A Word on Female Bassist Stereotypes

11 02 2010

Before I can truly begin providing you with bass-related tips, techniques, lessons, and lingo, I have to clear the air.

I know this is an astonishing fact, but some people think that female bassists suck. Many people also seem to think of us as manly (perhaps because bass is seen as an incredibly testosterone-driven instrument). Put two and two together, and, as  Urban Dictionary‘s article for the word “bassist” so eloquently sums up, “a female bassist […] is often stereotyped as a lesbian.” Sigh.

Now we all know that Urban Dictionary is not the most reputable source for information (another entry under “bassist” states that a bass player is “usually a failed guitarist who does not have the skill to play a six stringed instrument.”). But this tidbit sums up the gist of what I’m getting at here: Female bassists have to work a hell of a lot harder to get a little respect.

Case in point: Can you name more than two—no, make that more than one— famous female bassist off the top of your head? Without cheating, I’m willing to bet that you can’t.

As a self-proclaimed and unashamed tomboy, I was always one of the boys growing up. I did everything from jumping off roofs in the neighborhood (wearing a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cape and waving a fake machete around, of course) to pulling my own weight in mechanic school to show the guys that I could do everything they could do, and this has definitely transferred over to my life as a bass player.

Female bassists have, sadly, had to fight through the stereotype that they’re bad musicians for years now. We’ve all seen some bad musicians in our day (that Everclear concert back in ’04 is still stinging my eardrums). But assuming that a musician is going to be bad just because of her gender is just a little discriminatory, don’t you agree?

That being said, even though truly talented female bassists are seldom seen in the wild arena of the music world, they are out there! A few famous ones include Kim Deal (the bassist for The Pixies), Tina Weymouth (the bassist for the Talking Heads), and Jeanne Sagan (the bass player for death metal group All That Remains).

But just because you don’t know their names doesn’t mean there aren’t a ton of lesser-known female bassists out there as well! Among the best are Tal Wilkenfeld (she tours with Jeff Beck and Eric Clapton), Rhonda Smith (she played with Prince), Debra Killings, Kelly Ogden (with her band The Dollyrots), Patricia Day (of the Danish psychobilly band The Horrorpops)…and many others. 

So the rather-cliché-but-true moral of the story is: Don’t judge a book by its cover. And on that note, I leave you with this rousingly funky jam by Bassida, yet another Danish bass extraordinaire.