Womxn Who Rock: (Un)Conference Photo Essay

1. Selected photos

These six photos in particular describe how the Womxn Who Rock (Un)Conference was not limited to music, was participatory, and engaged the community. Each photo highlights a different insight gained in our experience, from the importance of recognition to the joy of community gathering.

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Photo by:
Anuudari Oldokhbayar
Date: March 10, 2018
Location: Museum of History and Industry (MOHAI) Atrium
Category + Explanation: Building Communities, Reel Rebels — Because this community altar celebrates all womxn, and explains the intersection of gentrification and creative spaces, this photo is reflective of the organizational efforts of artistic activism specific to Seattle.


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Photo by: Anuudari Oldokhbayar
Date: March 10, 2018
Location: Museum of History and Industry (MOHAI) Atrium
Category + Explanation: Making Scenes — This photo features an audience member performing on stage during the blues jam, showing how participation from fans is equally important in producing musical works.

 


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Photo by: Anuudari Oldokhbayar
Date: March 10, 2018
Location: Museum of History and Industry (MOHAI) Atrium
Category + Explanation: Write to Rock — This book, Jackson Street After Hours, was described on stage as influential in understanding jazz in Seattle. Because this was shared by the woman singing on stage, it centers the conversation on cultural production by women of color and acknowledges those histories.

 


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Photo by: Anuudari Oldokhbayar
Date: March 10, 2018
Location: Museum of History and Industry (MOHAI) Atrium
Category + Explanation: Making Scenes — Ana Cano, aka Black Mama, joined the other musicians on stage during the blues jam. Their collaboration exemplifies making a music scene.

 


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Photo by: Chloe Yeo
Date: March 10, 2018
Location: Museum of History and Industry (MOHAI) Atrium
Category + Explanation: Making Scenes — The blues jam filled the atrium with lively music and dancing, especially in a space that tells parts of the Seattle story. This aerial view shows how the audience and band came together to activate this space and celebrate womxn in rock.

 


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Photo by: Sean McGrew
Date: March 10, 2018
Location: Museum of History and Industry (MOHAI) Prologue Theater
Category + Explanation: Reel Rebels — Because Promised Land discussed recognition of the Duwamish tribe, distributing this story helps to illuminate local indigenous activism.


2. Conference overview + takeaways

The six photos we chose reflect our overall perception of the (un)conference and captures the most striking moments that we experienced. The interviews conducted helped to frame the social perception of the event. By hearing how the community felt, we were able to recognize the importance of creating spaces like this, and how creating this archive allows for its continued existence. The (un)conference was an effective tool for demonstrating how it is necessary for cities to celebrate previous histories and generate new ones. As a result, understanding how intersectionality helps to inform culture is vital in approaching creating the community spaces that allow for peoples and cultures to thrive. In working together to create this photo essay, we learned how a lot can be accomplished through collaboration and the value of having new perspectives and opinions other than our own in producing a creative work.


3. Photo categorization

See the above photos for categories and explanations.


4. Live blog — Chloe Yeo


5. Interviews 
Anuudari Oldokhbayar

 

Interviewee 1: Bailye

1. What does this conference mean to you?
I have been coming for a several years and I really love the energy that it brings. Also, I feel that it is an opportunity for for women to connect and I really appreciate that. Overall, it has just been a cool thing to be a part of.

2. Why do you think having a conference like this is important to us (women) today and for our future?
I think that having an opportunity to connect with a community across generations, especially hearing from elders. Plus, being a part of something that is designed to build up a solid community and connect with the Seattle women’s community is really important to me as a whole. As a white person, it is also a great opportunity to hear from voices of color, which is important to me. So, I really appreciate that!

3) What is the importance of having the conference here at MOHAI?
So that is is really interesting because it is the first year it is being held here (MOHAI), it has always been at Washington Hall, hence, I am still adjusting to the new venue. But, I have never been to the MOHAI before, and going and seeing some of the exhibits have been really cool and does make the conference feel connected to Seattle and Seattle history. It feels sort of curated and also it is a beautiful day.

4) How should we move forward from this together? (In your opinion)
Man, there are so many things to do! I really am glad that this conference has continued to happen and the continuation factor is really important. I would love to see more connection aside from the once a year conference about events that are going on that support the same kind of vision. For example, when people are playing music locally and just any other organizing that is going on. In one of the panels, they were talking about “where is the action” and just getting the words out about those actions would be awesome.


Interviewee 2:
Salma

1. What does this conference mean to you?
I think overall, it is just about bringing women together from different organizations and different communities to share the role we take on to empower other women and empower our communities. So, it is just a safe space to all of us.

