“She Shreds” celebrates women guitarists and combats sexism

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Fabi Reyna began playing guitar when she was nine years old. She was living in Austin, Texas and, thanks to maybe the coolest mom in the world, she was enrolled in Rock ‘n Roll Camp For Girls in Portland when she was 13.

“Before then I don’t even think I knew that women were so prevalent in music—I definitely didn’t see it in the Guitar World magazines I picked up,” says Fabi, the out founder and Editor-in-Chief of She Shreds magazine.

The question is one you’ve possibly heard before, and one Fabi was hearing too regularly: “How come there aren’t as many women who play guitar as men?” The response to this false conundrum felt like a light switch, because the bigger question should be, “How come women guitarists aren’t recognized in the same ways men are?”  

Instinctively, and actively, Fabi began to create meaningful relationships and conversation with her favorite guitarists/bass players. She became acquainted with Tom Tom magazine, “the only magazine in the world dedicated to drummer girls and female drummers.” Fabi knew she wanted to create something very similar within her own wheelhouse—or, in this case, shredhouse. So in 2011, Fabi put together a 12-band festival in Portland called Shred Fest. The event raised money for their first issue ever, and with that, She Shreds magazine was born.

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Part of their mission statement states quite simply what this magazine is all about: “Although She Shreds is inspired by and created for women, it is our hope that our impact reaches far beyond boundaries of gender to encourage radicalism, respect and revolution.” As of July 2, the magazine just realized their eighth issue, featuring Deerhoof’s Satomi Matsuzaki on the cover, plus interviews with Kate Nash, Girlpool, and an interview between Marissa Patermoster of Screaming Females and Corin Tucker of Sleater-Kinney. Tell me, does it get any better than that? In their Issue Seven, Bibi McGill made the cover with the header: “Not Just Beyonce’s Guitarist.” In just a few choice words—such an eye-catching cover seems to sum up She Shreds gorgeously.

At 19, Fabi had some options—it was go to CalArts and train in classical guitar to tour the country with her former punk band Sexhair, or start this magazine.

“I never once questioned it or second-guessed myself—most likely because my mom is the shit,” Fabi said. Call it a deep knowing. Two years following the release of the mag, Lauren Baker was added on as Creative Director. As a full-time graphic designer, Lauren was stoked to join a team that puts such passionate emphasis on all her loves in one place, “music, design and bad ass women.”

But the road is met with challenges, especially when you have a solid team of people working toward the same vital goals—perhaps the biggest one for She Shreds being how they successfully connect with and become recognized by music industry people and navigate new territories that strip down gender and sexuality into musicianship, plain and simple.

“Not only are we the first guitar magazine in the world to do this but it’s also been engrained in people’s heads that women and girls just simply aren’t interested in music like boys and men are,” Fabi said, who goes onto discuss the importance in creating their own set of rules, and breaking from those preconceived, outdated paths. To her, it means this community exists. There is a place for women musicians to be apart of all the ways in which we redefine what a woman is—because, can a woman be more than a woman? Fuck. Yeah.

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That sense of veering off the “should be” path is exactly what you’ll find in every single issue of She Shreds too. “I like weird, minimalistic, modern stuff—what you’d see in art and fashion magazines—that’s what gets me going,” Lauren said of the stand-out magazine spreads. (I’m a paper nerd—and just holding a copy of this magazine in your hands feels good.) That straightforward representation on music and women is affective, on and off the page.

Fabi describes a recent game-changing incident over Facebook where Dean Guitars, a company that’s been around for 36 years, engaged in a conversation with her about working together after an offensive posting. (Their advertisements over the years have been nothing short of sexist, have a look for yourself: ‘80s metal babes showing off ‘80s hair band guitars for the dudes.) Fabi said Dean took down their photo after She Shreds shared the image with their own readers, who offered constructive criticism.

“At the end of our conversation he thanked me and told me that that moment was the reason why Dean Guitars is changing their representation of women,” she said. This moment is way big—it means there’s a changing of the guard here, it means, like Fabi echoed, that people are listening and want to take accountability for past errors.

