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Female guitarists in contemporary music

(Released July 2009)

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  by Les Reynolds  


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Starting Early: Some Studies


Gender stereotypes have also been examined among children, and numerous studies have been conducted regarding the "sex stereotyping" or "gendering" of musical instruments and musical instrument choice-which seems to bear out that there are, indeed, social pressures to engage in certain gender-appropriate musical activities.

Pickering (6), in a study conducted at the University of Sydney, Australia, in the 1990s, referred to previous research to argue that despite the growing emphasis on gender equity in society at large, children continue to conform to many traditional gender stereotypes. This research demonstrated that North American children associate gender with musical instruments and these stereotypes influence their instrument preferences. Drums, it was shown, were seen as mostly "male" while the flute, for example, was considered a "female" instrument. This corroborated research by Griswold and Chroback from the early 1980s, which noted that children assigned masculine character to drums, trombones and tubas; feminine traits to the violin, flute and clarinet; while the saxophone was seen as "neutral." (7)

girl at piano
A United Kingdom-based study conducted by O'Neill and Boulton (8) within a group of over 150 children age 9-11 found that girls significantly preferred the piano, flute and violin, whereas boys expressed a stronger preference for guitar, drums and trumpet. Further solidifying those findings, it was shown that both groups had similar ideas about which instruments should not be played by members of each sex.

Some variation and deviation from these findings has occurred in studies of greater breadth and inclusivity. Zervoudakes and Tanur (9) concluded in their overall results that gender assignment of instruments, perception of those stereotypes and expectations to adhere to certain roles increased in high school and college, although they found far less evidence of this in elementary schools.

In a selective review of existing literature on this subject, Walker (Troy State University study, 10) analyzed over 20 separate studies conducted between 1978 and 2000 to explore both possible biological and cultural/sociological considerations. Some studies argued that music serves a patriarchal society seeking to keep women subjugated, and women who become successful in a "man's" world do so only by acting like men. They did so by taking on stereotypical male characteristics, being aggressive and competitive and engaging in social motion via hierarchical structures such as business, academia and other professional areas. It was noted, however, that in the scholastic environment, women tended to make up an increasing number (in general) in band programs over the past few decades. This distinguished how scholastic and "real world" environments may have been different for female musicians. Walker also found numerous studies that validated (or replicated) other research showing gender-assignment of musical instrument selection among students.

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