May 30, 2016
How old are you?
Where are you from originally?
How long have you been in New Orleans?
It’ll be four years in August.
What brought you here originally?
That’s a story. My junior year of high school, I came down here for an immersion trip. It was a Catholic school thing and I ended up helping build some houses—this was obviously post-Katrina. One night we had a day off and we hung out and explored the city and I just fell in love with it. And then went back home and I was said to myself, “I’m gonna go to school there some way. I’m gonna apply to other colleges but I’m gonna go to school there.” Then I ended up getting accepted to Loyola and they gave me the most money out of all the schools I applied to so it was the obvious choice and I’ve been here ever since.
Why are you still here?
Mainly because of the opportunities to play music and be an artist. There’s probably other places I could think of like New York or Chicago or Los Angeles where you could do that too but here the attitude about it is different. We actually appreciate our artists. There’s a bunch of things available to me as a musician and the music community here is pretty strong too. It gets cliquey sometimes but we’re all one big collective of artists.
In what capacity are you a part of the music community of NO?
I would say I’m still working my way in but I’m a musician. I do a bunch of freelance gigs with different people and I’ve gotten some really great opportunities in the past six months that have been really inspiring me every day. It inspires me to be better. Most of my friends are musicians and if they’re not musicians then they’re photographers or dancers or whatever.
Do you remember been told or taught anything growing up about behavioral expectations that were not told to your male peers?
Yes but it was never coming from my family. It was always coming from my friends. I was four or five and the girls I went to school with would be really into the whole stereotype of when you play house, the woman has to stay at home. Looking back, no one was ever like, “I’m going to go run my business.” We were five so obviously we didn’t know then what we know now but it just shows that it’s really engrained in us when we’re little and when you decide to go against the grain, you’re seen as an outcast. In high school, I always tried to surround myself with similar people and I loved sports so I would always be with the athletes. My school was a big sports school so it wasn’t a big deal for girls to be athletes. But there are some girls that are still in that stereotypical mindset of not being able to do things like play sports because they’re told that they shouldn’t do those things and that’s really sad.
Were you playing sports and music at the same time?
Yes but I was never really that serious about the music until I got to college. I had a band in high school but I was never thought it would be serious until I started college.
Can you define sexism as it presents itself to you? How do you define sexism?
At the most basic level, sexism is when men and women don’t get the same respect for what they do. So I guess it is an equality thing in the sense that we’re not equal. Sexism is how men and women aren’t allowed the same opportunities. It’s a big topic and it’s hard to break it down to just one definition. But at a basic level, it’s about not getting treated the same and not being given respect when it’s due.
How does being treated in a sexist way make you feel?
Terrible. It makes me feel powerless and weak and sometimes like less than a person. That’s when I start to feel really terrible. But I‘ve found that I’m stronger than I think I am. There’s only been one instance when I’ve cried. Sometimes when things happen, you feel like it’s your fault and all these questions start going through your head. Why did this happen to me? Is it because of what I’m wearing? Oh wait, I was wearing sweatpants. Now I expect something to happen to me when I walk out of my house and I shouldn’t have to do that. Whenever I go out I have this mindset of “Something might happen,” and my expectations of people are lower because I have that going through my head.
Does that make you sad that your expectations of people are automatically lowered because of your negative experiences?
Yes. I feel like when women go places, we shouldn’t have to have something in the back of our heads saying “This might happen, it might not, just prepare for it the best way you know how.” We shouldn’t even have to think like that. We should just be able to go to the store, get what we want, come home. We should be able to play a gig and come home without any hassle. Being a bass player, something always happens. Like it’s guaranteed to happen. It just makes everything harder to do. It’s makes it harder for me to talk to people sometimes because of all those expectations I have of men specifically. And let’s not even get into dating right now because that’s difficult.
What is it like being a female bassist?
It’s one of two things: on one end, I am always always, always asked if I know who Esperanza Spaulding is. And that comes from the person who kind of knows music and that’s the only female bassist they know and then I have to always have to say yes. Although one time I just wanted to fuck with someone and said “Oh no, who is that?” The other end is always the person who’s like, “You should’ve played flute.” Cause it’s smaller? More feminine? I know guy flute players, too. People are always overly amazed of me and I don’t really need to do anything and there’s a love/hate relationship with that. I want people to like me because I’m good not because I’m a chick who plays bass and they’re amazed by that. But it’s also cool because most people don’t get to see women play bass and I like to think I do it kind of well. It’s also really cool to help inspire younger people. I think that representation is really important. My friend who is a school teacher out in New Orleans East just texted me a week ago about how this girl wanted to be in band and then she said “Oh but girls can’t do band.” Then he showed her a picture of me playing bass and she was freaking out and that made me so happy. I’ve realized that [every musician] does this to inspire people constantly and that’s our biggest job. We play the gig, sure, but I feel like being a musician, especially a female musician, you’re doing it for a bigger reason than that. And hopefully one day the percentage of women playing music is a little bit higher than what it is now. Right now it’s kind of low when you think about it.