2. Why do you think having a conference like this is important to us (women) today and for our future?
For the people that attend the conference – it is important they get motivated because I know sometimes when it comes to community organizing and similar things, we get really tired and discouraged sometimes. We sometimes feel hopeless and overwhelmed with the work that we do! But, when we come into this space, we get so inspired by the other work that other women are doing and it is a “wow moment”, which reminds me why I do the work that I do and a reminder of the passion that we have for the work that we do. So yeah, it is just about coming together and sharing the different kinds of work we do to empower and inspire each other.

3. What is the importance of having the conference here at MOHAI?
Personally, the museum is a really hard space to get everybody in one area. Plus, keeping things on schedule, being organized, and being all together is a little hard in the space because we are all in different places at all times. So, maybe I wish that it would have been held at a smaller venue. But, it is really cool that we can do a conference here and MOHAI means a lot to Seattle. I think this is a big step towards the idea that women can take up a space like this and be part of the history and the conversation.

4. How should we move forward from this together? (In your opinion)
The incubator room is a space where we can have conversations about what we are all fighting for and the struggles we are all going through, but it is amazing that we are all doing it differently. So, when we hear the specific struggles that women have in the work that they specifically do for whatever cause it may be, we can start strategizing and start working together in a more efficient way.  This is because we are connecting now and talking to each other about the things we are individually doing, but truly us building networks and connections through events like this conference, we know there is support everywhere even though we all do different work.

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On Ana Cano

Much of Ana Cano’s discussion after her performance in the Ethnic Cultural Theater aligned with what we have discussed throughout the course, in that she embodies feminist methodologies and explores alternative futures in music. Because her music illuminates issues that provoke positive and negative responses, her music and identity are forms of protest, much like other music in the pop protest moment. This protest serves to challenge social conventions and expose all forms of oppression. By acknowledging her heritage and addressing colonial erasures, her work then helps to change the modern perception of Ecuadorian/Latin American histories. Bringing these forgotten histories to the forefront allows for more populations to work collaboratively and move forward in a way that is respectful, innovative, and meaningful. As a result, her discussion of identity was helpful in gaining clarity about forming new relationships with music and feminism. In redefining genres and stereotypes, Ana Cano shows that influence can come in many forms, and that sharing these stories is crucial in dismantling the oppressive behaviors that have been normalized in music and society.

Q+A: Ana Cano (aka Black Mama)

  1. Knowing the legacy of colonialism in music and the exclusion of musicians of color on radio and other mediums, how has inclusion informed your approach to collaboration and production with other Latinx music artists?
  2. What collaborations (musical or not) have you seen that have made you excited about the future of feminist hip hop? How can we, as listeners and consumers, better support and amplify the mission and values of upcoming musicians?

Social Consciousness Within American Mythologies

Gloria Anzaldua’s piece, “To Live in the Borderlands”, is hauntingly striking because it speaks to the darker aspects of the double consciousness (as coined by W.E.B. Du Bois) present in the United States. This visual narrative is beautiful and honest because it accurately depicts the complexities of intersecting identities. While I am not mixed-race, I certainly identify with the feeling described in the line “In the Borderlands . . . you are at home, a stranger.” Since my dad immigrated to the United States from Singapore, the impact of growing up in a predominately white suburb makes it difficult to balance my Chinese heritage with “American” culture. It raises questions surrounding authenticity, cultural responsibility, and personal choice, and it frustratingly feels like there’s never a right answer. But in finding my truth, which involves some combination of Hainanese chicken rice for breakfast and avocado toast for dinner, I realize I can live with not knowing, and slowly define it for myself. Anzaldua exemplifies this ideal in the stanza,

“To live in the Borderlands means to
put chile in the borscht
eat whole wheat tortillas,
speak Tex-Mex with a Brooklyn accent;
to be stopped by la migra at the border checkpoints;”

where everything might be perceived as alien or inauthentic, including yourself. This is what I admired about Quetzal, where they honor the struggles and efforts of past movements and use that to inform their musical perspective. Even further, the idea that the music “expresses the political and social struggle for self-determination and self-representation, which ultimately is a struggle for dignity,” is immensely validating in coalition movements. These single motivations are reflective of feelings expressed across the world, and inspire the need for people of color to stand in solidarity. This intricacy of immigration and identity reminded me of the song “America” from West Side Story, where the musical sequence critiques the perception of Puerto Ricans and other people of color in America, which is countered by the idea of opportunity and freedom in the American Dream. I think an interesting exploration of this idea and socially conscious messages in general is “New Americana” by Halsey, which fights for that self-representation in this song about class. As a publicly bi-racial and bi-sexual artist, Halsey never explicitly writes about her racial identity in her song lyrics, but instead uses music videos as the storytelling medium, which show themes surrounding colonialism, gender, and independence.

