How to Survive Being the Only Girl in a Band
Some advice on being cramped in a van full of smelly dudes.
I will preface this article by saying that I am a feminist and one that can easily be stereotyped. I'm a radically vocal, Kathleen Hanna-idolizing, punk rock lover with frequently questionable underarm hair. I spend a great deal of my time writing meaningful, well-researched, and politically correct articles about how women in the music industry are often shafted and the obnoxious (and even dangerous) double standards that exist. I have a degree from a liberal arts college.
However, one of the qualities I pride myself in the most is my sense of humor, which is probably what has allowed me to cope with the heinous experiences I've lived through as a female on the road. So before you tear up the comment sections saying, "I'm giving women a bad name" and that "I have problematic views on women's place in society," lighten up, because us ladies are a team. It's all in good fun, and there's something fundamentally wrong with a society where women have to be over apologetic while expressing their beliefs and experiences.
This leads to my first point on how to survive as a girl in an all-boy touring band...
STOP GIVING A FUCK
Nothing you read will be as important as this advice. You're a girl in a band. If you're one of the lucky ones, you'll have this amazing opportunity to tour the world with your best friends. Usually this group of best friends and friends-to-be consists of 30 men and maybe one other woman. You are automatically the other, and it's always difficult entering a new situation that way. It's unfortunate to say, but there's basically no winning in this situation. If you act too nice, you'll be called a flirt; you kiss someone, you're a slut; or you spend a lot of alone time and you are a snobby bitch. Even if everyone on the tour is a total peach, the fans will criticize everything from the size of your thighs and messy haircut to your willingness to meet them after a show when you have a 105 degree fever.
Here's the bottom line: stop caring about what people say about you. They don't know the whole story and they don't know the whole you. Tour can be like high school, and if rumors fly, it's in your best interest to brush it off and carry on.
IT'S OK TO LET THE GUYS HELP YOU WITH YOUR LUGGAGE AND EQUIPMENT AS LONG AS YOU HELP IN OTHER WAYS
As a barely-hundred-pound girl with a terrible diet and the weakest muscles I've ever encountered on a woman, I fully understand what it feels like to struggle with heavy amps. This is why it is perfectly OK to let the guys carry your equipment and help you with heavy bags if you are having difficulty.
Your band is a team, and you are all supposed to be working towards the common goal of putting on the best shows you possibly can. If your band helps you with your stuff, make sure you help them in other ways. Set up the merch table, carry in the small boxes, count out the t-shirts at the end of the night, settle with the promoter, book the hotel, and meet fans while they're putting the equipment back into the van. It all evens out.
DON'T HOOK UP WITH A TOUR-MATE
One day, you might find yourself alone at 3 AM in the back of the van having the most enthralling conversation with the dreamy guitar player from another band. You may be a little drunk and a little lonely and you're miles and miles and miles from the people you care about the most. His face looks magical in the glow of the street lights and every bone in your body is screaming "KISS HIM NOW." Well don't.
Take my advice, and know it will just make things messy. What was supposed to be fun and meaningless can so quickly turn into you giving the girls he brings backstage the stink eye, constantly wondering if he's ignoring you, and crying in a parking lot in Philadelphia after you've kicked the tire of his van with your combat boots and told him to fuck off. Or, maybe it will work out for you if you choose not to involve alcohol in your decisions.
MASTER THE SQUAT AND PEE
Guys are very fortunate. They have this extra appendage that allows them to pee in almost any imaginable location without difficulty. They can pee in Gatorade bottles (the wide lip makes it easier) and they can pee on the side of the road. You, however, cannot. This is why mastering the squat and pee is crucial to touring. You will find yourself in the middle of a town with a population that's seemingly in double digits, and the only place you can find to pee within a hundred miles will be an abandoned gas station. There is still hope for you. While girls do not have the luxury of peeing out in the open because they do have to expose a bit of themselves, grab one of your boys as a spotter and go!
For a woman, one of the safest spots to pee is behind a dumpster because they're usually tucked right against a wall. Climb behind the dumpster so you're blocked from the public, pull your pants down a little bit, and let loose while you lean against the wall. The lean is crucial so you don't fall over and pee on yourself.
LEARN HOW TO APPLY MAKEUP IN A MOVING VEHICLE
You will probably run late at some point, especially if you have the tendency to sleep until the last minute. If you can master the art of swiping on some liquid liner during a bumpy van ride, the rest is easy.
MASTER THE SINK SHOWER – THE WOMAN'S BATHROOM IS YOUR SANCTUARY
You don't always get to shower on tour and, as a girl, it's much harder to pull off that unkempt, greasy look that makes guys seem so dangerous and rugged. When you're playing small venues, a backstage shower or green room is often unheard of, but you are in a lucky spot. Everyone is a dude, so the ladies room is your personal backstage area until doors open.
