Gisele Marie, a Muslim woman and professional heavy metal musician, plays her Gibson Flying V electric guitar during a concert in Sao Paulo in 2014. (Reuters)
By Noah Berlatsky, Mail and Guardian
She Shreds is working to change the idea that technical guitar playing is somehow the preserve of a certain type of man. The three-year-old magazine focused on, and dedicated to, women guitarists, just launched a new website, online music tutorials by women and articles on everything from women in mariachi music to St Vincent’s guitar designs for women’s bodies .
Founder and editor-in-chief Fabi Reyna started She Shreds out of high school, initially as a music festival (Shredfest) in Portland, Oregon, in 2011.
“The idea behind She Shreds Media and She Shreds Magazine is you can be a guitarist and be taught by women, and it’s just normal.” Learning to shred from Speedy Ortiz guitarist Sadie Dupuis isn’t different in kind from learning to shred from Jack White, Fabi suggests. The guitar doesn’t care about the gender of the person playing it.
The fact that music is genderless can be exciting and liberating. That’s certainly the case for Dana Schechter’s Insect Ark, an art noise electronic doom/drone band.
Schechter, a bassist and multi-instrumentalist who’s a fan of She Shreds, started playing in the Bay Area when she was 12. There weren’t many female role models, but Schechter said she had a ton of support from people in the scene – including legendary Metallica bassist Cliff Burton, who encouraged her to play bass. She dragged her heels - until he was killed in a bus accident in 1986. She bought a bass that week; it’s the same one she still plays today.
“I was always a tomboy,” Schechter told me, “so in a sense I’ve always felt like a human who happens to be female. It could be how I was raised, or the community I was in, but I was never made to think that I was any different from anyone else.” Schechter had mentors who didn’t see her gender as limiting – mentors who included one of the single most influential and important metal bassists in history.
But Schechter realises her experience isn’t everyone’s. Though being a woman wasn’t an issue at first, she said, over time, “I started recognising that there were these predisposed roles that, oh, well, girls are the bassist, or girls are the singers. I’ve definitely experienced some of the things that people talk about; people presume you don’t know how to use your amplifier, or that you don’t understand basic electronics.”
Reyna of She Shreds points out that these assumptions can affect women musicians in a number of ways. “Most guitar magazines, she told me, barely acknowledge women as readers or performers. “Instead,” she said, in magazines like Guitar World, “it’s always a woman holding a guitar half-naked or overtly sexualised, and it isn’t matched with an article talking about her talent, or that she’s a musician.”
Reyna added that the stereotype that women don’t play guitar can make it difficult to recognise women musicians even when they’re massively successful. “I’m thinking of Amy Winehouse,” Reyna said. “She began as a jazz guitarist and singer. And to me that was eye-opening, just to know that someone like Amy Winehouse who was seen as this amazing singer also recorded half of the guitar parts on her album.” Female musicians are erased or forgotten; how many histories credit 1930s gospel star †Rosetta Tharpe with inventing rock guitar?
To get to a place where women musicians are seen as normal, then, requires more than just women picking up instruments. Schechter has been in bands her entire adult life, but she’s still had people question her skills; Winehouse played guitar, but it’s routinely overlooked. Stereotypes shape what people see, and that in turn can end up making the stereotypes come true. Schechter, out in San Francisco, found a community that encouraged her to play music. But a girl today going to a metal festival where the stage is covered with, as Schechter put it, “dudes, dudes, dudes, dudes, dudes”, might be discouraged, or feel unwelcome. The inability to see, or represent, women musicians becomes self-fulfilling.
Which is why we need a magazine like She Shreds to show us not so much that women can do what men do, but rather that playing guitar was never a male-only pursuit in the first place. There have always been women musicians, and, She Shreds promises, there will be even more if you take the time and effort to see them. – (c) Guardian News & Media Ltd, 2015