Jimi Hendrix blazes on the cover of the Rolling Stone 100 Greatest Guitarists issue. And cracking open the issue shows that he heads an impressive listof talent: Jimmy Page, Chuck Berry, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Les Paul and more.
But, surprise surprise, the list is light on female guitarists. In fact, only two women managed to crack the top 100, voted on by a panel of 58 artists and music journalists: Joni Mitchell at 75 and Bonnie Raitt at 89. The judges list itself isn’t exactly a picture of diversity, it includes only three women: Nancy Wilson, Melissa Ethridge and Susan Tedeschi.
So, I know what you’re saying: I’m here to call the list “sexist.” And you’re right, I am. It seems pretty shitty of the judges to pass over not only Wilson and Ethridge themselves (before you yell about “impartiality,” Tom Morello, Carlos Santana and Joe Perry were all named to list while being on the judging panel), but also the likes of Lita Ford, Meslissa Auf der Maur, Joan Jett, Jane Wiedlin…well, you get the idea.
But I think the list says even more than just that. This list is a testament to how long rock and roll has been a boys club…and how little we have encouraged women in music.
I don’t mean necessarily that we’ve discouraged women from participating. Yeah, sure, you can be the lead vocalist! Or play keyboards, that’s a properly feminine instrument, it’s just like the piano. Oh! You wanna get a little dangerous? Well, there’s always the bass (don’t worry, we know you won’t really be able to play it ’cause, you know, GIRL, but luckily we can drown out the bass really, really easily on stage)*. A woman on stage was a novelty, even more so if she were doing something other than being a solo pop star or in an all-girl vocal group.
There have been exceptions, obviously. There will ALWAYS be exceptions to things like this. But you should look at Rolling Stone’s excellent-if-not-diverse list and wonder…how would it look if we hadn’t historically written off women in rock and roll?
Now ask yourself how that list will look in 20 years time. How do you WANT it to look in 20 years time? Do we want to keep making the same mistakes: not giving girls credit, putting them into that dreaded “Good for a GIRL” category, not promoting women in music, continuing to consider “girl rock” a genre in and of itself that should be scorned by straight guys unless the lead singer is, like, really, really hot?
Or do we want to make an effort to encourage girls into music, sign them up for music lessons or Rock and Roll camps if they show an interest, encourage major tours like Warped to include more bands with women in them, fight against the idea that any band with a girl at the helm must be a girly band that makes girly music just for girls and ensure that if a girl wants to be a rock star, we are able to give her the same chances at being one that a boy would have?
I know which I’d prefer.