Bayton, M. 1997. “Women and the Electric Guitar.”

Bayton, Mavis. 1997. “Women and the Electric Guitar.” Pp. 37-49 in Sexing the Groove: Popular Music and Gender, edited by Sheila Whitely. New York: Routledge.

“The lack of women guitarists in rock’s hall of fame is partly a result of the way in which women get written out of history and their contribution undervalued, but mainly a reflection of the fact that so very few women get a foot on even the bottom rung of the rock career ladder. So the key question is: why do so few women set out on the career of electric guitarist?” (37) – women frequently consumers > producers – “the main role for women is that of fan” (37) – women prominent in folk and pop genres vs. rock, but primarily posited as vocalist over instrumentalist – when an instrumentalist, primarily keyboard players, acoustic guitars — leaving electric guitars as site for men, masculinity – creation of all-women’s bands (kx – possibly in effort to refute marginalization found in mixed-sex bands?)

Trade magazines for guitarists primarily feature men on cover, in photos, features, and news – near lack of women’s present – however, when women present within study’s analysis, they were featured as scantily clad, or presented as sexual compatriots for other band members, or as groupies.  Text within magazines hearken masculine symbolism and imagery – discussing sexual stimulation, muscles and other men’s body parts – although representation of men’s “naked hairy chests and medallions” (38), these were not sexualized, but used as a means to normalize macho performance stylings.

Even in “educational” texts – written by men, for men – offering technical and performance advice for men – promoting men’s acts.

Playing lead guitar requires gender performance which deviates from femininity – cutting down long nails, sweating, toiling, getting messy – external factors (access to jobs, prescriptions for young women to consider romantic relationships, school works, friends, future of domesticity).  Male fans not restricted to these expectations – young men identify with role models and emulate them, young women learn to fantasize their groupie/relational status with rock gods – in other words: “Male fans buy a guitar; female fans buy a poster” (40).

Barriers to homosocial male music-making cliques, men’s possession of technical information, insider tips, advice – music shops rarely employ women, customers are predominantly men (thus, boys feel at home in these homosocial spaces where they can experiment with sound, access interpersonal networks).

Women who were novice players reported feeling as if they were performing “on trial” – expressed fear of being put down, laughed at; experienced women instrumentalists reported being ignored, or condescended to.  Technical language used by men as a power strategy to exclude women – aspiring or experienced; duplicated by groups of male musicians, sound crews at gigs, recording technicians — not merely a lack of confidence by women musicians, but a deliberate move to exclude their participation and membership within music scenes/performance/industry.

Gendering of music playing – women who hold “phallic” guitar “too low” are claimed to “look wrong” – women performers report fear of being read as “too girly” if they didn’t play guitar low enough, but also received flack for doing so.

“If playing styles raise issues concerning the female body, so does the instrument itself. Technical objects are political in their design. The electric guitar was designed for men, by men, and it has thereby functioned to exclude women. These days, guitars can be made in various shapes. Why, then, does the standard rock guitar remain decidedly phallic?” (45)

Women’s reports of sexist harassment and verbal abuse – in addition to masculinist industry, sexually objectified by media, and ‘show us yer tits’ fans (46) – fans perceive lack of legitimacy to women’s performance unless they objectify themselves – historically prevalent, as reported longitudinally from 1970s to 1990s (kx^ still experienced even now) – with nearly every woman who was interviewed in study reporting experiencing this type of fan verbal abuse, which sometimes escalate into physical threats — though perks (women determined to show abusive fans “up” with excellent performance), “So sexist prejudice and active harassment act as a handicap for the female guitarist. But the most general problem is simply not being taken seriously. The status ‘woman’ seems to obscure that of ‘musician’. Female guitarists are expected to be sexy and incompetent and these expectations form a hurdle which must be coped with or combated in some way […] Even when a woman’s performance is appreciated it is not always her instrumental skills that she is complimented on [….]” (47).


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