 

“Somebody Else,” The 1975

Artist: The 1975
Song: Somebody Else
Album: I like it when you sleep, for you are so beautiful yet so unaware of it
Duration: 5 minutes, 48 seconds

This is a song called “Somebody Else” by The 1975, who are a pop rock band from England. It’s a long song, about 6 minutes overall, and uses influences from 80’s synth to create an immersive space for the audience. In essence, this is a sad song about lost love and the rejection of lust that occurs after. This song works because it operates in continuous contradictions. It’s hypnotic and sensual, yet constantly denies sex. Paired with a catchy beat, the work then uses this dichotomy to explore the power roles in relationships.

As a band, The 1975 questions a lot of societal norms in their songs, and in this instance, the meaning of a relationship. To start, it is intentionally genderless. There is no sexualization of women or men, there are no gendered pronouns, and it’s anonymous. Contradiction plays a role here because the idea of there even being a “somebody else” to a former lover is so non-specific, yet carries so much weight because that person is not you anymore. In removing gender from the love equation, The 1975 create an inclusive, melancholy headspace that everyone can identify with. There’s a pain that you feel in the deliberate pronunciation of the lyrics. You hear that in the line “I’m looking through you / While you’re looking through your phone / And then leaving with somebody else,” which is a universe in itself. All at once, it critiques hookup culture, the distance technology creates between people, and ends in disappointment. It is strikingly vulnerable, especially when considering this is a rock band made of four men.

This deconstruction of masculinity is also evident in the repetition of “I don’t want your body” that you hear in the post chorus. I love that it’s desexualized and that it’s indecisive. It’s repeated as a mode of personal persuasion, trying to convince yourself that you’ve moved on. I find that the idea of “I know what I don’t want” to be immensely relatable, because it’s not a helpful feeling! It’s frustrating because you are forced to question what your expectations and standards are. As a result, these feelings are rarely recognized or discussed because they’re unanswerable questions, and it’s an admission of guilt. No one is ever proud of thinking about their ex again, but it is a necessary and normal step in recovery and the healing process overall. Following a breakup, it is hard work to reconcile the really good memories with the really bad, as exemplified in the line “I’m reminded that I should be gettin’ over it” that is accented by a backing beat.

This song was released in February 2016, and was part of this reinvention of their brand. At this time, they had just introduced a pink neon version of their logo, and instantly created this softer, feminine, romantic visual language. I remember listening to this song being performed live, and what The 1975 does exceptionally is create a space for fans, who are primarily teenage girls, to dance, have fun, and be themselves. The beauty of teenage girl fandom as I’ve experienced it is that it is an independently created space to safely explore sexuality, musical taste, and ask broader questions about parasocial relationships and the impact of celebrity on personal development. I know that fandom and following the music of bands like The 1975 or 5 Seconds of Summer really helped me to develop as an artist and creative, because I was so passionate and encouraged by communities on the internet to do things that I loved, like make lyric posters, and wasn’t told that this music wasn’t “real music” or was ridiculed for it.  

The bridge here plays with that idea of individual pursuit, where he questions “Get someone you love? Get someone you need?”, which surfaces the conventional notions of attachment and relationship necessity. The response, “Fuck that, get money,” is wonderfully angry and honest, and without being violent. Everyone experiences this small voice in the back of their head that says you need to conform to the status quo, but it’s as simple as saying “Fuck that” to make it go away. It’s so universally relatable and millennial in its simplicity. Sure, I might not agree with the motivation to further the capitalist machine as a coping mechanism, but it is one way of reclaiming that power over your life, and investing in yourself.

The last quarter of the song is a repetition of the chorus and a longer musical interlude. The power of this interlude and the ones before are that they are generous. It adds length to the song, but to the credit that they offer space for contemplation, and breathing room. If the question raised is “Do I want you?”, then these moments are the response. It’s not rushed, and there’s no sense of urgency to come to an answer. According to Spotify, I have streamed this more than any other song I’ve ever listened to. It’s appeared on multiple playlists, and I always look forward to it coming on. I think rather than learning something new with each listen, I bring something new to the song every time. The song itself is a canvas for emotion, where you create the characters, setting, and conflict, while the song provides the background story and environment. It’s fun to sing along to, bop your head to, and listen to all the musical details along the way.

