Wonder Womxn: Irving Chong learns from the female Forces of 2017
Su's founding male writer Irving Chong hands the mic to women making waves.
Growing up, I never had a shortage of role models or heroes presented to me. Everything I was interested in came with some human face for me to admire, empathize or identify with. It didn’t matter if they were athletes, artists or fictional characters - there was something, someone, there. If you had asked eight–year-old me to name a woman pro-basketball player, though, I wouldn’t have been able to. Aside from the glaring lack of representation, eight–year-old me simply wasn’t interested in being critical of the pop culture I consumed.
Why does it matter that I struggled to name female contemporaries to their male counterparts? Because it’s hard for women to forge similar convictions without any role models or paths to follow. There's this book, Sam Magg’s Wonder Women: 25 Innovators, Inventors, and Trailblazers Who Changed History. In it, Sam researches and shares the stories of 25 incredible women, women I'd never before had the chance to know of, admire, and thank. My plan for this article was to read Sam's book and tell you what I thought. Things quickly changed, however, when I realized Wonder Women was’t meant for my words; It was meant for yours. It was meant, frankly, to empower you.
Which bring us to my revised writings. There are plenty of kick-ass women in my life who are feeling what the women in this book felt: the pain of being marginalized, of not being taken seriously, of being stonewalled. As great as it is for young women to see their peers reach the pinnacle of their respective fields, I hope you'll agree that it is just as important for them to see women in their communities deep in the fight towards making their world better.
We see what happens when people make it, but what about those who don’t quite reach those heights? Hopefully this is the first of many posts highlighting everyday women doing their damn thing and conquering their own respective worlds.
Missy D is a Hip-Hop Femcee, member of music collective Laydy Jams and your Homegal Nxt Door. Her and her Laydy Jam sisters seek to use their music to empower youth, women, and to challenge the themes often used in popular music and society. Their goal is to exemplify the rich contribution that women of colour can make to music. We write our life experiences into music, knowing that we provide a kind of comfort, familiarity, and joy for other people of colour and marginalized communities; providing hope, home, and love.
I asked Missy what would she want to tell young girls, particularly girls of colour, who are working through the creative process of infusing their world/truths into their art? This is what she said to me:
“Young girl, your voice is important whether it’s heard through a radio, in front of 2 people or by a crowd. Let your voice shine! Let your voice be yours. It’s your craft, your talent, your words, your truth. Speak to build. Speak to educate, speak to share your story, speak to heal. Share a little lot or a lot, you are the volume.
[...] When people ask me how I get on stage in front of thousands, I can't help but remember the young Missy D [who was] too shy and taught to keep it all inside. I don't speak to imitate, I speak up for myself and my community. Your journey and your voice is unique. It might remind you of other artists but it is yours. A collage of influences and preferences with the foundation glue being your truth/your story.
[...] I have decided since taking on this journey, whether I walk in the room being the only femcee or at an interview, my voice will break free. Your voice can be an instrument, a painting, a poem, a presence. Know your message, know your audience but most importantly know yourself. That is the ongoing journey of an artist, creating our voice, our sound, and sharing our story. It’s more powerful than you think, so always remember your voice is important.
With the hustle often comes the saying "I live, breathe, and eat music." Explore your truth with this hustle, yes is that you in the mirror, is that you in this song, is that you on stage? Whether it’s your alter ego, stage persona, or your 9-5 face, that voice will be infused by your truth- you! I'm trying not to forget that.”
Gloria Eid believes the world needs to do a better job at communicating. She is a career coach, team builder, and communication aficiando who put her career on hold to get in touch with what she wanted out of life. During this pause, she had a desire to further explore her creativity, take better care of herself, and understand how to be at ease. It's been over a year since she left that job, and 6 months into full-time work again.
I was curious on her thoughts about the importance people place on the need for permission to do things, and the pressure we feel to conjoin our sense of self with a certain path, career, or ambition.
