Marisa Prietto (Wax Idols)

There is one conversation I always reflect on when it comes to the issue of gender typing, in my capacity as a woman who plays music. It happened between me and my best dude friend, when we were in a band together.

It was on the eve of a full band practice, which after 2 years of demo-ing and writing, felt portentous. He pulled me aside for a private conversation—addressing me conspiratorially, as if we just had to speak about the elephant in the room. He said it would benefit me to interpret our first full band rehearsal as something of an audition, for everyone involved. He said the process would go inherently harder on me, because of my gender.

“The thing is, Marisa, you’re going to have to play harder and be better, and it’s because you’re a girl, I’m sorry.”

“The thing is, Marisa, you’re going to have to play harder and be better, and it’s because you’re a girl, I’m sorry.”

As I was letting that statement sink in, he told me I would be expected to carry my own gear. I certainly never thought I would be in a band where I wouldn’t be expected to pull my own weight, either artistically or physically—but okay. I received the message. There would be no special privileges given because of my gender, but there would be special scrutiny. If I really wanted a seat at the table, I would not only have to accept this double standard, but play up to it as well.

I felt burdened by this and I argued passionately with my friend. Didn’t he see that he was being straight up sexist? Why could I not simply be expected to invest and play well, leaving my gender out of it entirely? The answer at the time was even more complicated and compelling. No, he didn’t think he was being sexist- he thought he was having my back. The words that I took as an unconscious act of aggression were, to his mind, statements of cold fact. Like a tough military dad, he was trying to prepare me for any harshness I might face in furthering myself as a musician. In a perverse way, he was trying to empathize. It came as a shock to me that there persisted such a divide between us when we had been playing music together for so long. It became hauntingly clear to me that the guardians of these toxic, outdated philosophies pertaining to gender and art are often our fellow artists, peers and contemporaries.

My basic sentiment is this: if I have to work harder and prove myself more, because of my gender, then the underlying assumption must be that I don’t really belong here at all. This assumption however, is built on a scaffolding of false logic that it is our responsibility as artists and outsiders to systematically upend. I honestly don’t know why I have to continue to contend with things as a woman in music, other than to occupy a position in which my work is still very much cut out for me. I do persist in believing that with enough time and commitment, we can undo this bizarre computational error in human logic that only allows us to see the contributions of certain types of people as inherently valuable. It is for this reason that I will always be grateful to my friend for drawing my attention to these dynamics. It ended up being better for me in the long run than pretending that they don’t exist. My hope is that at some point soon in our evolution, we can all just be people in music. People for whom the common border is equal and active participation in the thing we love, across any and all divides.