Rock ‘n’ Gender Roles: The Gendering of Daisy Rock Girl Guitars

Photo courtesy of Tumblr.com

Photo courtesy of Tumblr.com

I was twelve years old when my father and I went shopping for my first electric guitar. As I browsed the Gibsons and Fenders, I could feel the employees eyeing me nervously. They were quick to point me towards the acoustic guitars in the corner, asking if I “needed any assistance, young lady.” When they approached my father, however, the conversation took on the tone of equals discussing the minutiae of the instruments. The disheartening tone of the day shifted when I spotted pink glitter gleaming from the rows of instruments. The tag read, “Daisy Rock Girl Guitars”, and it was love at first sight. Its feminine aesthetic, such a stark contrast in the sea of overtly “masculine” guitars, really spoke to my identity at the time. Leaving the store, I felt validated in my new identity as a female electric guitarist. Daisy Rock, my shining beacon of hope in the Guitar Center, sent the message that there was a place for girls like me in rock music.
Unfortunately, as a female guitarist, this experience is not unique, and it exemplifies the type of gender stereotyping that sparked the creation of Daisy Rock. Since the guitar company’s inception in 2000, founder Tish Ciravolo has strived to “level the playing field” for women interested in the guitar, stating her desire to “create a better experience for [girls] in the music industry” (DaisyRock.com). Daisy Rock does indeed challenge the gender norms of rock music, by encouraging young girls to learn a traditionally “masculine” skill, providing them an outlet with which to express themselves, and carving out a space for adolescent females in the male-dominated world of electric guitars.

Nonetheless, the Daisy Rock message is problematical. Daisy Rock’s hyper feminine image reflects gender norms by implying that young girls have a purely superficial attraction to the instruments rather than an actual interest in the music, and strengthens gender divides by implying that all other guitars are inherently “male”. Through a sociological lens, and specifically with references to Laurel Richardson’s essay on gendered language and Barrie Thorne’s essay concerning adolescent gendered interactions, I explore the brand’s relation to stereotypical concepts of gender. Daisy Rock Girl Guitars both reproduce gender, by promoting an image of gender normative superficial femininity over genuine musicianship; and challenge gender, by creating a space for girls in the traditionally male-dominated world of electric guitars.

Scrolling through the Daisy Rock website, it is not difficult to guess their target demographic—the hot pink flower logo pops out against a black-and-white star patterned background, and the menu bar sparkles brightly in magenta as users navigate the webpage. Indeed, Daisy Rock is recognizable for its hyper feminine image, from glittery guitar designs to tiny pink guitar picks. Even the names of the models—Daisy, Pixie Cupid, Heartbreaker, etc.—play into a gendered concept of girlhood, reinforcing the mainstream “pink is for girls” mentality. One guitar is even called the “Debutante”, which calls to mind the outdated, heteronormative values of a culture in which women were presented and given away, like objects, to their husbands. Though to young girls “debutatnte” may only call up images of their favorite Disney princess movies, it is fascinating that a female-run electric guitar company would choose a word connoting such female subservience. Moreover, their trademark heart and flower guitar shapes are not exactly conducive to sitting down and actually playing, as the curves and edges are more difficult to successfully balance in one’s lap than a mainstream guitar. The designs don’t make much practical sense; instead, they are purely for show, furthering the idea that girls are more interested in the prettiness of the Daisy Rock guitars than actually playing music. They are more like plastic Barbie accessories than legitimate instruments, fostering the misconception that it takes no real skill to play them. Furthermore, the Daisy Rock “featured artists” send mixed messages about female musicianship. Rather than selecting successful female electric guitarists, such as Joan Jett or Carrie Brownstein, they chose Miley Cyrus as one of their original poster girls—an odd choice considering that she is rarely shown playing her own instruments. Girls with Daisy Rocks guitars are more likely to be pegged as superficial and “inauthentic” musicians.

Daisy Rock’s feminized image also serves to strengthen the gender divide in the world of electric guitars. This stark aesthetic contrast creates a separation between “guitars for men” and “guitars for women”—it implies that women and men are inherently unequal when it comes to music, and that it is necessary for women to have their own feminized brand of instruments because they are incapable of playing “men’s guitars”. In her essay “Gender Stereotyping in the English Language”, Laurel Richardson points out the ways in which gendered language calls to mind harmful stereotypes. The company’s use of the word “girl” (rather than “young woman”) serves to infantilize their consumer base. Richardson draws attention to the double standard that “men are infrequently labeled boys”, yet “women of all ages may be called girls”—the word carries implications of immaturity and powerlessness (Richardson, 105). In a guitar shop, it would be easy for employees to tell female customers, “Oh, the girl guitars are over there,” ignoring their specifications and musical experience, and simplifying their needs to their gender. Language changes as a distinction is solidified between instruments branded as either male or female. The physical divide in guitar shops is reminiscent of sex segregation, an adolescent phenomenon studied by Barrie Thorne in her essay “Girls and Boys Together… But Mostly Apart: Gender Arrangements in Elementary Schools”. Society’s focus on gender stereotypes has resulted in boys and girls have been taught to occupy separate, defined turfs and participate in different activities depending on masculine or feminine connotations. Elementary school boys, for example, congregate on the athletic fields, due to the association with masculine sports, while elementary school girls gather near jungle-gyms and concrete areas to play hopscotch (Thorne, 167). In the world of rock music, guitar shops are similarly segregated, with a designated spot for “girl guitars” within the decidedly male space. Constantly placing guitars (and the guitarists who play them) into gendered boxes, further marginalizes women within rock music.

