March is Women’s History Month, so we asked the female members of Local 802 the following questions: Have you ever felt that you were treated differently on a gig because you are a woman? If you are in a position of leadership, have you felt that your authority was respected the same as a man? What, if anything, should the union do to improve women’s respect? Here’s what some of our musicians had to say.
Lack of respect and credibility has been one of the most difficult issues I’ve faced in all my years as a musician.
In recent years I’ve been lucky enough to work mostly with people I know so it hasn’t been as much of a problem, but over the years I’ve had my very right to be playing an instrument challenged, had music store employees speak to me like a child, and had men come up to me on gigs and tell me how to set up my equipment.
Most people I meet who find out I’m a musician automatically say, “Oh, you sing?” My response is usually: “We’re allowed to play instruments now.”
The stereotypes are deeply engrained, and possibly part of the reason more women don’t take up music as a career. I don’t know what the union could do to change people’s fundamental beliefs. Maybe more public outreach programs where women were featured as leaders – not pointed out or given special treatment, but on an equal footing with men.
Honestly, once I got the gig, I never felt that I was treated differently except once, and this was by a producer who was fairly amateur. I know there were times that I didn’t get a gig because of my gender (decisions made by both male and female artists), but there were also times when the opposite was true and projects were specifically looking for women players.
The only other thing I’ve noticed is that some folks have been surprised that I can really rock out on electric guitar, which, until recently, seemed to be unusual and generally associated with men.
I have been a member of many orchestra committees throughout my career. There is a fundamental difference in the way that men and women communicate in general and this naturally becomes part of the chemistry at the negotiating table.
Men and women deal with confrontation differently and it is important for everyone to be sensitive to this and to find a way to meet in the middle in order to efficiently assess the intention of the other person.
Men are willing to confront each other head on and are not intimidated by this method of negotiating. Confronting a woman in this way is not an effective negotiating tactic. Asking questions and listening are better communication tools with women.
Women, on the other hand need to be able to handle a more confrontational approach without personalizing it or shutting down. People usually assume that the man on the committee is in charge, so comments and eye contact are only exchanged between the men. This excludes women from equal participation and authority. I don’t think that this exclusion necessarily happens intentionally, but that it is more of a habitual response. The good news is that habits can be changed.
I have experienced some sexual harassment, and gender and age bias on the job. I’m glad to observe that the younger generation has moved closer to gender equality and hope that we can all put the focus on genderless and ageless musical skill, experience and professionalism.
Usually, if someone hires you for a gig, they know you are a woman and it isn’t a problem. The men and women I have had the pleasure of working with in New York City have been amazing and I am very grateful for it.
I have had very few negative experiences as a professional musician. I know at one time, this wasn’t the case, so I do feel lucky to be a musician in this day and age. I thank those who came before me and had to deal with more B.S. than I can imagine.
That said, I did have one particularly negative experience. I paid good money to attend school only to be told that my throat might be smaller than a man’s and was probably hindering my performance on the trombone. Such an ignorant comment shocked and infuriated me at the time. Knowing what I now know about the source of this comment, I just laugh. The best revenge is just to play well.
I lived in Mexico for eight years before coming to New York and the sexism was quite blatant there. As principal flutist in my orchestra I organized a recital for my section and invited a male teacher from a nearby university to join us on one piece.
The Cultural Institute, which ran the orchestra, also sponsored this concert and handled the publicity and programs. They obviously knew all about who played in the orchestra and what parts we all played.
I was shocked to arrive at the concert and see that the two male flutists were billed first (including the invited guest who was only playing one piece) and that the other female flutist and I were billed last – both in the front of the program and where our bios appeared.
As principal flutist, it seemed natural to list my name first, then the second flutist, then piccolo player, then invited guest. It was obvious to me why the program appeared in this order.
At the time, my daughter was actually taught in school that men were the dominant sex and that women were subservient to them. It was really quite amazing.
Here in New York, things don’t seem so bad in comparison. It seems most obvious to me on Broadway where men outnumber women by quite a bit. In some large Broadway orchestras there are only one or two women. However I do play in a couple of symphonic orchestras where the women outnumber the men.
I know some men that have not been hired because they are not women. Pop music, which is more visually oriented, tends to select young, sexy women to appear on stage.
My concern is not so much that I may be passed over because I am a woman but because I am an older woman. Age doesn’t seem to be as much of an issue with men. Whether this a real or imagined concern I am not sure.
What can the union do? Make quotas on Broadway? I don’t believe this is the solution. Then people would be hired because of their sex rather than their skills as a musician.
Sexism will not go away until our consciousness as a people changes.
As a music librarian at the Metropolitan Opera, one of my many responsibilities involves working with the stage crew to be certain that the pit setup is correct for every orchestra rehearsal and performance. When I started the job 22 years ago, I was the first woman ever to hold that position. I initially found it very difficult to be taken seriously by my brothers in IATSE Local 1, and my requests were often handled sloppily or ignored altogether. This was especially true of the older crew men, who made it no secret of the fact that they were not accustomed to being told what to do by a woman, and they didn’t like it.
I am happy to report that I currently enjoy a very collegial relationship with nearly all of the stagehands and electricians at the Met. They treat me in an unfailingly friendly and professional manner. The younger guys in particular have never appeared to have any issue with my gender, and they are all a pleasure to work with!
I have experienced both the negative and positive of being a female musician. I went to school at University of North Texas and found more of the negative in Texas compared to New York City.
At almost every gig I got some comment – almost always from the audience – on how I am a woman and that it is so rare to see a female jazz bassist. Then would follow the occasional “Wow, you play like a man” or “Do you need to take more breaks because you are a fragile woman?”
What bothered me the most was that the people who would say these things meant it as a compliment or as concern, but they were clueless.
I don’t know if there is a way to educate the masses on the prominence nowadays of female musicians, but it would help. On the other hand, because I am a female jazz bassist, the male musicians I play with think it’s so cool – and I take full advantage of it. Being a female has definitely helped me get gigs and keep them. Of course I make sure that my musical talent is part of that reason, but men know that they get more attention with a female on the bandstand.
Do you have an opinion? Continue this discussion on our letters page. E-mail Allegro@Local802afm.org.