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Sound Off: Women Musicians Talk About “Time’s Up”

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Klarissa Collins and her Dean Guitar. Credit: Ms. Klarissa Collins

A symphonic progressive metal rocker, somewhat reminiscent of Lita Ford, Klarissa Collins is an intelligent, thoughtful and driven 28-year old. She is talented, and a musician to watch as she settles into her new band, Final Aeon, made up of three women and one man.

But as confident and talented as she is, Collins also talked with the Messenger about the challenges and power dynamics and stereotypes that gender has structured into the music industry. It is not an uncommon story or theme. Over the past year, dozens of high-profile and successful female musicians have voiced their complaints and concerns about both sexual harassment and gender inequalities. At the recent Grammy Awards, musician and actress Janelle Monae forcefully declared “time’s up” and talked about sexual harassment within the industry at-large, and also spoke about more subtle forms of gender inequality. Talking with female musicians around southern Oregon confirmed that the music scene here is no different, with incidents of sexual harassment noted, stories about women marginalized in bands and on stage, and considered more for their gender than their talent.  

Collins talked to me about power dynamics in countless bands, ruled by the male guitarist or bassist—and added that when she questioned that power dynamic, she says she was kicked out of the band; multiple times. She recently relocated from Klamath falls, and is putting together a new band called, Final Aeon, made up of three women musicians and one male. She explained that being a woman has not held her back as a musician, but instead has inspired her to work harder to get where she is today.

While Collins has largely swashbuckled her way through the music industry in southern Oregon on her own, there are emerging more organized groups that are helping drive these changes as well; perhaps most notable Rock N Roll Camp For Girls, a year-round organization in Portland that both serves as a place where regional musicians mentor young girls as well as a space for young girls to gain a foothold and confidence in the industry.  

Caley Xena Murray, Program Director for Rock N Roll Camp For Girls, believes that there is a “genderization” within school music programs. “Girls are steered in different directions, especially drummers. That’s a man’s instrument is what people think.” Through her eyes, female musicians are often treated as tokens or as if they are not masters of their own instruments. Murray re-accounts disparaging stories, like a sound guy who even explained to her which drum was the bass as if she, an experienced drummer, would not know.

When asked how they prepare girls and young women for the music scene, Murray from Rock N Roll Camp For Girls says, “We do social justice training and talk about the wage gap. We teach body positivity. Girls need to learn how to set boundaries and stand up for other women when they see something happening. We try to give them as many tools as possible.”

A simple but powerful roleplaying technique giving them a chance to practice what asserting boundaries feels like. Maybe with the rock n’ roll genre, women feel more empowered and justified speaking up.

Overall, musicians I interviewed had similar advice to young women going into the music business. “Don’t listen to anyone else when they tell you it’s hard or you can’t do it,” says Murray. “Try to find a female mentor or instructor or friend to have the support. Remember, you are not a token. Find someone online or find a favorite musician and learn about them.”

 

 

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