Sargent, C. 2009. “Playing, Shopping, and Working as Rock Musicians.”

Sargent, Carey. 2009. “Playing, Shopping, and Working as Rock Musicians: Masculinities in ‘De-Skilled’ and ‘Re-Skilled’ Organizations.” Gender & Society 23(5): 665-687.

Masculinities are contextual based on organization (and may produce wide range of masculinities within these contexts – see Dellinger 2004 – and organizational/occupationally-based interpretations of sexuality – see also Lerum 2004; Trautner 2005), shaping how, even within the same occupation/organization, the gendering of work may vary/be shaped – here, organizational culture driven by “masculinist fantasies of the rock musician lifestyle” (665).  What arises is a type of organizational masculinity that hinges upon “fraternization and competition” (665), as the tools/knowledge to access these rock and roll lifestyles become increasingly popular.  Article considers how interactions within de-skilled work in retail are performed to affirm masculinity within feminized retail work, men’s control over products, access (, and legitimacy to use these tools?).

Within gendered organizations, “gender can become a currency within organizations” (667) – using certain forms of masculinity/femininity to get things done (Williams 2004, 2006), get along (Pettinger 2005), or get ahead (Pierce 1995) – those who “fit” the organizational modelling of gender are often rewarded – through compensation, advanced rank, or esteem (kx – extension)

Rock music culture as historically homosocial (Bird 1996) male domain, with women cast in/performing supporting roles (Bielby 2004; Cohen 1997). Author notes a lingering presumption that practicing (read: ‘real’) musicians are male, gendering musicians’ success/professionalism as masculine (Bayton 1998; Bielby 2004; Clawson 1999; Groce and Cooper 1990).   Recently, women have claimed rock musician identities as form of self-empowerment practice (Bayton 1998; Clawson 1999; Schilt 2004; Shippers 2000) – increasing women’s visibility as the retail music industry market flourishes — which increasingly markets products specifically to girls/women (see also Aston 2004). Commodification and popularization of taking on rock musician identities in this practice, but also met with increasingly devalued, de-skilled retail labor in this field.

Lifestyle branding (Klein 2000) increasingly central to selling goods/services (Pettinger 2005) – encouraging/influencing workers’ use of possibly-conflicting identities in efforts to support consumers’ desires/’fantasies’ associated with product/consumption (Brandth and Haugen 2005) – however, aiding rock fantasies (kx – and gatekeeping the profession as insular, masculinist?) gives meaning and social value to men who work within this industry.  (kx – this consequential in the sense that these organizations/businesses/places offer critical sites of entry into rock scene – knowledge of equipment, networking for bandmates, opportunities to see/perform in live shows hosted by these stores, participate in equipment demonstrations, building networks with other musicians/gaining legitimacy, presence, and reputation.

Music stores are relatively open, public spaces, often used as a site open for employees’ families and friends to come hang out.  “However, women are often presumed to be ‘family and friends’ rather than musicians” (670) while navigating, browsing, and interacting at these stores — especially by author here, the majority of musician shoppers were observed to be men, with women accompanying men shoppers or were browsing for their children.  “Overall, the presence of women in positions that required authority or technical expertise was rare, but more likely in mom-and-pop shops” (671) – with women in big box stores observed to work the floor, register, and receipt/bag checks at the door — “competitive fraternization in big-box stores and geeky paternalism in mom-and-pop shops” (671).

Competitive fraternization – termed by Sargent, which pulls from (Tannen 1990) – “(male) bonding through one-upmanship” (673) – ‘technicalized’ talk (here 673) used in big box stores to demonstrate expertise among staff/customers, gaining trust, but also authority, upsell customers, and negotiate problems/discomfort within interactions (‘no feelings’?) – a practice which often positioned women as outsiders — this talk characterized by one interviewee as “’the bro-dom,’ a place where boys and men, apart from women, share insider identities” (673) – a bond “built on the assumption of a male social space where interests are shared, producing a basis of trust for the exploration of technical-sounding language” (673) – despite its tendency to be largely a performance of personality rather than actual information.

Although in observations, most women in shops were wives and girlfriends, these women were more likely to interact with staff than women musicians – despite common assumption that women there were disinterested tag-a-longs. Women musicians primarily kept to self, conversed only with friends/partners, and interacted with staff only to ask direct questions — no banter. — “Women interviewees described this behavior as a strategy to deal with the ‘obnoxious’ or ‘intimidating’ environment of music stores and adopted a means-to-an-end orientation toward these stores” (674) — many observations showed men’s use of patronization when women musicians did ask for help, performed through technicalized talk, correcting them – “sanctioned for their perceived inability to engage in the norms of bonding that produce trust and allow /676 staff members to position themselves as experts” (676-677) —- For women, “Their direct questions, meant to avoid confrontation, instead created it, as sales staff members resisted being treated as de-skilled workers” (684).

