On Friday 8th March, the world celebrates international Women's Day. Smashed Vinyl, in collaboration with USSU, is throwing a feminist gig-shin-dig in Room 76 to celebrate female talent in the DIY music scene across Brighton. There will be student drink prices, an all female/female-fronted line-up and an feminist disco afterparty until late. Don't miss it!
In honour of this we're publishing the first article of our 'new' feature, Throwback Thursdays, in which we will publish articles from our previous print editions, on a Thursday.
This Thursday, we'll be taking another look at the social experiment by Jenny Eva, "Girls Can't Play Guitar".
Charane Armatey, frontwoman of Throne,
photographed at Girl's Night by Ewan Atkinson
Girls Can't Play Guitar: A Social Experiment by Jenny Eva
Last week I dragged my hungover friend out of bed and told him we were going undercover in Brighton’s guitar shops to expose the unequal power dynamics operating within musical social relations to tear down the pillars of misogyny that underpin the music industry as whole. He blinked at me. This is what happened.
Clutching a takeout coffee and looking a bit green, my eager volunteer sat facing me outside a pub in the North Lanes. I explained to him that we were each to enter the guitar shop, one at a time, and simulate the experience of a typical man and woman customer. After, we would compare our experiences to see if they were any different.
My hypothesis at this point was as vague as my hungover friend’s knowledge of guitars; I only knew that I’ve never walked into a guitar shop and not felt uncomfortable and according to a poll on my Instagram story, 77% of my woman-friends have experienced the same thing. For the purposes of our results, the hungover man will be referred to as Tim and the female journalistic visionary behind this operation shall be referred to as Jenny. Here is a summary of our findings.
Shop one. We don’t reveal our level of experience or budget. Tim didn’t understand a word they said to him. He’s assuming that’s because they thought he was a super-cool guitar-playing indie-boy. He’s really chuffed. Meanwhile, Jenny overhears a member of staff being told to “go deal with that lady over there” and Jenny spends the rest of her time in store being shown dainty pastel-coloured Gibsons and listening to an explanation of what Amazon.com is. "You know, the online American company."
Shop two. We are uber-cool, slick-sleek professionals and money is no object. Tim walks out looking a bit dizzy. Hang-over has peaked. But also, he was talked to like an advanced player and therefore didn’t understand anything. He just nodded and hoped he wouldn’t vomit. Jenny’s experience is also nauseating. Shop-owner spent a long time mansplaining the difference between solid and hollow bodied guitars (a not-too-difficult concept any competent player would be familiar with). The rest of his advice was similarly dumbed down. She did get tempted by a bright-red hollow-body with spring-style tremolo arm. Was told it didn’t suit her.
Shop three. Tim gets a break from acting and Jenny pretends to be a beginner. Tim comes out saying they still used jargon and assumed he was competent. Jenny is chatted up on her way in by a Cobain-wannabe staff-member on his cigarette break. She still goes in to valiantly frown at guitars anyway. In a fit of leather, denim and overestimated wit, Cobain-wannabe is back in from his break yelling, “I demand better service!”. He and another staff-member assume roles in a quaint little play to which Jenny is the only audience. Plot went something like this: chivalrous and glaringly alternative customer is loudly enraged by lack of assistance offered to prim and virtuous heroine who is in desperate need of saviour from musical ignorance! After that Fake Cobain positions himself behind a huge double-bass in an overt demonstration of how well he handles large instruments and asks Jenny how he can be of assistance. Then he invites himself into Jenny’s personal space to give her some dumbed down advice, offer her a jelly baby and diligently inform her that because she has breasts she should buy a smaller guitar (actual words). Jenny gets fed up and goes to leave, but not before being told, with a wink, to come back soon.
On the 25X home we sat in silence. There was an elephant on the adjacent seat that neither of us knew how to address. Tim had been treated with the usual ‘I’m-working-on-commission’ type respect. I hadn’t and the worst of it was that I was completely unsurprised. Guitar shops are the gateways to the music industry and their staff middle-men between a customer and a product that facilitates a participatory role within it. But women aren’t welcome in this industry and traditionally have been discouraged from being anything other than an adoring fan or mindless consumer. That’s what they’d assumed me to be and that’s what needs to change.
This obviously isn’t exhaustive scientific study, it’s only meant to be an interesting read. It doesn’t speak for every worker in every shop and the point isn’t to deter women from going into these places. The people I encountered were largely brainwashed buffoons and while it’s a shame that they are what’s standing between musicians and guitars, don’t let that put you off. Girls can play guitar and not just little pink Barbie-sticker fluffy ones. You have as much right to be there as anyone else.