The Vagenda

Where Have All The Female Drummers Gone?


I hung up my drumsticks when I was seven months pregnant.  I spent the last five minutes of my otherwise fairly glamorous drumming career wedged between a snare drum and the sweaty back wall of an Oxford venue, desperately waving my arms around in the hope that someone would notice my predicament.  After an undignified amount of time, some roadies freed me and I left the stage to go and give birth.  If I had known that I would be the last female drummer to regularly take to the Oxford music circuit, however, I would have stayed put, grimly paradiddling my way through each contraction and beyond.

So, why the dearth of female drummers?  This isn’t just a local problem – women are vastly under-represented in the music industry as a whole and the muscular world of drumming seems to be uniquely difficult to infiltrate. I believe there are a number of reasons why women don’t become drummers; some of those reasons are superficial and easily dismissed, and others are so entrenched and insidious it is hard to hold them up to scrutiny, let alone overcome them.

So let’s start with the easy stuff.  These are the made-up reasons that women don’t become drummers: 1) They can’t lift the stuff.  2) They aren’t strong enough to hit drums. 3) They can’t co-ordinate their limbs as neuroscience suggests that their brains are shaped like swans.  Or whatever it was that neuroscience last suggested about the fundamental, immutable differences between men and women.  I think it was swans. 4) They are better suited to being singers and backing singers.  5) Er…Oh I don’t know.  Whatever it was, it was bobbins.  I disproved all of those myths during my time with three bands, so we just don’t need to talk about them anymore.  Let’s move on.

‘Well, what are the real reasons?’ I hear you ask, breathily.  Well, the real reasons are the same old bloody buggering reasons that underpin every aborted foray in to the public world for women.  Let me trot them out again for you just in case you have attempted to forget: lack of role models (I plumped for Animal from The Muppets in the end, he was small and red, a bit like me); intense Twitter-fuelled scrutiny about every inch of any woman’s body, supported by a lexicon of shame and disgust (handily reported to us by the Mail Online, one of the most widely-read ‘newspapers’ in the country and the most widely-read website in the world); external and self-imposed oppression in the form of obsessing about weight and appearance; institutional structures that favour ambitious career trajectories and competitive workaholicism and so on and so on and on anonanon mnah-mnah (as Animal might have said).  In the seventies, feminism was all about identifying and rejecting the straitjacket of patriarchy.  Nowadays, balancing a champagne flute on your oily arse is considered empowering.  This creates immense confusion about how to get people to take you seriously when the women with the most money and influence often seem to be wearing the fewest clothes.

It’s no wonder that young women are unwilling to raise their heads above the parapet in any field: they fear the backlash, and understandably so.

Sometimes it feels hard to do much about this beyond resting your head on a nearby cat and sobbing heartily to the tune of I Will Survive. However, before your cat becomes too enraged, I would like to propose a call to action.  I’m a great believer in the power of the individual and today I cordially invite you to rage against the machine.  If you are a man, take a day off to take care of your sick child.  If you are a woman, ask for a pay rise.  Challenge damaging sexism wherever you see it, even if people scoff.  Write snooty letters to companies who insist on making their chocolate eggs gender-specific.  It doesn’t matter really what you do, you should do it in the sure knowledge that these kinds of sexist attitudes are damaging for both men and women and need to be confronted.  I have a son and a daughter, and I want them both to feel free to make choices that aren’t carefully marshalled for them before they’ve even left the womb.  It’s up to everyone to make that happen.

Shami Chakrabarti recently said that she believed that gender inequality is ‘the biggest global injustice’of all. She’s right.  I suspect that the world would be rather different if women were equally represented in all areas of public life, and men were equally represented in domestic life.  It seems like an arrogant leap to connect Chakrabarti’s statement to my own experiences at the fag-end of the music industry, but it’s all part of the same thing.  We all have something positive to contribute to this struggle, whether it be a grandiose and existential challenge to the status quo, or a rimshot delivered in a toilet venue by a clenched female fist. So let’s keep the beat going.


18 thoughts on “Where Have All The Female Drummers Gone?

  1. Thanks for this! I, too, miss my drums, though not everything about being a female drummer in a metal world. The sweaty backrooms of pubs where the ladies’ loo was usually used as a store room. The patronising attitude of male staff in drum shops who wondered if I was buying sticks for my boyfriend. The barely-disguised horror in the eyes of male drummers when I asked if I could borrow a bit of kit. Nope, don’t miss any of that. But sometimes, the boys were super-helpful for carrying stuff, and I almost always got a room to myself on tour. And is it *very* wrong that I would occasionally flirt with the sound-man to ensure my band got turned up and mixed properly? I never stopped being furious when men couldn’t help but discuss female musicians in terms of their looks, although I’m afraid I don’t think I ever managed to convince them to mend their ways. I played gigs with 5 different bands (and played as guest drummer with a couple of others when I was too drunk to object to the tokenism), made it as far as second support for some vile doom band at the Camden Underworld, and loved playing the drums more than enough to make up for any crap. In the end, though, I got too old (at the grand old age of 37) to be in metal bands, and after 14 months of baby-sitting a load of boys in their early 20s, I packed it in. I miss it a lot, especially the touring and feeling like part of a musical family, but I’m not sure I’m as tolerant as I used to be, so perhaps I wouldn’t like it as much now.

  2. I drum with Batala Lancaster who are very female-heavy, in fact our sister bands in New York and Washington DC are women only. Drumming makes me feel incredibly strong. Be great to see more female drummers in mainstream bands though.

  3. This was an interesting read.

    My observation is that musical instruments like drums are expensive, quite often need lessons and space, which is why compared to say, guitarists, drummers in and of themselves are a rarer form of musician.

    Kids need money spent on them to learn how to play real instruments and if we are talking about women learning to drum then being on equal pay would be a start in making it more likely that women can get out there and get themselves started with their passions!

    I agree with much of this article, but one thing I think women overlook that I have observed is that not all women seem to have a ‘feminist’ perspective on motherhood – they are Not encouraging their daughters to play drums, get into trucks, like food and being healthy (not fit or thin spiration), like what they like, even if it’s not pink, or quiet, I tell mine that anyone who calls them a ‘tomboy’ can go to hell with such stupid concepts – it’s what I want for my kids …. its nice to see more women standing up for this, because finding role models really helps!

  4. The best drummer I’ve seen this year was female. She’s in the bands Vodun and also Groan. Check them out.

    This was a great article, and I particularly relate to the bit about women’s bodies being under scrutiny. I’ve seen some amazing bands, but the reviews have focused on the image of the (female) singer in the band, rather than the music. This double standard really sickens me – you just don’t see reviews about male bands in the same way (“the music was great, but Lemmy’s really let himself go, so it just wasn’t the same for me”).

    Slight tangent – the term “female fronted” or “female four-piece” also sends me into apoplexy, as it suggests that it’s still unusual to see women in bands.

  5. Love that this issue has been brought to life. Im a first year drummer studying at LIPA and in the three years of music students there is only me and another female drummer in our year. I have been playing for 11 years (a lot longer than some of the boys i study with) but i still feel inferior to them when i play. I find i am a cautious player because i’m scared of messing up and making myself look like an idiot in front of all the men. Luckily my friends at uni are amazing and don’t treat me any differently but it can sometimes be annoying when i’m only compared to the other female drummers and not the male drummers. A lot of musicians are very accepting of women musicians and don’t treat them any differently in my experience, it tends to be the people who don’t play who are most judgemental. Im definitely writing my dissertation on women in the music industry in third year, When i graduate i really want to focus on getting more women to participate in music!

  6. girls! I am lucky to have just started writing for this magazine: — the only magazine in the world dedicated to female drummers. it’s based in Brooklyn but they are about to be distributed over here. how can i get in touch with the writer of this great article about interviewing her for one of my own?