Competition for sonic control of a space through demonstrating musical skill on instruments – women frequently asking friends/staff to test out instruments; men often stepping in and commanding space through their willingness to “demo” skills without asking, or to “jam” with other musicians, often leaving women behind.  “One woman, a clearly experienced guitar player, had her guitar taken out of her hands by a man who presumed she did not know how to tune it.  In light of these instances, it is not surprising that most other women refrained from playing” (678).

In mom-and-pop shops, staff deploy “geeky paternalism” to ‘translate’ ‘expert’ knowledge/skills to customers who are positioned as knowledge seekers, able to gain status/belonging through blending use of ‘codified technical talk’ and deference – allowing women some greater insider access, as long as the ‘spoke the language’ – and frequently abided by customs/norms of musical knowledge/expertise.  Unlike the big box store, competitive fraternization between staff and customers was seemingly unwelcome, with staff often ignoring/dismissing these types of customers.  Sonic control of these areas is more highly regulated (do not touch signs, as small inventories cannot withstand even small customer-induced damages), treating customers more as students than appealing to ‘rock star fantasies’.   “In the style of geeky paternalism, women were not categorically treated as outsiders, but were often treated as not knowledgeable enough to participate because of their use of direct questions and disengagement” (684).

“[…] as big-box retailers offer women (and men) wider access to the products and identity of rock musician, competitive fraternization categorically excludes women, whereas the re-skilling of work in specialty shops situationally excludes them” (684) — “the de-skilling of musical instrument retail is not simply a feminization of work, but actually contributes to its masculinization” (684).


Aston, Margaret. 2004. “A Sleeker Axe for the Discerning Guitar Goddess.” Los Angeles Times Magazine, 25 April.

Bayton, Mavis. 1998. Frock Rock: Women Performing Popular Music. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

Bielby, William T. 2004. “Rock in a Hard Place: Grassroots Cultural Production in the Post-Elvis Era.” American Sociological Review 69(1): 1-13.

Bird, Sharon. 1996. “Welcome to the Men’s Club: Homosociality and the Maintenance of Hegemonic Masculinity.” Gender & Society 10(2): 120-132.

Brandth, Berit and Marit S. Haugen. 2005. “Doing Rural Masculinity – From Logging to Outfield Tourism.” Journal of Gender Studies 14(1): 13-22.

Clawson, Mary Ann. 1999. “When Women Play the Bass: Instrument Specialization and Gender Interpretation in Alternative Rock Music.” Gender & Society 13(2): 193-210.

Cohen, Sarah. 1997. “Men Making a Scene: Rock Music and the Production of Gender.” Pp. 17-36 in Sexing the Groove: Popular Music and Gender, edited by Sheila Whiteley. New York: Routledge.

Dellinger, Kirsten. 2004. “Masculinities in ‘Safe’ and ‘Embattled’ Organizations: Accounting for Pornographic and Feminist Magazines.” Gender & Society 18(5): 545-566.

Groce, Stephen B. and Margaret Cooper. 1990. “Just Me and the Boys? Women in Local-Level Rock and Roll.” Gender & Society 4(2): 220-229.

Klein, Naomi. 2000. No Logo. New York: Picador.

Lerum, Kari. 2004. “Sexuality, Power, and Camaraderie in Service Work.” Gender & Society 18(6): 756-776.

Pettinger, Lynne. 2005. “Gendered Work Meets Gendered Goods: Selling and Service in Clothing Retail.” Gender, Work & Organization 12(5): 460-478.

Pierce, Jennifer L. 1995. Gender Trials: Emotional Lives in Contemporary Law Firms. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Schilt, Kristen. 2004. “’Riot Grrrl Is…’: Contestation over Meaning in a Music Scene.” Pp. 115-130 in Music Scenes: local, Translocal, and Virtual.  Edited by A

Shippers, Mimi. 2000. “The Social Organization of Sexuality and Gender in Alternative Hard Rock: An Analysis of Intersectionality.” Gender & Society 14(6): 747-764.

Tannen, Deborah. 1990. You Just Don’t Understand: Women and Men in Conversation. New York: Ballantine.

Trautner, Mary Nell. 2005. “Doing Gender, Doing Class: The Performance of Sexuality in Exotic Dance Clubs.” Gender & Society 19(6): 771-788.

Williams, Christine L. 2004. “Inequality in the Toy Store.” Qualitative Sociology 27(4): 461-486.

Williams, Christine. 2006. Inside Toyland: Working, Shopping and Society Inequality. Berkeley: University of California Press.


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