Saturday, February 18, 2012

Chicks Can't Play. On the Stereotype Threat in Popular Music.

The background to this post: I have read evo-psychos telling us that the reason most rock, blues and pop musicians are men is because evolution made men compete with each other for female attention, whereas women needed never to compete at all! Never, in all evolution!

This is supposed to be the reason why women don't have much interest in becoming musicians. The world, naturally, doesn't set any extra obstacles in the way of women who want to play the guitar professionally! Of course not. It's the inherited stone-age memes in our brains which make female guitarists, say, rarer than hen's teeth.

Well, not quite. But pretty rare. To highlight those societal differences, let me take you on a tour of YouTube videos of women playing contemporary music. Here's Orianthi:

The second comment when I accessed the song:
she is not that good, she plays equal to an average male guitarist. she is famous because she has boobs. jennifer batten rocks that bitch.
Though most recent comments on that piece are positive, it's hard for me to think of a situation where we would say something similar about a man by comparing his skills to the skills of an average woman.

To continue, here's a video of Ana Popovic playing the guitar. Her outfit is not what a male guitarist would wear and it might matter, given the comments she receives:

Some comments from the first few pages, picked to demonstrate my point:
very bad and boring , no groove, no dynamik but good legs, she should play in bikini, lol
So boring...Women and blues guitar...
this chick is just for looks no real show no real talent and CHICKS CANT PLAY!
playing guitar its not a job for the girls specially with big boobs and busty ass...fucking shit....this lady is destroying the flavor of playing guitar.

what n accident...(:
but shes not bad.... for a womn"
I grant you that YouTube comments are the proverbial slime pond. Whatever crawls there is not sightly. Still, the frequency of these kinds of comments attached to videos of women in music or in sports tells me that their sentiments are not completely unshared in the wider world.

Those evo-psycho theories pretend that none of this ever happens, that women aren't perhaps told to show some leg or some tit to be acceptable to those parts of the audience who would otherwise refuse to pay attention to a female musician.

Likewise, if a young musician gets torpedoed with these kinds of assessments of her talents, it will require greater determination to continue than if the assessments acknowledge the fact that she is still young and developing.

For note that the criticisms are really saying that nobody born female can ever learn to play really well. No amount of practice helps! So pack it in already. Note also that a young girl watching those videos would get a very negative message about her own talents.

What I'm talking here is naturally the stereotype threat. If women get told, often enough, that "women" just can't do some particular thing then after a while that little whine has been installed inside your head and gets turned on whenever you do attempt a particular task. The evo-psycho argument ignores this altogether, just as it ignores the much more concrete barriers women in the past had to contend with.

But I think all this is slowly changing. I hope so, at least. This video of Tal Wilkenfeld playing Table for One didn't net me any nasty comments for the first few pages: