How many times do we come across a situation that naturally promotes the idea of a woman playing the guitar in order to sweep a man off his feet? Rarely, isn’t it? Or, even if we do come across such situations, they must be entwined with the idea of the woman being ‘cool’, ‘punk’, ‘unusually talented’ or ‘unusually interesting’.
Honestly, the generalisation of the guitar being the embodiment of hegemonic masculinity is, in fact, ‘unusually normal’ in our society. The guitar has become a common piece of equipment for most men to hide their fragile masculinity, rather than being an instrument to be learned for the love of music.
In Indian society, Bollywood has been effective in being the catalyst in promoting the instrument as an essentially masculine element. In most mainstream Bollywood films, it is common to come across a man playing the guitar for attracting a woman who is otherwise not interested in him. This does not only give an unnecessary masculine status to the innocent guitar, but it also circulates the concept of crossing boundaries even when consent has not been granted.
Films like Kaho Na Pyaar Hai, Mujhse Shaadi Karogi, Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge (although that was not a guitar, it was the younger sibling of the same), Jab Tak Hai Jaan, Vicky Donor, and many more, have strongly portrayed how women are essentially swept off their feet and are determined to become potential lovers of men who play the guitar. Apparently, being a man and strumming on the strings of this instrument can make you achieve the ultimatum.
Let alone the portrayal of the guitar as a piece of masculine equipment, how often have we even come across stories that focus on music bands owned by women? Just as much as I loved the film Rockstar, I always thought of reasons why I could not easily come across such stories where women were at the centre of all action.
Moreover, whenever a Bollywood film has portrayed a woman laying her hands on the instrument, it was always shown in a way that is rather exquisite and exotic in ways more than one. The best example here is the scene from the film Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, in which we see Tina (Rani Mukherjee) during a college function, emerging from the crowd with a guitar in her hands.
In that particular scene, the audience was awestruck on seeing her playing the guitar, and her admirer Rahul (Shah Rukh Khan) kept staring at her in a way that would only suggest that he had seen something terribly unusual. Not to mention, the background music and her movements in the scene took the entire act to a strange otherworldly platform!
The methodical portrayal of the guitar as being a tool of masculine ego and prestige has been closely followed by millennials as well as the present youngsters of our nation. This kind of masculine masquerading of the guitar influences people in such a manner that most people tend to build boundaries around the instrument. This kind of fencing results in unequal opportunities with regard to the instrument and the musical career that depends on it.
The guitar has become a common piece of equipment for most men to hide their fragile masculinity.
Since the twins – patriarchy and hegemonic masculinity – have the upper hand in everything, young boys are allowed to learn how to play the guitar whereas young girls are not much exposed to it. In fact, I can vouch for this phenomenon from personal experience. I remember attending one of the most elite music schools in Calcutta when I was a child. The institution mostly catered to the economically well-to-do classes of the city. The socio-economic classes that would conveniently term themselves as the ‘more educated’ sections of society were also deeply engulfed in the patriarchal practice of allocating musical instruments based on gender.
There was a clear majority in the proportion of boys in the guitar classes. I would often see boys growing up, starting to believe in the ways both Bollywood and Hollywood films portrayed the guitar as a passage to attain the ultimate masculine or ‘macho’ status. As a child, I was always the rebel that wanted to do the things I was ‘not supposed to do’, being a ‘girl’. I remember fantasising about playing the guitar – only to be laughed at, by my ‘friends’. Apparently, I was a girl and hence too small and weak to handle an instrument that required being carried around on the shoulders. Boys of my size, however, were exempt from such explanations.
How often have we even come across stories that focus on music bands owned by women?
As time went by, what I came to realise, and what I wish to put forth here – is that we have been imbibed in patriarchy to such an extent that everything in our lives is essentially gendered. This type of gendered segregation of everything only results in the marginalisation of certain groups of people. The gendered identity of the instrument is definitely one of the primary reasons why we do not witness many female rock or pop bands, whose music depends mostly on the guitar.
Something as simple and beautiful as a guitar need not be utilised as a tool to fuel the expendable masculine ego. It is high time that we come out of this hegemonic masculine social institution and shatter the gendered identity of the guitar. Let the instrument be one that makes music.