Wednesday, August 27, 2008
Guest Blogger: Peggy Ehrhart
Peggy Ehrhart is a writer after my own heart. An English professor turned musician, Ehrhart (pictured above with Homer the cat) penned a smart, stylish first mystery featuring... you guessed it, a blues woman, "Maxx" Maxwell, who sings, leads the band, and also solves crime. Sweet Man is Gone is just out now, and to celebrate, Peggy posed the question...
Why don’t more women play the electric guitar?
I’m the proud owner--and player--of several Strats, but female electric guitarists are such a rarity that when it came time to create my heroine in Sweet Man Is Gone, I went with the stereotype and made her a singer.
But why is the chick always the singer, never the lead guitarist? I’ve decided it’s rooted in profound differences between men and women--a topic for the sociobiologists. But I’m going to take a stab at it.
Most people who play the electric guitar start in their teens. The electric guitar has everything to recommend it to teenage boys and almost nothing to recommend it to teenage girls. And by the time the teen years are past, it’s hard to catch up. I started playing as an adult. I’ve now been at it for fifteen years and play like a fair-to-middling teenage boy.
Guys love gear and girls don’t. Girls are put off by an instrument that seems to require a mastery of electronics.
Playing the electric guitar requires physical exertion, speed, dexterity, and endurance—the very qualities teenage boys would cultivate whether electric guitars existed or not.
Most styles played on the electric guitar require loads of time to master, much of it spent in solitude. It’s a stereotype that women talk more than men and depend on verbal interaction to relate to those around them. But stereotypes are based on fact. I’m not sure most women can cut themselves off from society and devote themselves to hours and hours of practice the way guys do. And women who are introspective loners are more likely to spend their time reading--immersing themselves in words rather than sounds. That’s certainly what I did as a teenager.
And finally, most styles played on the electric guitar stem ultimately from the blues. The archetypal blues guitarist is male. His persona is that of a virile seducer who can get any woman he wants, a virtuosic player who can outplay any other guitarist. I had a lot of tongue-in-cheek fun with that in Sweet Man Is Gone.
But it’s significant that males start playing the guitar at puberty. It’s a great way to celebrate their developing manhood, and the competitive factor dovetails nicely with the way teenage boys interact with their peers. They compete with each other in everything, and they admire the guys who star—whether at skateboarding, on the football field, or in the band.
Teenage girls interact with each other not by competing, but by cooperating and sharing. Teenage girls who take up the guitar could of course find boys to compete with, but the last thing most girls that age want to do is scare boys away.
Furthermore, for all that teenage girls want to attract the opposite sex, they want to be courted. With rare exceptions they’d be uncomfortable displaying themselves as the blatantly sexual aggressor that the guitar hero tradition demands.
So it’s not surprising that so few women play the electric guitar. The wonder is that any do.