The ladies of Knoxville's ever-burgeoning music scene are out to prove that female musicians rocking out is the rule, not the exception.
Despite there being statistically fewer gals than gents in the industry, people like Elizabeth Wright of Dude Fuckin Whatever and The Gone Bads believe Knoxville holds great potential as a breeding ground for a new era of women in bands.
"There is a gender disparity among Knoxville musicians, but I think it reflects disparities that exist throughout society and that definitely exist in the larger music industry," Wright said.
She said she believes one of the factors contributing to this numerical gap could be the variant ways boys and girls are socially conditioned.
"In general, men are socialized to speak out, be loud, express their opinions, and women are socialized that their opinions and feelings aren't always valid or as worthy," she said. "There are higher stakes for women who take an outspoken, public stance. Whether it's sexist comments online, dismissal of women's experiences or knowledge or patronizing responses, those things happen every day and translate into music scenes and accessibility for women in playing music."
Knoxville, however, is unique for its pre-existing support of women on stage, Wright said.
"I think we have a much more equal scene than most places, and the ratio of women to men playing music is pretty high," she said. "Many nights at the Pilot Light, there is at least one female musician in three out of four bands playing. And among local musicians, I feel we are respected, encouraged and appreciated for the music we play, not because of or in spite of our gender."
This being said, sexism still does occur. Alaina Smith, vocalist for Marina Orchestra, said she encounters it most often in the form of being mistaken for someone with, rather than in, the band.
"Sometimes people will be like, 'Oh, so your boyfriend's in this band?'" Smith said. "I have to go, 'No, I am. That's me. I'm in the band.' And they go, 'Oooh.' Which I guess goes to show that there are more men than women on the stage, typically speaking.
"To their credit, no one's ever meant it in a mean way, but you're probably never going to see a guy being asked, 'Oh, you're the band boyfriend?'"
Sexism is far less likely to occur within the confines of the band itself, Smith said. As one of two female vocalists in Marina Orchestra, an eclectic party band ensemble with a loyal local following, she is accustomed to performing with as many as 11 musicians on stage.
"The bands that I'm in are majority males, but my being female has never been a topic of conversation," she said. "There's never been a 'no girls allowed' kind of feel to the band. We all hang out, we all talk, and it's pretty easy."
Rachel Gurley, Marina's other female member, agrees.
"The guys in the band are pretty good about being in touch with their feminine side in general," Gurley said. "They're all pretty open-minded."
Although the singer (and clarinetist, guitarist and keyboardist) has always naturally formed friendships with men, several of her close female friends also happen to be staples of Knoxville's music scene.
"Most of my girl friends are in bands," she said. "There's CC McBride of Headface and Charice Starr and Maggie Brannon of Daddy Don't, among others. A bunch of my girl musician friends recently did a cover of The Go-Go's and it was so fun to watch all of my favorite girl musicians in Knoxville in one band. It felt really empowering."
Wright, who describes a musician's sense of empowerment as stemming from "having an outlet to be loud, scream, flail around and say what you need to say," added to the list of Knoxville's musical mavens.
"There's Abby Wintker of Three Man Band; Susan Bauer Lee of TimLee3; Jessica Pittman of Birthday Girl; Emily Robinson of Argentinum Astrum and Blaine Band; Joan Monaco of Smoking Nurse; Jen Rock and the Crybabies; The Pinklets, who are three girls under the age of 13 who write their own songs and play their own instruments; and many more," she said.
"We've kind of taken over, to be honest."
Wright praises the tightly knit community of mutual support and respect these women have cultivated.
"There is no competition, no cattiness, no shadiness," she said. "The ladies in this town are a group of amazing, smart, talented, multi-dimensional go-getters. Those who don't play music still love music and always come out to shows.
"Knoxville has amazing women, and we all contribute to and maintain an amazing local creative community."
For Wright, the importance of extending that sense of community and creating a similar support system amongst the city's fledgling female musicians couldn't be more vital. It was for this reason she started Knoxville Girls Rock Camp, a series of workshops bringing together girls aged three to 15 to help bolster their love of performing and writing music.
"The camp started a few years ago in response to the lack of access and visibility for women in music, the sexualization of female musicians, and the dismissive attitudes toward music made by women," Whitehead said. "We help them to pick up an instrument or microphone, overcome their inhibitions, and express their thoughts and viewpoints. These are skills that can empower young women, and being in band together creates female bonds that are important in building each other up instead of tearing each other down."
Wright said she believes that helping young girls and women change how they are perceived as musicians brings society one step closer to eliminating misogyny once and for all.
"I see the music industry as just one aspect of a society that still sexualizes women rather than appreciates our intellect, that silences our voices or belittles our opinions rather than hearing our valid thoughts and experiences, and that denies women access to traditionally male-dominated fields," Wright said.
"So by changing the music scene, hopefully we're changing that dynamic in some way."