To the Arts Editor:
I am writing to question the story "No Girls Allowed? In the World of Guitar Boasts, Few Women Let Their Fingers Do the Talking" (Sunday Arts, Aug. 22). It is disappointing that the author takes the statement "Can you name one?" -- one "great" female guitarist -- as any kind of evidence about women's accomplishments or undertakings on the guitar. In this regard, a consideration of the role of the major record labels is curiously and irresponsibly truncated, if not absent from the discussion.
The author appears to assume that a Rolling Stone magazine poll in which women accounted for only 2 of 100 famous guitarists may actually indicate something about what women are doing on the guitar, or worse, what women's desires are or how they are positioned in culture. Only quick lip service is paid to the issue of role models and the abusive treatment of women who break with these social expectations. This discussion then gets lost in a series of uncontested quotations about men and women's differences, making those differences appear either natural or chosen.
In fact, the absence of women on popular lists of guitar greats is far more likely to show a pattern of which musics and performances are deemed appropriate for mass circulation by corporate capital investment. To undermine this central part of the cycle of violence is to suggest that women are naturally "support players" and are therefore always concerned with "physical appearance and . . . fashion." This endorses a confining, often vicious language of gender handed down by a record industry as much subject to the post-Sept. 11 sexist backlash as it is to maintaining huge profits that are more easily accessed if consumer tastes are made similar.
There are a number of ways in which the author renders men's and women's differences. He begins with a condescending acknowledgment of "all" women's talent by citing their skills as violinists, and then goes on to quote the highly contested writings of humanities professor Camille Paglia on "boys" and their biology, their "hormones . . . rage . . . and sexual impulse[s]." That female guitarists (of a very specific and prescriptive musical style upon which the author insists) are few should indicate much more about the kind of heterosexist culture that massive capital investment bestows upon us, wittingly or not, than about whether women in general avoid an "ego pose."
I would add also that a discussion that makes it appear that distinctively heterosexual men practice guitar while women prefer to have their bodies examined and evaluated on stage grossly undervalues a large group of us who produce art precisely to counteract the violence of shaping and prescriptive stereotypes. Needless to say, the conditions of that work would make it impossible for any such non-mainstream guitarist or other musician to be found in Rolling Stone, let alone in a mainstream poll. Given these circumstances, ideas like "popularity," which falsely indicates "everyone," and the "genius," which is a title most often reserved for men, should be viewed with suspicion.
It may be possible to receive the false impression that purchasing a CD or praising a celebrity is a kind of vote, and that because the vote was cast in favor of that celebrity, that celebrity transparently represents the voter's taste, identity or behavior. Rather, the opinions or abilities of guitar stars who are selected and processed through the corporate music system don't indicate how other people or musicians think or feel, or identify with gender.
It would be greatly appreciated if those who write such reviews could think more carefully about how to cooperate with those of us who put a great deal of unpaid time and labor into working against or creating alternatives to such overly pervasive fantasies about gender, rather than relying on quoted statements to support vicious stereotypes.
The writer plays "avant-folk songs" in the Washington-based experimental drone collective From Quagmire.
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