Tag Archives: Gender

The Loud Voices of a Quiet Print

Seniors of the Women and Gender Studies department at San Francisco State University slowly filtered through the door of room 131 in the Humanities building. Most of the tables and chairs were pushed towards the walls of the room, leaving only two tables in the center. The seniors took their seats around the classroom and chatted with each other. As the room filled with more people, the volume grew and the atmosphere transformed from dull to lively.

The last senior walked into the classroom and Julietta Hua, the W.G.S. department chair and the class’ professor, considered it a que for her to take her position in the center of the class. Her outfit—a blue-knit sweater, a black a-line skirt, and thin-framed glasses—and confident stance displayed her authority over the class.

Starting with the student closest to the door, Professor Hua asked each student how their week went. The class only met once a week on Wednesday afternoons, so she decided it was important to start it by checking-in with each person to see if their physical and mental health improved or diminished from the prior meeting. Her goal is to make sure they felt included, a theme that not only ran the class, but also the entire department.  

Although the class is taught around the idea of inclusion, its overall focus is on the creation of a publication that reflects what is taught in the W.G.S. department.

“Early on there is the collective brainstorm of ideas, themes. And then they decide, sort of what they want to contribute, what role they want to play,” shared Professor Hua. She does not contribute anything to the publication, but she acts as the managing editor by making sure students stay on task and create a piece they are proud to publish.

The department chair has taught the class for a couple of years, but the department started the publication long before she was hired in 2006.

 

Throughout the years the publications became a combination of informative and personal pieces that showed how the students dealt with their own experiences and the experiences of the public, whether it was from a political or social perspective.

“It’s a research based article or its more of a conventional news piece or research piece, but the purpose of the collaboration is to reflect together with a group of your graduating classmates and to think about what-what is a feminist intervention,” explained Hua. “What does it look like and what does it look like when you have to think about it with other people, like collectively.”  

Professor Hua continued asking around the room, finally landing on Shonnon Gutierrez. She perked up, pushed her hair behind her ears and shoulders, and recounted how she felt over the previous seven days. Many of the responses Professor Hua received from her students were short or delved into hardships, but Shonnon was more positive. She explained how happy she was because she had the chance to go dancing the night before, something she could easily be caught doing when she was not commuting or doing homework. With all the adversities that the average American could face, she was glad she woke up to see another day.

At forty-seven-years-old, Shonnon is finishing her last semester at SF State. As she grew up in Los Angeles, she never finished high school and started having children in her early twenties, eventually having a total of two sons and one daughter. When 2014 rolled around, her two older children moved out which left her with less responsibilities and more free time. She knew it was her opportunity to start her academic career again, but she was unsure of how difficult enrolling into a community college could be.

“I didn’t have my GED [General Education Development Tests] and I didn’t qualify for a Pell grant due to that,” shared Shonnon. The fear of being academically held back because of past decisions pushed her to work hard for her GED diploma. She received it in May of 2014 then started community college shortly after that.

Her perseverance did not end with the start of community college. She was able to graduate in the spring of 2016 and was even asked to be a commencement speaker.

When she began attending SF State, she knew majoring in women and gender studies was the right choice for her.

“My parents are from Mexico and my mother had to deal with a lot of machismo from my father. My mother divorced my father and got citizenship on her own,” expressed Shonnon. She continued, saying that her mother’s struggle to be successfully independent and finding her identity guided her to the W.G.S. department and helped her choose a topic for her piece going in the publication.  

“On my own, I’m going to do a piece on identity, on claiming identity, and what that means whether it be gender identity, cultural identity. I identify as Chicana and what does that mean by claiming Chicana, what does it mean by claiming an identity,” shared Shonnon. She decided to format her piece as a letter to her daughter that touches on President Trump and America’s current political climate. Shonnon is also collaborating with other students from the class to create a feminist horoscope.  

“I feel like my piece is important for the publication because it gives voice to those that are hidden and are denied the claiming of their identities because of the binary systems, because of the gender norms, because of race,” said Shonnon.

Shonnon is not the only student to decide on personal pieces that surround controversial topics. Twenty-two-year-old Ines Diot graduated from SF State in December with a bachelors in women and gender studies. She contributed a piece to the fall 2017 publication that was written as a creative essay.

“I was sitting in my house one day and started reflecting on myself,” explained Diot. She shared that she wanted her piece to be personal by writing about abusive relationships, but it still touched on some heated subjects, such as the monuments of Confederate soldiers being removed. Her essay followed a theme of “out with the old and in with the new.”