Do you always notice when individuals are acting in a sexist way? Do you think forms of sexism are so engrained in our lives that we can’t always register it?
This is one I was thinking a lot about. I don’t know, honestly. I think now, people aren’t as overt about it. They’re not going to outright say sexist stuff but they’ll say something that you have to really read into to understand it. You also have to know they’re intent. Because I have a lot of friends who will joke and it’s cool because I know them but if it’s someone who I don’t know, they’ll say something and I’ll leave and later think “Wait, that dude was being the biggest asshole I’ve ever heard.” I feel that it’s really rare in general for people to be outright sexist. People could be outright racist for sure, but in my experience I’ve never been around anyone who was blatantly, in-my –face sexist. “You’re a women and you shouldn’t do this,”—that’s very rare for me.
Subtle sexism frustrates me to no end and just like you, when I notice it later I know I should’ve been angry.
That’s what makes me feel powerless because nothing happens until I get home. The realization doesn’t happen until I’m sitting on the couch, watching TV and I think “Oh that’s what he meant.” But you can’t go back, you’re not trying to find the dude. So you just gotta blow it off.
Can you recall any specific occasions when you experienced sexist behavior against you?
Do harassment stories count?
Absolutely if that’s something you want to talk about.
Because that’s something I’ve been thinking about too. One thing I really try to do when it comes to being friends with guys is surround myself with people who aren’t like that. They may make jokes but we all make jokes to try and lighten up situations and I know these people’s intentions and I know it’s not that. When it comes to music I don’t play gigs with people who have those sexist attitudes who make me feel uncomfortable because we all know what they’re about. I’m not going to name any names but there was one instance maybe a few years ago. It was one of my first gigs I had ever gotten called for and I played it and on the break the guy was like “Yeah man, she’s a girl and she can play, too?” But why does the girl part have to come first? If you’re saying I can play, the girl part shouldn’t even matter. And I only thought about that a week ago. See? It’s been years! I didn’t even know! He was like “She’s a girl, man and she can play, too. Wow. And she’s pretty, something to look at.” And I was just like, “Are you serious? And I have to be stuck here for three more hours? Are you kidding me?” I felt so uncomfortable. I felt every time he was looking at me was because I was attractive to him and he always had something to say about me being a girl on the band stand and that’s the worst. It made me feel at that point that my musicianship didn’t even matter. I would take that gig sometimes just to have something to do and make a little extra money but I always hated it. I wasn’t getting any better, I wasn’t pushing myself, I wasn’t learning anything. I would be on set breaks alone by myself. I wouldn’t even talk to anybody else because I was just over it. There’s been other experiences of me getting harassed for being on the phone with my mom instead of acknowledging this guy’s presence when he yelled at me on the street because I didn’t want to talk to him. This was on Rampart and Canal, in broad daylight, with a bunch of people at a bus stop, in public and no one said anything. No one helps, no one does anything, you’re just fending for yourself. Those two experiences are the main ones that constantly come back to me all the time and those are the ones that hurt the most.
Also, I am the only girl in a band called Noruz and I know people might think, “Which one of those dudes is she dating? Who did she have sex with to be in that band? How is she getting all these opportunities?” I’m not dating anyone. I love every single one of them and they’re all my friends. But we don’t have to date a guy to get an opportunity and we don’t have to pay our dues that way. Not with favors or handouts, we don’t need that.
Sometimes it’s hard with people you are close to and care about and you know care about you. It’s hard for boys our age as well because they’ve grown up being taught the opposite of what we’ve been taught. Even if they are consciously not going to do or say something sexist, there’s the subconscious stuff.
I’m not going to try to make an excuse for men but most of their sexism is just engrained and built into their heads.
The people who can say they’re sorry and that it wasn’t what they intended, that’s one thing. But it’s when people come back with a line about how it isn’t sexist that makes me mad. If you have not experienced it or you’re not willing to admit that you’ve experienced it, you don’t get to define it.
Yeah, you don’t. This didn’t happen to me, it happened to one of my friend’s sisters but she was just talking to this guy at Gasa Gasa and I don’t know the band that was playing because I wasn’t there. But her sister was talking to this guy and she commented on how there weren’t a lot of women on the bill that night and he said “I don’t think I would ever have a girl in my band.” And when she asked him why, he said it was because women aren’t good at music theory and our musicality is not great.” Men really do think we can’t do anything. Have they not heard of Sonic Youth? You’re in a rock band and you don’t know that this band has a girl in it? And she’s pretty badass, too!