[All beautiful illustrations by Megan Castillo]
[Disclaimer: Hi, everyone. April here! This piece is my personal opinion, and is not intended to be exclusive to only womxn or those who identify as females. This piece is purely a way for me to express gratitude for some, of many, female-identifying artists who have helped me with my personal journey in womxnhood.]
Happy Galentine’s Day, everybody! Today, we celebrate love in all of the complicated, beautiful shapes and forms it comes in. Today in particular, though, I celebrate some of the bada*ss womxn* in the music scene who have aided me in my journey of self-love and empowerment. Through their music and their personal efforts, these artists promote self-acceptance, self-love, and unapologetic fem power. Their music has been so incredibly powerful to me, especially in my process of growth and personal empowerment, and I hope to share shed some light on these queens with the hope that they can do the same for you.
Although we should celebrate womxnhood and complex, ever-growing prowess every single day, I want to give a special nod to these incredible bands and artists who inspire me to love all of the intricacies that come with identifying as a female. I would like to note that these are just some of many incredible artists who are doing incredible things in the music industry. This is not aimed to discredit the work of the other countless artists with varying self-identities and backgrounds. I truly believe that there are so many other womxn, trans folks, womxn of color, men of color, and non-binary folks who are equally empowering to so many people, including myself (in fact, I hope to write about this in the future!). My intention with this specific piece is not to claim that cis-females are the only people who aid in empowering womxn, but rather, I hope to just share with you some of my personal heroes in the music industry who have helped me with my journey through it all. Here we go!
Emma Lee Toyoda
Emma Lee Toyoda is a Seattle-based “sadgirlrock” band fronted by—you guessed it—the wonderful and kindhearted Emma Lee Toyoda. The first time I saw them perform was at the 2015 EMP Sound Off! event, and since then, I have been listening to their music whenever find myself needing solace and peace of mind. Along with having such a unique, velvet-like voice, Emma juggles playing various instruments including the guitar, banjo, baritone and ukulele. But, in addition to making powerful music, she uses her platform as an artist present herself as an unapologetic womxn of color in a very male-dominated music industry and how all of this affects her identity as a womxn and as an artist. She’s no joke, y’all.
Her lyrics have incredible depth. From the mystic sounds of “Dream” to the melancholy-filled “Forget Me Now,” Emma Lee Toyoda’s newest album, Sewn Me Anew is a staple for my nights of much-needed reflection. It is the perfect soundtrack that encompasses the levels of growth I have gone through, from feeling comfortable in my own body and self-identify to how I view others—frustration, confusion, a sense of discombobulated fear and love. When I listen to her music, its like I’m walking with someone who is going through a similar, but different, experience of self-discovery, and we are walking together at the same time, feeling very similar things and not having to talk about it because we just get it. Kind of cliché? Yes, but do I mean it? Absolutely.
In addition to being an incredible singer and songwriter, Emma also uses her platform as an artist to voice her opinions on the current social and political climate. She’s shared an intimate story of her father’s immigration, saying “what made MY dad different from any other dad? What made him an ‘alien?’ My heart goes out to all my undocumented friends / families who are forced to live in fear, now more than ever. I see you, you are important, you are not ‘illegal’ or an ‘alien’.” She’s discussed her frustration at how the political climate has put pressure on her political and sexual identities. She’s talked about the importance of self-care during these chaotic times. As a fellow Asian-American womxn, I resonate with all of the sentiments Emma has shared, and I’ve also acknowledge that its also really hard to put yourself in such a vulnerable position like that. She’s the kind of person I’d like to chat with about my parents and my history—about the struggles of assimilation to white culture while trying to stay rooted in my own. To speak your truths, your fears, and your hopes is not easy—but she knows she has a platform and she uses it. She’s laid it all on the table, and everything is so, so real.
In a little chat I had with Emma about how being a womxn has affected her experience in the music industry, she told me:
“Throughout my whole life I’ve always struggled with voicing my opinions, thoughts and feelings; always super self conscious of the amount of space I took up, whether it was physical or metaphorical. As a Japanese-Korean American woman, I’m constantly straddling the line between the different cultures, never fully fitting into either one, which often puts me in a weird limbo of self-doubt.
