Right from orientation, we were made aware of Wesleyan’s progressive approach to sex and gender definition. At our first hall meetings, we voted on whether or not we wanted our bathrooms to be gender-neutral, and then we made fantastic first impressions on fellow freshmen at the cross-dressing dance. It seemed here women could finally break away from the gendered hierarchy upheld by insecure high school boys. Every time I raised my hand in class, or a female colleague would make an interesting point, I thought nothing of it. Women outnumber men here, as they do in many colleges, and no one bats an eye at the notion of female professors and administrators any more. It’s the 21st century, and we stand on the shoulders of Friedan and de Beauvoir.
Now that we’ve established our intellectual equality, it’s easy for women to believe that sex no longer inhibits our ambitions, but really, it already has. Kathleen Hanna, founder of the Riot Grrl movement of the 90’s brought this to our attention, when she spoke in the Woodhead lounge a few weeks ago. She asked if we had any all-girl bands, and wow, we don’t. It’s no secret that men dominate the music scene at Wesleyan, but Kathleen confirmed what a lot of us suspected: music is, generally, a boys club, which tends to marginalize girl bands and musicians as novelties.
Yes, yes there are exceptions, but all too few. Men don’t need to know how to play the guitar to strum out some power chords and call it punk, but a woman better be damn good, or be prepared to face disparaging remarks. To earn any respect in music and to break out of the clichéd confines of “singer/songwriter” or “sexy vocalist,” women are forced to be hypergood. It’s hard for women to start playing instruments relatively late, say, in college, since the groups on campus, mostly male, are reluctant to jam or practice.
Case in point: one campus band’s drummer will go abroad soon, and I asked another member what the group planned to do. He said they were considering using prerecorded tracks, or maybe waiting for one of their friends to get drum lessons, but when I suggested a female drummer whom I knew, he quickly dismissed her as “not good enough” without once hearing her play. These notions seem old fashioned in our progressive, post-gender campus, and I tried to dismiss them. After all, there were some incredible concerts at Eclectic before Thanksgiving break, with groups that featured a number of female musicians.
Still, to simply get in a band is not enough. I was milling around after one of these Eclectic shows with a few guy friends, when one female musician from the band uneasily pulled me aside, wanting to talk to a woman. She told me she had been groped when she went briefly into the crowd, that it was the first time this had happened, and that this was not cool. There are many ways to try to dismiss or belittle her claim, but the look on her face said it all. It’s unbelievable, unacceptable that someone would violate this professional musician while she was working. It doesn’t just make Wesleyan look bad to the band, it reflects poorly on the overall state of feminism at this school.
Women have so much to say and play and sing about, but it seems no one wants to listen. Now is the time to be heard, and to stop writing and practicing behind closed doors; if music is sticking it to the man, man has no right to dominate it. In general, it takes a kind of bravery to write and play music, but to make music in a sexist environment, especially in a one like Wesleyan that denies its chauvinism? That takes more than balls. That takes ovaries.
Trufelman is a member of the class of 2013.