At the Kelly Writers House, Fran Blanche told an audience that on stage, women have “guitar face.”
“Get over it,” she said.
Blanche, the founder of Frantone Electronics, a guitar-pedal engineering company, was serious. She was answering a question about how male guitarists like Jimi Hendrix are idolized for passionate facial expressions while playing their instrument, but women guitarists are often looked down upon for “giving it their all.”
Blanche took part in “Shifting the Gaze: Women in Music,” a panel held Jan. 27 at the University of Pennsylvania Kelly Writers House. The panel was meant to open up the conversation of visibility, but lack of equality, for women and other marginalized groups in the music industry.
The panel featured music industry figures like Camae Ayewa, Diane Foglizzo, Maria Raha and moderator Cynthia Schemmer. Amanda Silberling, a sophomore English major at the University of Pennsylvania, hosted the event.
Originally from Boca Raton, Florida, Silberling found out about Kelly Writers House, a community art space on Penn’s campus, during high school—and it became part of the reason she chose to attend the university.
Silberling said she has always had an interest in music and writing. In ninth grade, she combined those interests and created a music blog dedicated to indie rock band the Arctic Monkeys. She would stay up late to watch their music videos drop, blog about new music and make GIFs.
“As I got older and got more interested in journalism, I was like ‘Wait a minute, I can go to concerts, write about them and be a professional music fan girl? That’s amazing,’” Silberling said.
Now, she writes and photographs for sites like Rock On Philly, The 405, Bandsintown and She Shreds Magazine.
She began working with Kelly Writers House during her freshman year and is now the web master. While working there this past summer, the idea for “Shifting the Gaze” came to mind as another student was brainstorming for their own panel.
“I immediately thought that it would be cool to do a panel about women in music,” Silberling said.
Silberling said she has experienced some of her own hardships as a woman music journalist. While photographing a concert over the summer, Silberling was questioned by a group of inebriated men about her legitimacy as a photographer.
But the majority of her interest in creating the panel stems from the way she has seen musicians written about in the media.
“As a writer, I definitely make it my mission to write about musicians who are not men or not white or not straight, and in a way to write about them as people, instead of saying something like, ‘This chick band is so cool,’” Silberling said.
As the moderator, Schemmer, the managing editor of She Shreds Magazine and guitarist of Radiator Hospital, designed the discussion as a Q&A and asked the panelists about being a woman and a feminist, and how they have or have not seen growth in acceptance of female musicians.
“Being a woman and a musician, I don’t everyday identify that way or feel strongly tied to either of those identities on any given day,” said Foglizzo, program director of Girls Rock Philly and guitarist of local band Trophy Wife, during the panel.
While deciding on the panelists, Silberling was reading “Cinderella’s Big Score,” which focuses on women in punk music. When she found out the author, Raha, worked at Temple, she decided to include her in the panel.
Raha is the director of content strategy in the Department of Strategic Marketing and Communications, and has been following artists like Bikini Kill and Sleater-Kinney since their beginnings in the ‘90s.
“There was kind of this tie between the politics I was learning in college in women’s studies and the music I liked to listened to,” Raha said. “It all just dovetailed at once when I was really starting to identify with feminism.”
Melanie Hsu, who teaches upright and electric bass for Girls Rock Philly, said she attended the panel since music is the majority of her “headspace.”
“There were moments that felt raw, and things that people usually feel there isn’t space for were given space to be challenged,” Hsu said. “In the years that I have begun to think about gender in music, it has become a lot more nuanced.”
Emily Scott can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.