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Via's Journeys

The Role of Gender in Music

Via Perkins

The first time I heard "Good Man," a song by singer/songwriter Josh Ritter, was on an episode of the TV show House, M.D.

The relaxed acoustic-folk feel, almost lazy croon of the vocals, and vivid lyrics intrigued me. I quickly set to learning it and performed it for my mother, hoping to get a good response. I'll never forget what she said: "Good man? How can you sing that? You're a girl!"

Before that moment, it has simply never ocurred to me that it would be strange for me, as a female, to sing that song.

My default perception of myself is not as of a female - at least the way society has defined what it means to be a girl. I don't walk around totally conscious of the fact that I'm a girl and the way gender impacts my daily life. Often times I'm so focused on other things that define me that I forget that I even have a gender.

I think of myself as a conglomeration of personality traits, emotions, ideas, opinions that make up my sort of stream-of-consciousness thought life. Although I am definitely satisfied with being a girl, and identify with feminine traits, I can also be androgynous. Mostly, I feel very much human.

The songs that first stoked my passionate for music were almost exclusively written and performed by males. The only female music role model I can think of that I had as a teenager was Avril Lavigne. Although she was not the picture of femininity when she was first discovered, a big part of her appeal was her offbeat style. She was marketed as a female who wasn't feminine, and that in itself is gender association.

Kaki King is a great example of a music artist who isn't gender-focused. She is a brilliant guitarist and singer/songwriter. Here, she explains how her gender stereotypes have affected her career in music (starts at 1:34):

I love music because it can defy gender, and all other human characteristics with which we use to categorize each other. And, since every person is unique, music has an equally distinctive effect on every listening ear. I appreciate this gift each time I listen to a song that moves me, no matter who it is written by or about.

- Via