Bring a towel and a travel-sized shampoo in your backpack, so you can wash your hair in the bathroom sink. Hand soap is also okay but it dries out your hair and fades dye quickly. For styling, there are often outlets hidden in bathrooms (like near the floor or in a corner behind garbage can) where you can plug in a blow dryer or straightener. Be wary though; I haven't met a single guy who tours who hasn't used the ladies bathroom to "drop the kids off at the pool." I'm still not sure why that is a thing.
GET OVER BEING SEEN IN YOUR UNDERWEAR
Just get over it. You'll often be changing in a car or a room full of people. Frankly, it's annoying as hell to try and hide your body when you never have time to be alone and seven people need to use the bathroom at the same time.
Sometimes you wake up to this.
OFFER TO DO THE "MAN STUFF" YOU DON'T WANT TO DO
You may not want to drive the van—it's big, kind of scary, you're tired, how the heck do you k-turn with a trailer? Whatever the reason is, you need to at least offer. Odds are that they probably won't let you drive because the thought of a tiny lady in charge of a giant vehicle with a trailer careening through the mountains on the west coast is a bit frightening. Still, always, always ask if you can drive at least once every couple of days so they can't say that you don't contribute.
YOU ARE NOT ENTITLED TO YOUR OWN BED, BUT YOU CAN SHARE
Sharing a bed is all about your personal comfort level. Most broke bands cannot afford multiple hotel rooms where you get to sleep alone. You are one of the guys on tour; you are an equal. This means that it is perfectly OK to share a bed with your male bandmates as long as both of you are comfortable with it. What is not okay is for you to always take the best sleeping spot because you are a girl. If there is one bed, you can roll dice for it, you can decide that so-and-so has done the most driving and therefore deserves it, but you cannot just assume it is yours. Buck up and sleep on the floor. Always bring a sleeping bag and you'll never have a problem.
Sleeping bags and noise-canceling headphones: tour necessities.
YOU WILL MOST LIKELY GET THE WORST SPOT TO SIT IN THE VAN, SO DEAL WITH IT
Unfortunately, female bodies are typically smaller than male bodies, which means your bandmates may try to shove you into the most cramped corner of the van. This is where I would use my negotiation skills. Sure, I will lay down in the most uncomfortable spot on this overnight drive, but you must allow me to put my legs on you. There is a happy medium you can find if you're willing to compromise. Sometimes that means sharing a bench during an overnight drive. Boys are usually much more receptive to sharing close quarters with a female bandmate than a male (at least in my experiences). On a bench or a floor, you can lay head to foot or head to head, but let's be honest, your genitals are aligned either way so just go with whatever will help you sleep. We all make sacrifices on tour, and comfort and space is one of them.
DON'T BE OFFENDED WHEN YOU ASK FOR AN OPINION AND YOU GET ONE YOU DON'T LIKE
Your bandmates are not your girlfriends. If you ask, "Does this make me look fat?" don't be mad if they say, "Actually, it kind of does." It's a quality that is pretty respectable. Besides, would you want to get on stage wearing something that looks terrible?
HANG WITH THE BOYS
Think of all the things you hate in your best friends' girlfriends—they whine, they make your friend leave early because they're tired, they are bossy, judgmental, and cause drama. This may sound like it's coming from the mouth of some frat guy being like, "Bros over hoes, dude brah" but he's kind of right. Those girls can't hang, and you need to be able to hang if you're going to make it in what is essentially a fraternity for boys who didn't care much about college.
Case and point: I once had a boy come up to me and ask how I deal with all the vulgar talk in the van as if my fragile ears couldn't handle it and moral compass would be completely shattered. My bandmates couldn't hold in their laughter.
If you are really offended and feel like your bandmates are in the wrong by passing around nudes in the van (which is totally wrong, but honestly kind of funny sometimes)—say something. Let them know their behavior is unacceptable. But that's just it—being able to hang means you'll tell your bandmate he's in the wrong, then you'll both chug a beer before your set and laugh over a game of "Would You Rather" on the longest of drives. My motto on tour is "just be cool" and "don't be an asshole." Follow that and everything will go swimmingly.
These dummies are your family.
TAKE CARE OF EACH OTHER
Your bandmates are your family, which means you take care of each other always. This could mean wing-manning your bassist the perfect lady when he's feeling down on his luck, sharing cold medicine, using the band credit card to buy Chipotle when morale is low, having your bandmates walk you to the car at night in a dangerous city, or letting them carry you to a hotel room, take off your shoes, and put you to bed when you've had one whiskey past your limit.
When you wake up in the morning and don't remember much but notice that your phone is fully charged because they plugged it in for you, take a moment and appreciate the fact that these are your best friends. They tolerate you at your worst and celebrate with you at your best. You would do anything for them, and don't take it for granted just because you've had a little tiff about whether or not you stole one of their razors to shave your legs. Never sweat the small stuff and learn to let things go.
Mariel Loveland is a writer and musician who tours the country with her band, Candy Hearts. Their sophomore album 'All The Ways You Let Me Down' is available via Bridge Nine Records. Follow Mariel on Twitter - @candyheartsband
Read J. Bennett's response article: How to Be the Only Dude in a Band
Also check out: