I lived in Los Angeles over the summer and I am probably the only person who has ever moved to LA and found myself with a lot of free time. This is because I am a bit of a loner who absolutely does not want to go to the Lana Del Rey concert at the Hollywood Bowl “just for fun.” Anyway, I bought a guitar. It was actually like, a 12-year-old’s starter pack. The guitar came in a box with an amp, a tuner and all the other essentials that I soon pretended to know what to do with. I had this urge to teach myself something new. I don’t know if it had to do with being in a new place or what but I just wanted to learn how to do something totally foreign to me from the ground up.
Here’s the thing though–this all sounds inspiring and heroic if you tell it the right way. But the reality was that when I went into the Guitar Center on Sunset Blvd., I went in with my head down. I had already thoroughly researched what I wanted and I went in, grabbed the box and made my way to the counter. I was out in five minutes. When I got there, I made sure to ask the man with the blue mohawk if this guitar starter kit would be good for my niece who is just starting college and wants to learn to play. I don’t have a niece in college. So this make me somewhat of a liar, which now that I think of it, could probably be addressed entirely in it’s own post. I like to think of it as just really really really stretching the truth.
I said that the guitar wasn’t for me because I was embarrassed. Which now seems totally crazy. But still, I came back to Michigan with my guitar in tow, signed up for guitar lessons at school and told my friends how “I know it’s so lame but I just need another extracurricular credit, you know?” Meanwhile, in the back of my head, I’m screaming “it’s not lame!! I AM Carrie Brownstein circa ’95!!!” to myself while pretending to be a rock goddess alone in my room.
It might all sound trivial but it really got me thinking. Why are we so inclined to put down what we are passionate about? Why are we sometimes embarrassed by the things that we become obsessed with? And is the experience similar in men and women?
I don’t really know the answers to these questions. But I typed “passionate in men vs women” into Google and turned up with a lot of sex surveys, yes, but also an interesting look into the common ideas about what women look for in men and vice versa. So many of the articles that came up had to do with how women look for men who are passionate, not just in bed but about something in their lives–a sport, a job, etc. The frequent misconception that I found was that men are generally very passionate and women are not–they are often dull and superficial. This lead me to an article on Elite Daily that had to do with how men are looking for that same passion in women. Here is a particularly offensive excerpt:
“In a society that’s filled with so many stereotypical, shallow and ditsy 20 somethings, it’s actually refreshing for a man to find someone who can talk about something other than the latest Louboutin collection. Men (not boys) are goal oriented beings so it makes sense that they want their women to be able to relate to their success.”
I wouldn’t say that playing guitar is my “passion,” but it is something that I really like to do. It’s also something that for whatever reason, I don’t like talking about how much I like to do it. I think that there is a strange and hypocritical thing that is happening in this Elite Daily article and the many others like it: women are being taught not to stand out and be truly excited about something while at the same time, being criticized for their lack of passion. Even from when we are little, young girls are often discouraged from dreaming too big; from speaking too loud; from being overly-excited about their passions. I guess it sticks with you…and somehow makes you simultaneously more and less attractive to potential partners?
I can’t speak for men when it comes to this issue, and I’m not even sure that I can make a claim saying that women experience this embarrassment more than men. There are of course many other factors that play into my particular guitar situation–age, uncertainty, location, etc. But, I do think that we live in a society where self-confidence is taught very differently to girls and boys. That’s why there are so many programs, like music camps and STEM organizations, trying to inspire young girls to follow their dreams and feel proud.
For me, I think a lot of the embarrassment stemmed from what other people would think. Everything has an image associated with it and everyone has an image associated with them. My little starter guitar pack is for 13-year-old pubescent boys who want to learn how to record a shitty video of them playing ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ on YouTube. It’s not for a 22-year-old woman who should have started playing a long time ago if she wanted to be any good; she doesn’t have time to find new hobbies now.
They’re too young. They’re too old. He is passionate. She is out of control. He is interesting. She is dull. That’s for kids. This is for adults. That is for boys. This is for girls. These images and stereotypes are debilitating, and they are carried with us through adulthood. We shouldn’t ever be embarrassed by the things that we love to do. As for me, if you ever do see me playing Nirvana covers on YouTube with a fedora on, please please take it away from me. But otherwise, I’m going to try my best not to be embarrassed by things I love anymore. I’m gonna do my thing and I suggest you start doing yours.