Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Gender in a Marching Band

BYU Marching Band
              I decided to focus on the gender equality issues found in the BYU marching band. To start off, I am 5’5” and 110 pounds. This is important because I play the sousaphone in the band. I have had different social experiences in the band because I am a tiny girl playing the tuba than I would have had if Iwas a man or if I played a different instrument.
I’ll start with the easy part, the numbers. There are 145 members of the band (excluding the color guard which I will discuss later), 90 of whom are men or approximately 62%. This is rather significant. Why is it more acceptable for men to be in the band? Do women stay for less time because of gender socialization? There could be a historic military aspect driving some of this inequality which I will consider later.
I expected there to be a larger portion of men in leadership positions than women. Of the 17 leadership positions (which include president, records, logistics, Rocky Mountain committee, uniforms, and drum majors) there are eleven men or 64%. This roughly matches the overall division of men in the band. Six out of the nine section leaders are men or about 66%. Out of 36 squad leaders, 22 are men, about 61%.  Including all leadership, there is about the same proportion of men as the band in general. Looking only at numbers in leadership positions, there is gender equality.
Now I’ll look at the quality of some leadership positions. The most prestigious leadership positions in the band are the band president and the drum majors because they have the most power in the band. This year our band president is a man and we have two female drum majors and one male drum major. So the most esteemed jobs are evenly split. While band members continue to see these positions as vital to the band, the women seem to command less respect. Members of the band often indicate their view that the women are more annoying. The implication is that one of them seems bossy and rude and the other is incompetent. This seems to be a stereotype in many places. [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B8gz-jxjCmg] Women in leadership positions are seen as either too masculine and rude or too feminine and incompetent. If these were men I don’t know if the band would view them in the same negative way. Our male drum major is probably about as competent as the “incompetent” girl but he is not viewed as being inept at his job. Gender does seem to play a role in how we view the quality of the drum majors.  
Besides drum majors, the only other committee where women outnumber men is in uniforms. In the uniforms committee there are four women and one man. This reinforces the idea that women should be in charge of uniforms as if all women are automatically more capable of taking caring of clothes than men. I’m on this committee and anyone who knows me can attest that this is not the case. Fewer men asked to be on uniforms committee which implies that the individuals in the band see uniforms as a job for women but the band members seem to listen to our male colleague as much as they listen to the rest of us about uniforms. In general I don’t think women being more qualified to be in charge of clothes is a stereotype supported by the band.
There is an idea in the band that brass is more masculine and woodwinds are more feminine. This is interesting because in the marching band the only sections where women outnumber the men is in the piccolos and the clarinets with an even split in the French horns. The brass and saxophones are predominantly men. This may come from the fact that the band started out in the early 1900s as an ROTC band. [http://bands.byu.edu/bands/marching-band/history] Marching bands today are often descended from historic military bands. [http://46thparegband.50webs.com/regband-hist.html]  I think this plays into the idea that marching bands are a more masculine thing. When women wanted to join it was natural that they were given the lighter instruments because women are generally smaller than men. So this idea that women cannot physically do the same thing as men is brought out in the band.
            Our color guard is made up exclusively of women. The nineteen color guard members are there to dance around the band and to make us look better while waving colorful flags and looking pretty. The fact that there are only women doing this seems to indicate that only women can show off their bodies by dancing around us. It is interesting that we don’t put men in a “look at me, I’m so pretty” position. This would be seen as frivolous and girly, implying that girls are air headed because they think about their bodies too much. The band does support this gendered idea that women are around as eye candy.
            Now for my favorite part, how gender affects how individuals are treated. Recently I heard the terms “piccabros” (referring to men in the piccolo section), “tuba chicks”, and “bone babes” (meaning women in the trombone section). The fact that there are terms for when someone differs from the norm emphasizes that there is a norm to differ from. I’ll use the two extremes, women in the tuba section and men in the piccolo section. While a woman deviating from social norms is seen as cool and encouraged, men are viewed as kind of wimpy. Whenever it comes up that I play the tuba in the BYU marching band, I get positive reactions. I’ve gotten comments from other band members that they are proud of the girls who play tuba. Part of this is a physical achievement; it is usually harder for a girl to carry around a 35 pound instrument. On the other hand, the one guy in the piccolo section is kind of ridiculed. The piccolo section in general is made fun of by the band. This may be because it is seen as a silly girl section. One example is that they put glitter under their eyes for game days. This goes back to the idea that little kids and empty headed women like sparkly things. Even women are criticized for being too dainty and girly, so it is no wonder that men are judged for doing what is seen as exceedingly feminine.
Overall it seems to be socially acceptable in the band for a woman to adopt masculine traits, as long as she isn’t too masculine. On the other hand it is almost impossible for men to act feminine at all without suffering some social consequences. There are not even allowed to try “feminine” things in some cases. All of the gendered issues in band are not institutionalized, except color guard, which means that while implied these are not hard rules. Many of the gendered issues illustrated in the band reflect larger society values and norms. Until society changes, many of the issues found in the band will not change. 

1 comment:

  1. I will admit that there are some sexist norms in almost all bands but I think that many of these things tend to be coincidental.
    People are just drawn to the instrument they're drawn to, and some instruments tend to draw more of one gender than the other.
    Our band recently placed at Red Rox. I find it interesting that our band tends to break or completely abandon a lot of these norms. Many of the most respected members are actually female. The band president/flute section leader is female (easliy one of the most admired people in the entire band), one of our drum majors is female and she's just as well loved as the male drum major. Many of our trumpets are female and we have some OUTSTANDING female trombonists. At one point before I joined the band, we had a MASSIVE flute section almost entirely made of males! That was a trend for years!
    I know that the flute section is usually made fun of. It's only somewhat valid, I mean we're often the most likely to become friends with a guard member (I LOVE GUARD. THEY ARE A PARTY.) Or to have a spa day or something. This is kind of against the "go get things done" mentality that many bands have. Plus, it's inconvinient in a band setting to like dresses and jewlery and makeup and sparkly things. However, I would like to point out a feminine strength that those girls bring to the band. They are usually nurturing and compassionate. Saying that aspect of their personality is useless does not get anything done.
    What if a band member comes to practice crying because their SO broke up with them or they got in a fight with someone they really care about? Who's going to help them out? It's likely going to be those people. The people who aren't really in the limelight and maybe are picked on a little bit.
    My band director is very strict about being nice to each other. We may jab at each other once in a while but if people are ligitamately bulling he will NOT put up with it. I think this is how we've gotten to the point of minimal sexisum. I myself feel that I'm seen as somewhat of a shy yet loud teacher's pet. I tend to keep to myself with the exception of getting to know specific people or messing around. I was one of the first people to volunteer for a job when the director asked. I feel like my contributions could have easily gone unnoticed. That being said, nobody doubted my importance. I feel like if a director/other leaders really promote unity all of these problems go away. The students/members of the band start to see the little things that each bring to the table. Things that would otherwise go unnoticed. For example, how sweet this person really is. How this other person always steps up to help out when they may not know how/nobody else can, how another person always can make an entire bus full of kids laugh, how absolutely clever this individual can be. I feel like this kind of unity also allows us to see each other's flaws and find ways to help out/make up for them.
    Unity just makes everyone valued.