my bandmate and talk to him about it alone.
I'm lucky that there are just two of us and that I trust my bandmate because it would be really easy for him to screw me over. He could not give me my fair share of the money or make important decisions without me because people give him that opportunity all the time. He's also the lead singer, which I know in a bigger band would probably make others defer to him as the leader, but in my experience it seems like people either assume I'm not interested in what they want to discuss or that my opinion isn't as important as his.
Women in rock and roll bands are everywhere and have been for decades. The sooner people learn how to not be a dick to them the more successful women we will see in this genre. Again, these tips are just based on my own particular experience. Are any of you readers in bands? Have you experienced anything like this? I’m interested to know what it’s like for people in different types of bands!