Growing up in Seattle and constantly going to shows since middle school, I never really saw anyone who looked like me (especially since I was heavily into the indie-folk/rock scene, which is pretty much all white dude bands), or spoke from a similar perspective as me. Because of this, I think I’m always super aware of how I present myself as a musician, and try to make an effort to be the outspoken // strong // genuine Asian American front-woman I wish I saw when I was younger.”
Emma, and many other WOC artists like her, remind me to not apologize for the space that I take up, to be proud of being strong and not be ashamed when I’m not, and to surround myself with likeminded WOC who lift one another up with validation and unwavering love and support. Listen to her music and you’ll understand what I mean. Thank you, Emma, for not only providing empathy and solace in your music, but for also serving hella realness in your personal life, too.
As I previously stated in my interview piece with Greta of Frankie Cosmos, her music has been such a pillar in my experience of adolescence and growing into my own person (which, quite frankly, I’m still doing!). Greta’s lyrics are so raw and sincere that they remind me of conversations I would have with one of my dear friends about feeling something odd, unnamable, but so valid. This is how I would describe all of Frankie Cosmos songs, to be honest. Greta’s lyrics touch on the uncomfortable, awkward and often un-talked-about aspects of womanhood and honestly just trying getting through—experiences that we often do not have to words to describe.
The song, “Fool,” has comforted me during the one-too-many times I had reached out to new people or step out of my comfort zone and ended up being disappointed. It has been a gentle, and somewhat funny reminder that it happens to the best of us, and that, no, I don’t deserve it. Their other songs touch on trying to be cool (“I’m 20”) to being uncertain of what comes next (“On The Lips”). Not to mention, Greta is a DIY queen who started her creative projects in her bedroom and has done everything from booking tours, managing her band, and being a performer on the stage.
In my interview with Greta, I asked her about how she manages time for self-care during the long touring seasons. She had previously mentioned that she sometimes tends to be introverted, which I highly relate to. She had said, “The hardest thing for me is having to be social almost constantly the entire time we are on tour. Sometimes I can handle it, but I wear myself out a lot. I’ve had to learn to allow the times that I want to be silent or alone, and not care so much about coming off as rude. I just can’t be “on” all the time, so I have accepted that about myself.” That was totally reaffirming for me as a reader, as I love that she can state her needs and put them first when needed. I have found that, in our society, womxn are often expected to always be kind, polite, and put on a smile. It’s a social norm that I, as an introvert (and honestly as a decent human being) get frustrated by, and it’s unfortunate that when I feel like breaking this social norm, I also have to fear the repercussions that come along with it. So when womxn like Greta, whom I look up to, can openly resist these norms, even in small ways like knowing when you need a break from socializing, it gives me a lot of empowerment, too.
Frankie Cosmos has a way of making me feel like my experiences, no matter how minute, are important to my growing as a person. The most beautiful part of it all is that so many of the lyrics are reminiscent of some of my most intimate memories and moments that I often bury deep, but this band turns those hidden thoughts into beautiful music. Womxnhood is not always pretty. It is not always feeling comfortable in your own skin, it is not always having the wise words to say, or always seeing the best in all things. Greta gets that. And she shares it with people like me. Thanks you, Frankie Cosmos, for shedding light to the real aspects of being a delicate, growing human.
Chicago-bred singer-songwriter and poet, Jamila Woods, is a prime example of a resilient womxn who promotes womxnhood and other intersecting identities in both her music and personal life. She is a bonafied singer, songwriter, producer, poet and overall bad*ass. In addition to creating music, Jamila is also the Associate Artistic Director of the non-profit youth organization called Young Chicago Authors, where she spreads her knowledge and platform with up and coming writers.