Returning to the positive side, Daisy Rock’s efforts to create a safe space for adolescent girls within the rock world should not be undermined. Daisy Rock challenges gender norms by setting out to break down societal gender boundaries and encourage young women to play rock music. Drawing girls in to an overwhelmingly male-dominated musical culture is no easy feat. For the most part, young girls do not pick up the electric guitar because they were never told that they could. With the implied masculinity of electric guitars, the marketing of mainstream guitar companies is aimed almost exclusively at men. Moreover, it is not uncommon for preteen males to show interest in guitars, bass guitars, or drums from an early age. After all, boys are expected to be loud and full of energy. Meanwhile, young girls are pushed towards dolls and teddy bears. If they are given toys that focus on creating something, it is usually baking cupcakes in an Easy Bake Oven or weaving friendship bracelets—tame, gender normative activities. Even for girls interested in electric guitars, the blatantly male-centered advertising might alienate and discourage them from taking the leap. Thorne relays results of studies that have shown that boys “engage in more rough and tumble play and physical fighting”, while girls play is “more cooperative and turn-taking”—yet she goes on to say that this form of research “tends to assume that males and females are qualitatively and permanently different” (Thorne, 168). Our culture works in a similar way, and these values carry over into gendered advertising. Daisy Rock’s advertising breaks the gender mold, as it directly targets the largly ignored demographic of young girls. Their marketing is accessible to the young female audience—it grabs their attention with bright pink logos and flower-shaped instruments, and introduces the idea that the electric guitar is fun, exciting, and unintimidating.

Daisy Rock guitars not only offer a more comfortable aesthetic image to girls, but also a more comfortable physical fit. Combatting the fact that mainstream electrics are constructed by and for male bodies, Daisy Rock guitars are designed with adolescent female measurements in mind, ensuring that the centers aren’t too heavy, the straps aren’t too loose, and the neck isn’t too wide for small girls to play successfully. And to provide an alternative to the largely male rock music scene, Daisy Rock has placed a strong focus on fostering community between female musicians. Over the years, the company has sponsored Portland, Oregon’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Camp for Girls, as well as funding Girls Rock, a program that brings music to underprivileged young women. Their “Daisy Rock Artists” program is in the same vein: female musicians, regardless of age or level of fame, are profiled on the official Daisy Rock website, and their music is shared with anyone visiting the page. This promotes solidarity between girls and women in the music scene, and encourages Daisy Rock owners to share their own musical creations with the world.

It is also important to discuss the intersection of class and gender. Daisy Rock is able to spread their message of female empowerment further by selling economically accessible products—while most Fender guitars, for example, sell for between $500 and $800, Daisy Rocks are considerably cheaper, the average electric costing between $200 and $400. Daisy Rocks, therefore, are not exclusively available to upper class girls; consumers from a range of economic backgrounds have access to the reasonably priced instruments. The company even sells guitar guidebooks, useful for girls who may not be able to afford traditional lessons, and offers guitar packages, wherein customers can purchase an instrument with “deluxe accessories” and an instructional DVD for a bargain price (DaisyRock.com). This effort to include girls across class boundaries increases their scope and aids in promoting economic diversity amongst female guitarists.

In the end, Daisy Rock’s relation to gender norms is complex. Even a company founded for the musical empowerment of girls can be problematical, and this is important to recognize if we want to improve the experiences of young women in the music industry. Daisy Rock Girl Guitars is hardly revolutionary in their style of marketing to girls, and their hyper-feminine marketing definitely reinforces gender stereotypes. The over-the-top use of bright pinks, flowers, hearts, and glitter places girls in a stereotyped box, and the zany flower- and heart-shaped instruments promote a focus on appearance over really learning how to play. In addition, the conspicuously gendered guitars only serve to strengthen the gender divide in the male-dominated music community, as they imply that male and female guitarists are inherently different, and that females are physically unable to use real “male guitars”. However, overall, Daisy Rock has challenged gender in rock music. The company has succeeded when it comes to increasing the accessibility of guitars in the adolescent girl demographic (as of 2010, they had sold over 175,000 units worldwide), rebranding a traditionally masculine instrument into a fun, bright, creative outlet for preteen girls (DaisyRock.com). Their light, slim guitar design makes picking up the instrument much more enjoyable for girls who may not be able to navigate guitars built for male proportions. And their dedication to fostering a supportive community of female guitarists, both through their website and their funding of music camps for girls, provides girls with an alternative to often male-dominated groups of musicians. Tish Ciravolo started the company with a hope that “one day, [my daughter] would walk into a music store and feel like she was welcome to be part of this culture—regardless of gender” (DaisyRock.com), and in their 15 years, Daisy Rock has already improved the atmosphere for women in rock. In their commitment to “leveling the playing field”, Daisy Rock has taken large strides in challenging gender norms in the world of electric guitars.

Flash forward a few months from that fateful twelfth birthday at the Guitar Center, and I was playing an original solo onstage at my local teen arts center, my best friends playing bass and drums by my side. A natural introvert, I had been petrified to get up and perform in front of my friends and family, made worse by the fact that we were the only females playing that night. But as the stage lights shone on me blindingly, reflecting the pink sparkles of my Daisy Rock guitar into my eyes, I felt an overwhelming wave of confidence—confident in my abilities, confident onstage with other girls, and confident in my identity as a female guitarist. Daisy Rock Girl Guitars’ relation to gender norms remains complex, but with every shy girl that they inspire to pick up the electric guitar, they play an important role in overcoming gender stereotypes and contributing to the inclusivity of women in rock music.

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