Diot not only wrote a piece for the publication, but she also created a video and helped draw the cover while laying out the cover and everyone else’s work. Every publication has followed the idea of being completely student ran. The only part of the process that the students do not work on is the printing—which costs about $200 in total so each student can receive a couple of copies of the final product.

Diot is glad she has a tangible representation of her work at SF State. “I was really, really happy. I loved how it turned out. I keep looking at it because I’m really proud of the work we did,” exclaimed Diot.

As Professor Hua continues teach the class, she pushes her current students to create a piece and publication that is unique to their personal experiences and opinions.

“I think it’s important that at the end of your degree, you’ve had a chance to really take time and reflect on what that degree has meant or the journey you have taken, right? All the different classes, the things you’ve learned and to think about what you’ve taken away from it,” Hua stated.

 

While the end of Shonnon’s time at SF State draws closer, she plans on going back to school to get a master’s in social work to help survivors of domestic abuse and those that are in need.

She shared some advice for the students taking the senior seminar class next semester. “I would say to really get to enjoy the time with your senior class, seminar class, and make those bonds because I know that a lot of the friendships that I made are going to carry on. But also to take a moment to not only focus on getting work done, but to really enjoy it because this is your last semester and it’s the journey that really counts.”

Previous publications from the class can be found online or in the Women and Gender Studies department. The spring 2018 publication will be available in the fall.

What is Gender Fluid?

By Oscar Gutierrez

A mirror shows the reflection of Jay Garcia as they get ready for another day of work. Amongst a closet of dresses, suits and ties, Garcia decides on a bright red collared silk shirt and denim pants. To complete the look, they wear a binder to press their breasts down to make them less visual. This is a daily routine for Garcia. Some days they decide on more feminine clothing and other days they may decide to mix feminine and masculine apparel. Garcia is gender fluid, a title that refers to people who switch amongst many gender identities, not just male and female.

“It was difficult growing up and knowing that I did not fall in the ‘either, or’” Garcia said. “It was one of the most comforting things when I learned that I did not have to fall into either and there was a community to support me.”

Gender fluidity has recently received attention because of people like actress Ruby Rose, who came into the public eye with her visual androgyny that challenged the aesthetic aspects of gender. Rose identifies as gender fluid, but according to Garcia, there is still work to do in recognizing people that are gender fluid. Currently, articles discussing the topic have been met with a mix of comments specifically discussing that children and youth are not at a mature enough age to know what gender they fit into, while supporters of gender fluidity have claimed that as children and youth, parents should give the flexibility to switch amongst genders to express themselves fully.

“It is wonderful to have people representing gender fluidity, both in what they wear and how they may perform identity through types of jobs and daily interactions,” said Vida Bonilla, a volunteer at the Lavender Youth Recreation & Information Center. “We need to realize that many people deal with not wanting to fit within the one single gender and don’t visually represent it for a multitude of factors.”

LYRIC is an organization helping people, specifically San Francisco youth, with expressing their identity freely. According to Bonilla, culture and religion are two major factors in the failure to present oneself in their true identity.

Garcia mentioned that before they began presenting themselves in multiple genders and changing their gender pronouns to “they, them and their” it took about 11 years from when they found a name for the identity to when they actually started presenting themselves in androgynous clothing. Garcia attributes this delay to the strong Mexican and catholic beliefs that were strongly held in the family.

“Jay had no way of explaining it because there was hardly any resources for them to explain what was happening with them,” said Bertha Garcia, mother of Jay Garcia. “Yes, I still hold my beliefs strongly, but within my beliefs is also always being there for my child and supporting them in any way possible.”

Although conversations on gender fluidity are beginning to gain traction, the amount of research and data documenting those who identify solely as gender fluid is close to non-existent. Many times, gender fluid people are treated within the category of transgender or queer people, and although they may fall under the categories, the development of these resources such as support centers and reference materials for parents and children have mostly come from things like online forums and discussions amongst gender fluid people in spaces such as LYRIC and other LGBTQ centers in the city of San Francisco.

“I wish there were more things for us to look at and feel like we were being represented, but I know that’s a process and there is progress with more of the conversations we have,” Garcia said. “We need to recognize the amount of problems that youth who are questioning their gender have from depression to suicides, but I feel that is part of my purpose, to educate.”

The Sound of Gender

 

Hannah Lew of Grass Widow played at Bottom of the Hill in San Francisco on Thursday, December 6.
Hannah Lew of Grass Widow played at Bottom of the Hill in San Francisco on Thursday, December 6.