One of my favorite lines of this song is “Our love has gone cold / You’re intertwining your soul with somebody else.” It’s not explicit, but it captures such a beautiful sadness in depicting the agony that is any form of breakup. Ending a relationship isn’t meant to be a beautiful or romanticized time, but by considering each contradiction that’s felt along the way, this song validates that ambiguous emotional experience. And in the end, that’s all anyone wants, someone to tell them that their emotions are valid, and to offer a space to move forward, together.

Feminism After Punk

The complexity of punk culture presents a parallel to the experience of intersectional feminism today. Rather than encounter racism and sexism in isolation, punk deals with both in an aggressive, outspoken way. This is expressed in Mimi Nguyen’s essay, “IT’S (NOT) A WHITE WORLD: LOOKING FOR RACE IN PUNK,” where she unravels the nuances and hypocrisies of punk feminism. Much of it mirrors the modern-day definition of white feminism, which is criticized for not considering multiple race, class, ability, and size perspectives. For example, Nguyen writes that “Revolution narrowly defined as individual self-improvement (“I’m doing this for me!”) isn’t much of a revolution,” and thus calls for the more difficult work of coalition to be done by people with privilege. In effect, this individuality works to erase the narratives of people who deviate from the “common culture” of punk. As a result, this speaks to Matt Diehl’s interview with Kathleen Hanna, who describes feminism as “something you do, not something necessarily you have to call yourself. There’s still a lot to scream about.” It is implied that inaction is not effective, and speaking truths is more important than self-preservation.

A song that most obviously illustrates this point is Beyonce’s “***Flawless,” which samples Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s famous TED talk on feminism. It isn’t quite explicit in redefining gender roles or calling out examples of institutional racism, but it is effective in bringing a succinct definition of feminism to a mainstream audience. Coming from a Black artist, it is especially powerful to hear that you, the listener, are flawless, regardless of how society perceives you. It still remains individualistic to some extent, but not in the way that Nguyen criticizes — Beyonce is not advocating for self-improvement, rather self-empowerment. In a similar way, this is exemplified in Little Mix’s “Salute,” which takes the militaristic critiques of feminism and reclaims it. This call to action (“Ladies all across the world / Listen up, we’re looking for recruits/ If you with me, lemme see your hands / Stand up and salute / Get your killer heels, sneakers, pumps or lace up your boots / Representing all the women, salute, salute”) is fun, assertive, and straightforward. Again, while the message is superficial and doesn’t introduce more complex feminist ideas to the radio, it is critical for an interracial girl group like Little Mix to produce songs like this. Bringing these broader feminist concepts into public consciousness allows society to engage in more difficult conversations about how each industry and sector is impacted by race and gender. While third-wave feminism is not a movement with demands that can be immediately and urgently resolved, it continues the punk tradition of anger and aggression through continued action.

Hip-Hop: Reflective, Political, and Experimental

Music as a force for activism and revolution is best demonstrated by the hip-hop genre. As its creation is credited to inner-city African Americans, there are legacies of institutionalized oppression and systemic racism that permeate the lyrics, rhythms, and melodies of hip-hop. Hip-hop allows these legacies and histories to be documented and unpacked, carrying on a history of oral tradition, while forcing a consideration of forgotten histories.

Theresa Riley’s interview with Jeff Chang illuminates this aspect, as Chang describes how hip-hop “speaks to the kinds of pressures that young people have been facing because of globalization, changes in policing and the . . . breakdown of institutions and structures in the communities that hip hop comes from.” A feature of this breakdown is being able to recount contemporary stories while referencing historical pressures. For example, Joyner Lucas’ viral song “I’m Not Racist” delivers a compelling narrative that uses rhetoric of the current political climate to create a song that mimics the form of call and response. The first half of the song, the call, is written from the perspective of a non-black person (portrayed in the video as a white male wearing a Make America Great Again hat), with the last half of the song serving as the response written from the perspective of Lucas. In effect, a dialogue is created between the two personas, making statements on cultural appropriation, stereotypes, and modern activism. The almost 7 minute song also recalls how Kevin Young describes hip-hop as “veer[ing] between folk and epic,” showing how this contradiction uses geographic and cultural markers influences to craft a heroic gesture at times (334). Call and response in hip-hop is also channeled in Kendrick Lamar’s “LOVE.” The ballad uses this form to play with the voice of two lovers, creating an intimate story that shows the flexibility of the hip-hop genre.