What inspires me so much about Jamila is how she uses her creative platforms as spaces to share her wisdom and experiences on womxnhood, intersectionality, and feminine glory. She speaks a lot of her experiences as a black womxn growing up in Chicago, and all of the knowledge and power that comes along with that. Listening to her music is like listening to your favorite elementary school teacher or role model figure sharing wisdom and insight with the tenderest parts of you. The layers of the ethereal and choral-filled music, and her poetic lyrics are not only beautiful, but also promote incredibly important lessons for womxnhood.
One of my favorite songs that has gotten me through a lot of worrying times is “Holy.” In the process of growing into myself, what has made me uncomfortable is the concept of being lonely, whether this is the superficial fear of eating alone to the larger fear of losing those whom I love deeply. With graduation coming near, the idea of being separated from not only my original home of Hawaii, but now also my extended home of Seattle, has struck my anxious mind almost every single day. But this soulful piece of work, “Holy,” has given me peace in knowing the difference between being lonely and being alone. She sings, “with my mind set on loving me, I’m not lonely, I’m alone.” This has been a gentle reminder to myself that while being alone with myself is often an uncomfortable and untouched terrain, it is so important and so, so beautiful to be alone; alone in the sense of listening to myself and learning more about myself. When I do just that, I am not lonely, but merely alone in the most beautiful way.
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Her song, “Blk Girl Soldier,” reminds us that black womxn are powerful and resilient. She reminds us that our society chooses bits and parts of black culture from music to food to appropriate, yet when black folks go missing or are unjustly killed, the media feeds us another misinforms lie. She names freedom fighters like Rosa Parks, Angela Davis and Sojourner Truth to remind us that this fight for justice is historical and has roots in other womxn—specifically black womxn—who have walked long before us. This song sounds so intimate and so honest, and while I myself cannot fully relate, as I am not a black womxn, I, as an Asian-American womxn, am reminded of the importance of centering black womxn in the fight for justice. Her song reminds me a lot of an excerpt from a book I’m currently reading called The Bridge Called My Back, in which Cherríe Moraga says, “Combahee River Collective writes: If Black [Indigenous] women were free . . . everyone else would have to be free since our freedom would necessitate the destruction of all systems of oppression.” Black womxn have paved and led the way of resistance for so long. Womxn like Jamila very lovingly remind me of this, and hold me accountable in my own journey of resisting and finding solidarity with other womxn and people of color.
Jamila’s music teaches me all of the lessons I was not ever taught in school. Her music also teaches me to unlearn the oppressive things that I did learn in school. She’s taught me to be patient with my thoughts. She’s taught me that being lonely is a process, and one that I shouldn’t be scared of. She’s one of the many womxn who remind me that I still have so much to learn about intersectional feminism, especially that of centering black feminism as a way of fighting for justice. Thank you, Jamila, for your wisdom, for your care, and for your astounding way of making music hella political, in the way that we need to hear it.
Emma Lee Toyoda, Frankie Cosmos and Jamila Woods are some of many brilliant womxn who continue to nurture my existence and my discovery of womxnhood. My intent with this piece is to hopefully help you find solace and empowerment in their voices, just as much as I have. However, I also write this as a personal thank you to these womxn for all of the profound change they have fostered in my life, regardless of how big or small. All of these changes have been so integral to my experience of womxnhood.
My journey through womxnhood—at least what I’ve experienced thus far—has been messy. It has involved struggling with mental health, and also finding the beauty in it. It has involved discovering the curves and edges of my body, and learning to love the most intricate parts of myself. It has involved learning and unlearning the oppressive social norms that have been placed on womxn, especially womxn of color. It has involved talking to, and especially listening to other womxn about our distinct experiences and how my sister’s battle and victories are also my own. It has involved listening to music by womxn whom I admire so, so much. It has involved so much growth. And the rest is still coming and coming and coming.
APRIL JINGCO | Growin’ growin’ growin’! | KXSU Digital Media Director
*Womxn is a term that is used to be inclusive to all who identify with the struggles and joys of womxnhood. The ‘e’ is replaced with an ‘x,’ as the hope is to discard the idea that womxn are extensions of men, even in the written sense. The ‘x’ is inclusive to all intersectional identities—to womxn-born-womxn, trans-womxn, womxn of color, and other integral identities.