Band vs. girl band: what’s the difference, anyway?

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Um, yeeah. We get it, Stock Photo Agency.
  • Um, yeeah. We get it, Stock Photo Agency.
I'll be filling this ether-hole every Saturday with stuff about being in a band . . . my band, your band, other people's bands, cats in bands, and probably some waxing on about cats in general. For the first installment of Band Life, I'd like to get this issue out of the way and then we'll never speak of it again:

Band vs. girl band: what's the difference, anyway?

I play in a band. Two of them, actually. And I'm a girl. If I mention that the lead guitarist in one of the bands is a girl, people often assume that the drummer and bass player are girls as well (they're actually dudes). The assumption makes me wonder if bands are supposed to be like public restrooms . . . like, you should only play music with your own gender. In my other band, all four of us are female so we are often labeled a "girl band." I've had both men and women alike ask me, "How's your girl band going?" It's rare to hear someone ask an all-male band, "So, how's your dude band?" And I don't think I would ever ask a female friend, "How's your girl-lawyer job?"

My all-female band has yet to escape an interview without being asked the inevitable: "What's it like to be girls in a band?" Well. Not much different from being a guy in a band, I guess. OK, fine—it's a lot harder to pee in a plastic Coke bottle in the van. And we have synched menstrual cycles. Booyah! But other than that, and having pillow fights in our underwear, I'd say we're just like our male counterparts: we're people who enjoy playing music.

In all fairness, I get why the semantics linger. The music industry has historically been a bro-zone; back in the day, record companies preferred a woman's role in music to be a screaming fan or a well-composed, wholesome singer. While we've come a long way since then, female musicians are still somewhat of a novelty. Even today, there's a preconceived notion that if you're a girl in a band you're either shouting feminist theory or you're a hippie with an acoustic guitar singing about flowers.

Admittedly, even though I've played music all my life, I showed up late to the rock-band game because it simply never occurred to me that I could play in a band . . . until one day it did. Once I got there, I did in fact feel slightly intimidated by the boys' club. My then boyfriend used to tell me that I would "always just be a girl with a guitar." Read: "No one will ever take you seriously." Unfortunately, he had a point. My "girl band" has always worked a little hard for fear that an audience might think we throw like girls. I should add that this band is composed of a piano prodigy, a music-theory scholar, a self-taught drummer, and someone who learned to read sheet music well before learning how to read a stop sign. We have our rock credentials, yet we've still struggled with how to avoid the "girl" tag so that maybe, just maybe, the music could speak for itself.

A few years ago, I saw Shannon Wright play at the Empty Bottle. She's a badass and she was killing it. The dude standing next to me leaned over to his friend and said, "She totally straps it on."

Huh? What does that mean, exactly? She's good at guitar and therefore a lesbian? She's straight but clearly must enjoy pegging people? A woman can only be a shredder if she has a lightsaber taped to her crotch? Or was it just that a woman who is passionate and exceptionally skilled on a musical instrument was so intimidating to this person that he somehow had to make her male?

I'd like to imagine that stereotypes like these will eventually fade from existence. Thanks to organizations like Girls Rock! Chicago, the upcoming generation is going to have a shit-ton of lady rockers—so many in fact, that I wonder if it won't flip the script; one day some boy will write a whiny blog post like this one all, "Stop calling my band a dude band."

Let's get ahead of the game and just call bands what they are: bands.

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