Words: Ruby Perez
Photos: Andy Sweet

A thick layer of cigarette smoke hangs above the outdoor area of San Francisco’s Bottom of the Hill as concertgoers cluster tightly next to one another and drunkenly converse. Here and there beer is spilled, as someone snakes their way through the crowd to get to this friend or that friend. Everyone seems more than content to be spending this chilly Thursday night catching tonight’s performance.

Inside the venue, the same air of excitement and anticipation as outside persists, with the jittery chatter growing louder as the fans wait patiently for the band to take the stage.

Tonight’s performers, known as Grass Widow and composed of Lillian Maring, Raven Mahon, and Hannah Lew, are a San Franciscan trio who generate hooking and often haunting layered melodies that are reminiscent to the genre post-punk.

Forming in 2007, the group are staples in the San Francisco music scene.

However, despite the obvious success of Grass Widow, the band still faces troubles of gender that come with being a woman in a successful band.

Raven Mahon of Grass Widow played at Bottom of the Hill in San Francisco on Thursday, December 6.
Raven Mahon of Grass Widow played at Bottom of the Hill in San Francisco on Thursday, December 6.

It has been over 30 years since punk rock was born, and around 20 years since the movement called Riot Grrl drastically shaped the way this subculture views gender, yet a dark and looming figure still clouds the music.

Unfortunately, not even the Do-It-Yourself roots of punk have gone without the influence of sexism that continues to prevail in its own subtle ways.

Victoria Guzman, a bassist who attends SF State University, shares the implications of sexism in rock music.

“It’s kind of like when people ask me when I play instruments, and I say that I’m learning to play the bass, it feels like aw that’s cute,” says Guzman. “Rather than cool, let’s collaborate, let’s make music, it feels more patronizing you know?”

This is most prevalent in the clumping of the work of female musicians as though “female” were a genre in itself. The idea is that every female drummer is the next Meg White of The White Stripes, and that all bassists are a Kim Gordan of Sonic Youth or a Kim Deal of the Pixies. Yet the reality is that there is no “female” sound, rather the ignorant categorization of female musicians as being all but the same.

Women are either the radical riot girls of the ‘90s spouting politics in their songs, or they are the syrupy summer sound of Best Coast — there is no middle ground.

“People have the need to identify something that is new with something that is old; a lot of people have influences but it doesn’t necessarily mean that their music is going to sound like that because everyones music is unique,” says Guzman. “Just because it’s a similar genre doesn’t mean its the same, and that’s especially true with girls because they either get placed into one category or the other and if they don’t fit, then it’s no good, they don’t understand it.”

As Grass Widow sits on a couch in the back room of the venue, it doesn’t take long for the conversation to turn to the one that Guzman just shared. Topics of gender, the idea of feminism, and the clumping and generalization of female musicians become the center of conversation.

Lew recalls a past conversation she had about feminism with a girl who claims she is not a feminist and that feminism is no longer necessary in modern days.

“Maybe in San Francisco it isn’t as male dominated as other places, you know like the middle of the country, where it really is prevalent… but it’s obvious that when you begin talking to people everyone has this experience, and it’s real,” says Mahon. “I do think that some people here you know, may live in a bubble and may not acknowledge all these nuances. But you can just look at statistics of what women are making and the income disparity or any other factual evidence to show that women are still unequal.”

Maring continues this ideology by adding, “maybe if you have that job where everyone respects you, and you have a car so you never walk alone down the street, and you have friends who also pretend it’s not happening you can pretty much avoid it all the time and allow it to continue.”

Lillian Maring (left) and Hannah Lew of Grass Widow played at Bottom of the Hill in San Francisco on Thursday, December 6.
Lillian Maring (left) and Hannah Lew of Grass Widow played at Bottom of the Hill in San Francisco on Thursday, December 6.

The equality they strive for, and the unprecedented sound they have created is something they have worked for in order to create a positive space for everyone. Grass Widow is challenging the current status of sexism.

“If you don’t put yourself out there you’re never going to have to challenge that dynamic,” says Lew. “But we put ourselves out there. We’re in a position where we are trying to make space for ourselves, and the audience, and make space for everybody and that’s why we deal with it. And I think it’s working, just very slowly.”

As they take on these topics, they speak with the kind of confidence and comfort of friends who have known one another for a very long time, and interject with jokes and picking up comfortably where the other left off without missing a step.

Gender and feminism isn’t something they shy away from, and have no problem addressing the inequalities of being a girl in the music industry.

Maring explains that when the group first began, they often received comparisons from music reviewers about the sound of their music — with the only similar defining characteristics of these said bands being that they all share the same sex.

