Now Reading: Combating Stereotypes and Sexism as a Female Drummer


Combating Stereotypes and Sexism as a Female Drummer

January 16, 20185 min read

I learned at a young age to find joy and excitement in defying stereotypes. Of course, it would take me years to learn the full extent to which I would have to stand up for my identity and defy society’s expectations of me as a gay woman. But the thrill that came with surprising people ignited a spark in me early on in my life.

It started in fourth grade when I first began playing the drums. Every time someone asked me what instrument I played, their faces would contort into a wide-eyed, pleasantly surprised—maybe even impressed—expression. They’d say something like, “Really, wow,” and I’d grin and nod, excited at how they obviously weren’t expecting my answer to be the drums. I still get this same reaction today, ten years later, and I love it just the same.

For a long time I wasn’t conscious of the sexism and prejudices surrounding female drummers. I understood that the majority of drummers were guys, thanks to all the surprised responses I got about my playing the drums, but I didn’t notice or think about the more subtle ways gender stereotypes were controlling the way I played and talked about playing my instrument.

The biggest, most obvious time I was aware of blatant sexism towards me as a musician was when I played in the pit band for the high school musical. The male music director asked a middle school boy to play in the band, assuming that I would be doing something else at the time (without asking me to find out if this was true). I had to ask him if I could play, and then fight for my right to play the main drum parts for the entire show, instead of splitting it with the middle school boy (in a high school musical). Even when I was going through these frustrating interactions with the band director, my parents were the ones who had to point out to me that he was being sexist. I had been subconsciously giving him the benefit of the doubt, thinking that he didn’t mean to put me out of my place, he was just trying to be fair and give another drummer a chance. But of course this was way too generous and passive of me, as he was giving away this incredible position I was perfect for to a young boy.

After this experience, I paid much more attention to the little things in my interactions with people surrounding my drumming, and to the way I thought about myself and advocated (or didn’t advocate) for myself as a musician. I always knew I was not as confident showing off and playing drum solos like many of my male counterparts (including the middle school boy). Rather, I preferred to provide a solid, steady backbeat that the rest of the band could rely on. Showing off and improvising meant potential for messing up, and I think I subconsciously wanted to prove that I was as good a drummer as everyone else my age, if not better, so making a mistake terrified me. I played it safe, literally.

With time and effort I have learned to pay attention to subtle habits and thoughts of mine that have been unintentionally ingrained into my brain as “normal” by society. I still struggle to be fully confident in myself and my playing, but knowing that I deserve to be in the position I’m in has helped me ground myself and make sure I am treated fairly. I have become much more ready and willing to fight for equal opportunities to play, and am adamant in defying society’s stereotypes and gender expectations.

I am not just a passive, quiet, weak female drummer. I am a strong, reliable drummer with a great musical ear, and I just so happen to be a girl.

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Zoe Jennings

Zoe is majoring in English at a college in Oregon, with a minor in Music. She plays the drums, loves reading and drawing, and is excited to study abroad in London this spring. She is very tall, very gay, and very enthusiastic about theater. She loves connecting with other people and geeking out about common interests.