Earlier this week, I came across the above quote from Jack White about music – that it is just not that interesting unless there is a woman involved. This statement was made a few years ago, and whilst I have heard of it before, I had never really thought about what it truly meant. At face value, the statement is clearly complimentary, indicating that female involvement in music, and especially the indie, bluesy, rock-y music that Jack White creates, makes the whole package different and interesting. White quite astutely summarised an unwritten rule within the music scene – that having a woman present, especially a beautiful, quirky and talented woman, generates an air of femininity and glamour that juxtaposes the masculine nature of many musical styles perfectly. Whether you are talking about hip-hop, rock, blues or indie, men and masculine desires have for decades dominated most styles of music (pop and R&B are the only exceptions I think). The appearance, therefore, of a woman playing bass or drums, mastering the turntable or dropping some rhymes was initially very unusual – jarring even.
Skip forward from the genesis and early years of these genres, and one might assume, what with equality for men and women burgeoning in other industries from medicine to banking, that women’s involvement in music would be a lot more widespread, that we would be considered equals among instruments. Sadly of course, we are not. Whilst it is true that over the past two or three years, women artists have become much more widespread, talented and legitimate solo artists (insert anyone from Marina and the Diamonds to Florence and the Machine here), women are still sadly lacking in involvement in other musical areas. Men out number female hip-hop stars at a ratio of ten to one. Very few indie and alternative bands have female members, and I cannot even think of a current all-female band.
This is why White’s statement is a kind of backhanded compliment – yes us female musicians do add charm, artistry and intrigue, but the only reason we make such an input and seem so beautifully alien is that there are still so few of us out there. A woman, in a band of talented and innovative men is still a significant and notable anomaly. Why women still lack involvement in musical endeavours is uncertain, however. Clearly the female mind is perfectly capable of music creation – we can produce songs and music of true candour and passion as well as any man. It is also not through a lack of access or resources, because women in the developed world are presented as equal, and would generally have the same access to guitar lessons or music degrees. Yet women just do not involve themselves in musical exploits to anywhere near the same extent as men. When I was little, just as many girls as boys learnt musical instruments at school. By the time I was in sixth-form, half the boys were in bands, or learning to play the guitar, where only a handful of girls were doing the same. By the time I completed my degree in music, only two other women graduated with me, in a class of forty men.
Part of the problem with female involvement is clearly that music, especially rock, hip-hop and indie, are a bit of a boys club, and many women find relations with men tedious, strained and even threatening at the best of times. The thought of doing band practice with four sweaty, aggravated men is therefore understandably unappealing to many women. Ultimately though, I think the reason that so few women continue their involvement in music is down to the simple, uncomfortable fact that we are still living in a male dominated society. Yes, women can get jobs, but they have to be jobs for women, such as assistants, secretaries or nurses, or unisex jobs like sales assistants or administrators. I think that most women just do not think of even attempting to play music or join a band, because it is so thoroughly implied that music is what men do, not women.
There is no quick solution to the lack of female involvement in music. Influences and inspiration are a significant part of the problem, so hopefully with the increase in female solo artists, more girls and women might pick up some instruments or try out their vocal chords, and attempt to break into the boys club. Regrettably, however, for the meanwhile we will have to simply enjoy our positions as the exotic, unusual quirks within the industry, and look forward to the day when we are considered regular and banal.