“There used to be a lot more comparisons before with other women musicians, like it used to be like, it sounds like the Vivian Girls, it sounds like the Dum Dum girls, or it sounds like the Raincoats and the Shangri-Las,” says Maring. “Just stuff that doesn’t make sense at all.”

The group is disheartened by these comparisons but break into a laugh as Lew interjects that their band must simply “sounds like boobs.”

Although the humor behind their statement is obvious, the message it hold is anything but. Grass Widow is more influenced by the Velvet Underground, The Kinks, or The Urinals, than say, the Raincoats, although reviewers are quick to compare the two. They firmly believe that gender is not a sound, so to give it one is to devalue a musicians work.

“Gender is just not a sound, it’s just not,” says Lew. “The vocals I think is why people do that comparison, but I think that when women are doing anything then it’s like people are going to measure you on your sexual worth and hopefully that’s going to stop happening soon.”

Mahon continues with this belief, explaining that what Grass Widow has created is an individual and independent voice — not one that can be easily categorized with any female musician.

“We really have made an effort to describe what the music is and what it means to us,” says Mahon. “We wanna make music for ourselves, and the music that we make comes from us so that it’s the dynamic that we have, and that we have is not modeled after anything else.”

Grass Widow began at an early age, although the formation of the band was a long time coming.

“I just came out singing,” jokes Maring. “No but really, as long as I can remember I’ve wanted to play music and sing and dance and be a little show off.”

The band began performing while the women were in their early twenties, however they’ve always held a love of music.

“I was obsessed with the Beatles and just really into music, but I didn’t think I could play music until a lot later which was a whole other thing for me at least, in my early twenties I started playing instruments for real,” says Lew.

Mahon and Lew first began playing music seriously in 2003 with one another, in which they used to have a band with a third party. However soon they joined with Maring and created Grass Widow, and now the trio now participating in national tours and carry multiple releases under their belt.

Grass Widow, loosely involved with the Bay Area Girls Rock Camp, became involved with the camp when used to share a room with the founding member Carey Fay-Horowitz.

The Bay Area Girls Rock Camp, a program that is meant to empower young girls and women through the participation of music, encourages girls to pick an instrument and start a band. Grass Widow explains it’s about what it means to be a woman on stage collaborating with other women, as well as the relationship between a girl and her instrument, and the different genres of music that are available.

“This was our chance to be empowering to young girls that I know I never had,” says Lew. “When I was a kid, I had to really go against the grain to be like, I can play an instrument even though you wouldn’t think that. It was harder that it needs to be a lot of the time so to think that there’s a girl rock camp, that’s amazing.”

Grass Widow supports the movement behind the Girls Rock Camp, often recalling their own personal experiences with music as young girls was not as easy and motivating as it could have been.

“You know I didn’t have that kind of nurturing with music, I didn’t feel like I can do this as a kid, but I’m also glad that I had the experiences that I had because I wouldn’t have it any other way. I made my own tools for what kind of women I was going to be and I was too stubborn to take bass lessons, so I made my own way to play bass, I think that one of the things about our band is that the values of all three of us are very different and we’re like a microcosm of just three different people.”

The difficulties of being a musician are something that follow girls past young age, and even into professionalism. Lew is happy for the girl who believes feminism is no longer needed, but says that sexism is something that is still prevalent.

“I’ve actually had a sound guy come up to me and actually turn the knobs on my bass. Those are the inputs for my bass, you don’t turn my knobs,” says Lew. “You would never do that to a guy and walk up to him and touch him. It was just so inappropriate and just one of the many things that happen all the time.”

Although much of this may seem overwhelming, Grass Widow filters these experiences out and stays positive for sanity’s sake.

“It just happens all the time, but I think to survive and not be totally angry all the time you gotta just filter it out,” says Maring

As far as role models for girls, Grass Widow is hoping that a new generation of role models can be paved that doesn’t include such an emphasis on femininity.

“That’s the thing about when we toured with the Raincoats, they didn’t make us want to be like them, they made us want to be more like ourselves,” says Lew. “So in that way they were really inspiration and that’s what I hope we could be for other women.”

Grass Widow continues with this idea of new feminism, in which women can draw inspiration from others that encourages themselves to be, well, themselves.

“There’s a lot of female icons in pop culture and, at any given point, girls are usually trying to fit their body and their face into like the clothes and the look of what is the ‘It girl’ is at the moment, and that’s been a thing for awhile,” says Lew. “I hope that we’re changing that and that femininity isn’t the defining characteristic of anything a woman does.”