Growing Up Girls: Popular Culture and the Construction of Identity

By Sharon R. Mazzarella; Norma Odom Pecora | Go to book overview

Chapter 9
Girls Make Music: Polyphony and Identity in Teenage Rock Bands

Carol Jennings

Sometimes when we play, since we're girls, people just notice that and they're like, "Oh, you're good, we didn't expect you to be good because you're girls." -- Tina, eighteen-year-old bass player for We're No Dentists

Tina's observation echoes the concerns of many girls I've interviewed who consider themselves serious musicians, who play in bands and perform publicly. In the face of a growing body of research that documents the crisis in self-esteem and consequent loss of voice experienced by adolescent girls, the teenage girl who picks up an instrument and "plays loud and fast" is obviously an exception. Musical virtuosity doesn't necessarily immunize a girl from self-doubt and other plagues of adolescent development, but she is demonstrating, in the words of Andrea Juno, that girls can be "bold, brash and loud, all the things they were taught not to be" (4). Meanwhile, in the history of rock production, women's roles have tended to be limited to those of fan, consumer, singer, or songwriter, while female instrumentalists are rare ( Gottlieb and Wald256).

In her essay "Women and the Electric Guitar", Mavis Bayton describes many reasons why girls are discouraged from playing the electric guitar, the quintessential "masculine" instrument of rock. She identifies low expectations as the most pervasive: "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" (47). Furthermore, as Joanne Gottlieb and Gayle Wald recognize, "something potentially radical happens when women appropriate this instrument, with all its

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