It turns out that life in Roselle Catholic High School in Roselle, New Jersey in the ’00s was a good proving ground for life in a punk band in 2014. Twenty years after the riot grrrl movement sparked a new era of female empowerment, everything and nothing has changed. The movement’s effect on female artists in general has been immeasurable, but the upper echelon of rock ‘n’ roll guitar players remains unchanged: a boys club within a boys club. A new generation of female, mostly indie virtuosos, led by Paternoster, St. Vincent’s Annie Clark, Marnie Stern, Orianthi and Miss Alex White, frontwoman of kinetic Chicago garage-rock duo White Mystery, has had difficulty getting traction.
Female guitarists are frequently regarded as adorable novelties or glorified strippers with axes, when they’re not being ignored entirely. An infamous 2011 Rolling Stone list of the 100 greatest guitarists of all time, which featured only two women (Bonnie Raitt and Joni Mitchell), received little mainstream pushback. Guitar World’s 2012 list didn’t have any women on it at all; the magazine does have a regular section devoted to “Girls,” but none of them are wearing any pants.
"I think (being a female guitarist is) still viewed as an oddity," Paternoster says in a phone interview. "There’s a lot of people who are like, ‘You’ve gotta see this chick rock. It’s crazy!’ What they should be saying is, ‘You gotta see this band. They’re really good.’ We haven’t gotten over that hurdle yet."
No one knows what to do about this, or even how to talk about it: Any emphasis on gender, even in articles like this one, risks compartmentalizing female musicians even more by emphasizing their Otherness. “You still want to be a part of the boys club and keep it super chill,” says White. But Fabi Reyna, the twenty-two year-old editor in chief of She Shreds, a new magazine devoted to female guitarists, says that as long as women struggle for attention and airspace in a landscape weighted towards their male counterparts, they’ll need all the help they can get. “I prefer to say ‘guitarists,’ not ‘women guitarists,’” she says. “All we’re trying to do is be equal. But if we’re not shoving it in people’s faces that there are these women who play, then nothing’s gonna happen.”
"Opening up for bands that were on the radio, like Dead Weather, that’s when people started coming up to me and saying things that were mildly offensive," Paternoster says. "Like, ‘Yo, you’re a girl! And you’re so small! But you’re so loud!’ And I’d be like, ‘That’s cool, thanks! I’m more than just a vagina with a head attached, but I appreciate the compliment.’ You gotta take it with a grain of salt. There’s still a long ways to go as far as women being assertive and powerful and loud being the norm … but hopefully we’re getting there." ~ Chicago Tribune