Feminism | Posted by Rachel P on 07/2/2010
Seixsm and the Double Bass
Like Esperenza Spalding, I too, am a female double bassist, with the greatest of respect for the wonderful things that Esperenza does – especially with first-hand knowledge of the blatant misogyny that accompanies being a female double bassist, and how hard it is to even get your instrument through the door, let alone forge a successful musical career.
My double bass teacher was turned down by a professional orchestra, because, simply put, “he wasn’t strong enough”. The nature of orchestra playing means that you’re rehearsing for hours on end, and then playing your instrument non-stop in a concert that can last anywhere from 40 minutes to literally hours. When your instrument is quite literally bigger than you, and when it takes flexing your arm to its full length to even get a note out, this can get pretty tiring, pretty quickly. My teacher is a muscly, 6’3″ male. I am a 5’7″ teenage female. You can see where this is going.
Thing is, I know that’s just something that goes with the job. I chose to play this instrument, knowing that forging a career would be trickier. What I didn’t expect was the attitudes of the people around me. To sum it up in eight words:
Girl plays violin – “hot!”
Girl plays bass – “what?!”
Whenever I travel with it, I’m inundated with men (and yes, it’s always men) who feel that the fact that I’m carrying a huge instrument means that I’m completely pathetic. I mean, I don’t mind people opening doors for me, but believe me, I’m perfectly capable of carrying it myself. If I wasn’t, I wouldn’t be travelling with it. Also, from an insurance point of view, I don’t feel comfortable allowing complete strangers to carry an instrument that’s worth more than my life savings. Understandable, right?
This one time, I fell down a set of stairs at a train station, while carrying my double bass. (I admit it probably wasn’t the best idea to commute in heels, but never mind…) Interestingly, it wasn’t the men who stopped to help: it was a woman who dusted me off, got me on my feet, and offered to carry my bag for me. Curious – I’m allowed to be incapable of carrying my instrument when vulnerability is sexually appealing, but when the realities of scraped knees and twisted ankles sets in, it’s not worth the bother?
I’ve also heard all the blatantly sexual one-liners there are – “I bet my instrument’s bigger, love!” “I’d love you to play my instrument…” “Give us a show, darling”. What’s strange is that these kind of remarks seem pretty much isolated to female bassists.
If it wasn’t for the attitudes of casual strangers, I’d feel empowered by how I play a musical instrument that’s massive not only in size, but in volume. But instead of feeling like the strong, convention-breaking young woman that I am, I feel vulnerable and uncomfortable when I travel to concerts alone. I’m horribly aware that I can’t run away from a potentially dangerous situation easily, that I’d have to fight off a potential attacker with my words and my fists. And I don’t think that’s fair, at all.
Read other posts about: double bass, double bassists, double standards, female musicians, feminist musicians, gender stereotypes, sexism in the music industry, sexual harassment, teenage feminism, teenagers, women in the music industry
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