Says Gloria, “While we're exposed to a particular type of life blueprint from an early age, it's important to know that this blueprint is only one type; and however well-defined and recognized [it may be] by society, this type may or may not be the one for you. The point is you get to decide. The trouble is no one really tells you that along the way. Eventually, you begin to notice how your thoughts, actions, and choices directly impact the type of life you lead, and who and what lives within it.
It's up to us to rewrite the scripts we've been told to perform, both directly and indirectly, towards achieving a version of success that may not be our own. It's not easy to do, but it is absolutely necessary for designing life, love, work, and play in ways that get us moving to the beat of our own drum. Yours may be a bongo; your neighbour's, a snare drum. Listen to your own rhythm, and create a beat to a life you'd want to dance to.”
If you’re interested in what Gloria does, you can find her website here.
Dominique is a singer, songwriter, and producer from New York City. I’ve written about her music before and have been fortunate enough to become her acquaintance. She is a DIY-musician who has never set foot in an actual studio; she produced her entire self-titled EP on her laptop in her NYC apartment and recorded vocals in the closet of a fellow NYU alum.
With Dominique, I was interested in understanding her musical journey at a time when the music industry is in flux, as well as understanding the balance in wearing many hats as an artist, and protecting a singular brand identity.
“I attended a three month program to learn Ableton Live when I was twenty years old and have taken other short programs here and there to learn more about mixing and mastering and sound design. In these classes, I was usually the only girl, which was kind of a strange experience. I never felt like I was treated differently, but I wished there were more girls in my classes. Even the production instructors were only men. That was four years ago, and I do think it's gotten better–the most recent class I took at the school was for sound design in spring 2016 and I was one of three girls instead of being the only girl.
I mainly work alone when it comes to my music-making process, only collaborating with an engineer for the mixing and mastering, and sometimes for comping and editing vocals. I like working alone because I usually know exactly how I want the music to sound, and I want to have complete control over my music. In the past, while co-producing my early music, I sometimes felt like my creative decisions weren't being taken seriously. This factored into my decision to be the sole producer of my music. Because I rarely work with others now, I don't have to face some of the sexism that exists in the industry. Every now and then, though, when doing features for other producers, I'll get men that call me pet names after just meeting them, which can be frustrating because it's uncalled for and makes the whole working experience seem less professional.
The advice I would give young girls who are embarking on their artistic careers is that if you feel like you or the art you're creating is not good enough, it's completely normal to feel that way and that you should be persistent no matter what. Artists very rarely speak about their lowest points and the times where they doubt themselves most, and often put up this facade that they've always had everything all figured out and were always making amazing music.
The truth is, every artist starts from somewhere and has a collection of music that the public doesn't see. Don't compare yourself to other artists because you never know their whole story. Just keep working on your craft, listen to advice and constructive criticism, and never let anyone tell you your music isn't good enough to get you where you want to be.”
You can find Dominique’s self-titled EP on her website.
Maneo Mohale is mighty. She is a wordsmith, baker-alchemist, black queer femme and the 2016 Bitch Media Writing Fellow in Global Feminism. Her writing intersects with everything; through her words, she touches on race, media, queerness, survivorship, language, history, and silliness. I asked her what advice she would have for young girls trying to find an identity when the messages of how to be a woman have been and are complicated, contradictory, and paradoxical. As always, her words never disappoint.
“Trust your voice. As a young girl/womxn/femme of colour, there are a thousand voices telling you who are, what you are, and what you're capable of. Don't listen. One of the most powerful lessons you'll learn is how to find your own voice in the noise, and once you do, to listen to it, honour it and let it guide you as you.
As Miles Davis said, ‘Sometimes, it takes you a long time to sound like yourself.' And that's okay. But once you do, hold on to your voice, sharpen it, and above all, trust it. You carry the voices of generations within you, so you are never alone. Whatever your gift is, find your voice and use it. We need you.”
You can find more of Maneo’s words here.
We see you. We hear you. We believe in you.
Missy's photo by Kay Ho
Maneo's photo by Kgomotso Neto Tleane
Dominique's photo by Nic Bloise
Gloria's photo, her own.