Last week a friend of mine told me that she'd started a part time course on sound engineering. She's in a band and she's promoted gigs, so it shouldn't have been such a surprise, but it was. I was a weird blur of happy-proud confusion. I pondered on that initial sense of "huh?" a little later and realized I'd been so dazzled because it's such a boy-dominated profession and I'd never met a girl who said this was something she was interested in learning/doing.
Sadly, I was right in guessing that she's the only girl on the course.
I like it that she'd sidestepped any sense of permission in training for a role that's become (always has been?) so gender specific. I hear "sound guy" or "sound man" way more then I ever hear the gender neutral version of "sound person". I've been attending gigs, putting on gigs and promoting gigs for donkey years, and in all that time I've met just two female sound engineers. It's possible that I've forgotten some in a haze of beer fogged amnesia, but "hengineers" (eww) are so scarce in London that they tend to be memorable when you do meet/spot one; they have rare species status.
What has become apparent throughout my extensive emails/phone convos/face-to-face chats with lady artists is that it's not just that big ole rekkid label boss/macho magazine CEO/boys club networkers that keep women back - it's the fucking sound guy too. I've been interviewing women in music for over three years, and nearly every female artist I've talked to (yup, even the few who claim they've never been subject to second rate treatment) has a "super-patronizing sound man" story - that self-important dude who has assumed that these lil gals don't know how to tune their own guitar, or rolls his eyes when they dare to ask for a little more bass in the monitor.
I told my trainee engineer friend about this and she paled in disgust. She said that one of the first things her (male) tutor had impressed on the class was how instrumental the sound peeps' power is in the whole live show dynamic, that it's the sound engineer's job to support the artist in both a technical and emotional capacity and that musicians should be stepping out in front of their audience with confidence, knowing that they have a friendly, co-operative engineer backing them all the way through their set.
It's a shame then that female artists have to wade through so much ingrained opposition just to pick up a mic/guitar/etc and be heard in the first place, only to have some failed muso beat them down before they've even made it through the sound check.