  7. Loved this article – thank you for writing it.
    I’ve been playing drums since the early seventies and I’m amazed that the percentage of female drummers working at a pro level with sustained careers doesn’t seem to have significantly increased over the decades.
    Almost without fail, after gigs at least one woman will come up to me and say “I’ve always wanted to play the drums”, and just as often a guy will come up with a variant of “good for a girl”. Sigh.
    Taking up drumming doesn’t have to entail a big financial outlay. At the risk of sounding a bit Monty Python, I started by getting a pair of sticks and hitting a dictionary and a biscuit tin. If noise is an issue there are practice pads and electronic kits. Ebay’s a great place to find used equipment and there’s a massive amount of free online lessons.
    Physically, it’s all about technique not strength so it doesn’t matter how big or small you are. Depending on the type of music you want to play you may need to work on your fitness and stamina – but that’s all part of the pleasure and empowerment.
    May I join your call to encourage any woman (no matter what age) who’d love to play just to do it.

  8. Great reading ladies, I’m pleased to announce that I am in my 40′s and still drum and in actual fact am looking for a new project as we speak.

    My most recent inspiration is Fay Milton of SAVAGES, she is just superb as are the rest of the band. Seen them at least 5 times and want more.

    Please check out my chops in BLACK SPRING RISING or STEADMAN & BLACK and feel free to get in touch if you wanna jam.

  9. All I did was type in “females drummers want a band to play with” in the search engine and I got this post. It is so true but it’s across the board with other musicians too. How many female heavy metal bands can you name? You can probably count them on your hands. But I digress. We have been searching for a drummer for ages to join our band, preferably a female drummer. I know they’re rare as most of the drummers we have had have been men. Why can’t they just play the instrument they learned to play and not see me and my friend as their little girls to look after and dominate? “Oh, you don’t want to do this..” and “you don’t want to do that..”, just drum for goodness sake. We did have one female drummer but she got pregnant but to find another woman is near enough impossible. Oh dear, we’ll just have to keep auditioning dominant men who just want to take over in the hope that one day we might find a drummer who just wants to drum.

  10. I’m a teenage girl and I’ve always loved music but I can’t sing very well and I’ve tried piano and string and wind and brass instruments and nothing fit. Recently I noticed that I’ve been air drumming or tapping on my legs to music a lot for who knows how long. After noticing that I thought for the first time “Hey I should learn the drums this’ll be fun”. Despite my obvious lack of upper body strength and lack of experience playing any instrument, this is something I really really want to do. It’s something that I feel like I can do. I want to someday be in a band and be able to extend my passion for music to creating it. I’m so excited to start learning in the next few months this is going to be so much fun.

  11. Nice read but the actual answer to your question isn’t women sitting around waiting for the world and ‘men’ to allow them to take part. It’s waiting for women to get up off their arses and actually doing something themselves. There’s a lack of women taking part in music, full stop. Why is this? I don’t know.

    I just know that it’s us women that are the issue, not men or anybody else. No man, or woman, or anybody on this earth decided that I would play the drums. I just picked them up and learned to do it because I was curious.

    When you say a lack of role models, I don’t understand what you mean. Why do people always spout this role model nonsense when it comes to women not taking part? I don’t need a role model. There wasn’t a women banging drums that made we want to play them. So why do other’s need that? Just do what you want to do and don’t care what anybody else is doing. Isn’t that what men do? Why don’t women do the same? There’s nobody out there right now stopping women from playing drums, so why is there a lack of female drummers. Only have ourselves to blame.

    However, in saying that, the last time I checked, there’s a serious lack of drummers across the board, let alone female drummers. In fact, I drum in about 3 bands in Dublin (2 of which I’m the only female member) because there aren’t enough to around. It’s a cost and transport thing. Drum equipment is way too expensive no matter what genitals you process.

    And yes they are heavy and awkward, but that has nothing to do with being male or female. They are heavy and awkward because they are heavy and awkward. I commend anyone, male or female who overcomes these obstacles to play the drums.

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