By Robin Yukiko – February 5th, 2013
I recently came across Bitter Gertrude’s blog post about a common problem made by beginning female playwrights. Being a gal who creates things, I thought this could apply to more than writing plays. Boy, was I right (pardon the expression).
The problem that she saw over and over, to put it simply, was that new female writers were creating main female characters who were reactive. Essentially, everything she did would be in reaction to a man’s (or or other active characters’) opinions and actions. Bitter Gertrude pointed out that men did not do this much in their writing, even when writing women, because males are taught to be active, so it’s normal to them. Women are taught to be concerned with other people’s needs, to empathize and react, and their main female characters reflect that.
What does this have to do with music?
I have been wondering for some time now why so many famous composers, instrumentalists, chefs, you name it–are men. I’ve heard women’s compositions (love Clara Schumann), heard them shred on guitar, etc. I know women can do it! But so few do by comparison. I also noticed that while I was at Berklee College of Music, the women to men ratio was about 1:7. And maybe 9 out of 10 of those women were vocalists (and the men, guitarists). Such a cliche! And, alas, I was also the only girl in Advanced Ear Training and Advanced Harmonic Concepts.
Outside of school, too, so many bands are a boys club, with women added on aseye candy, dancing and playing tambourine when they aren’t singing.
As Bitter Gertrude points out, girls are taught from a very early age to be reactive. We max out our empathy skills. Singers have a direct line to the emotional center of the brain. Somehow, the voice actually pours empathy into the listener. Could this be why so many women make successful vocalists? (This, of course, happens with instrumental music as well, but I’m making a point, here.) Could it also be that the voice is the most reactive of musical instruments?
Conversely, boys are brought up to be active and tough (not uncaring, mind you, but not emotional either). Cue shredding guitar solo. And while so many male musicians spend hours in their room practicing, many women are cultivating relationships (familial, romantic, communal). This is not to say that men don’t cultivate relationships and that women do not practice. But different priorities are taught to each gender and are therefore more noticeable in each. How else do you explain the male-dominated working field? Not all women are just getting too pregnant to have a career (like some people would have everyone believe).
Bitter Gertrude shouts to emerging women playwrights, “YOUR STORIES ARE IMPORTANT […] YOU ARE IMPORTANT […] YOU ARE MORE THAN YOUR REACTIONS TO SOMEONE ELSE.”
I would similarly like to call female musicians (and this includes singers because SINGERS ARE MUSICIANS!) to action. PRACTICE, CREATE, and be ACTIVE in carving your path. Be BOSS at your instrument (whatever it is) and know your stuff. Don’t wait for someone to tell you your worth, to discover you, or make you their headliner. Your life is not a series of events that happens to you. It should consist of choices you make that propel you on your path. Make it your own.
Robin Yukiko is a Berklee College of Music grad, singer-songwriter, pianist, and music educator in San Francisco. She performs regularly and hosts the SF Singer-Songwriters’ Workshop at the Musicians Union Local 6. Robin is currently producing her second album and enjoying nerdly pursuits. Learn more at www.robinyukiko.com.