“Women who don’t fit the socially accepted role of what a woman should look like and should be doing on stage are generally marginalized, overlooked and at times, sexualized and misrepresented,” Fabi said. “This isn’t a man’s world anymore.”

In the early ‘70s when famed producer Kim Fowley put an ad out in the rock music fan zine Who Put the Bomp, he was looking for an all-girl group to form and The Runaways were born, but they were still ruled so deeply by the man—he controlled the songs, tours, costumes, press, and most importantly, the money. So some 40 plus years later, is it possible that we are still in need of conversations about how we move away from some of the misrepresentations women have fallen under? The short answer is an emphatic yes.

“How can we move away from the old repressing mentality and start really using these platforms that have been put in front of us to create the change we want to see?” Fabi said. She notes Kate Nash, who in this new issue of She Shreds, mentions that our music waves and movements mean we are continuing to “chip away at the sexist rock.”

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As kids, what sources did you have if you wanted to explore what women were accomplishing in their local music scene? Imagine going to the book store and finding a magazine like this—not among the feminist zines, but right smack dab in the middle of all the big-time music mags that prominently feature men? In the same ways we must reteach our boys that masculinity and machismo are not the same, we must also reteach our girls that confidence, self-love and total fairness regarding sexuality and gender can allow them the ability to conquer anything.

However, our imperative fight for human equality, and the ability to shift grossly outdated paradigms is met with some deep misunderstandings.

“Feminism has turned into the ‘F-word’ because somewhere along the way, it became seen as ‘man-hating’ or ‘women only,'” Fabi said. “People identifying with that word are being stereotyped and it’s really sad because in reality, feminism is about equality. Period.”

And though feminism is nothing new—the idea that it’s become so unraveled—at the hands of the internet, the conversations become warped.

“Everyone reading this is a feminist and there is feminism in everything, whether people like it or not, but I think we’re heading into No Wave Feminism where we’re actually rejecting the commercial use of the term and experimenting with new ways to identify with it,” Fabi said.

Lauren agreed. “I grew up with the mentality that I could do/be whatever I put my mind to, if I worked hard enough at it. My sex/gender was never part of that or something I saw as a hindrance whatsoever. I don’t see why it should be any different in the music world,” she said.

No Wave Feminism is to say that we don’t need to construct convenient labels for something to be identifiable, relatable, accessible, or present. No Wave Feminism suggests that feminism is the whole damn ocean—you could pick a wave if you want, but more and more waves will come crashing onto shore. That said, She Shreds is not a feminist magazine, and the struggle to compromise with the changes we want to see and the ways we have to get there means sometimes complying with certain aspects of the constructs we’ve already created. We cannot jump from A to Z without blending the past and the future together in some ways. That’s why this magazine is simply a guitar magazine.

Fabi referenced Lauren’s artistic aesthetic as a means to define it even further as a guitar mag with beautifully constructed images that make it stand out from all the guitar mags you’ve seen—like shoegazing, but magazine gazing, and this is it. That said, it’s geared toward anyone—even people who don’t play guitar (like myself).

To touch on topics like these, She Shreds organized a recent event in Portland called “What Is A Woman? Feminism, Punk and the In-Between.” The panel’s intention was to “neutralize” feminism and as Fabi puts it, “the images and labels attached to “women in music” or punk, and so on. Don’t you just hate the term—“women in music”? Give that term a whirl in a Google search and you’ll discover there’s still much separation when we’re taking time to discuss how women fit into music—but a search for “men in music” will elicit lists of “the sexiest” or “the hottest” men in music for the year.

The big question is: Do we need to have the “girl band/all-female/women guitarist” terms flying around anymore? Is it anti-progressive?

“Are they just penetrating the same ideals of the past or are they giving more power to the subject and the gender because we’re still introducing new definitions of the term? That’s still something I think about constantly. It changes every day,” Fabi said. As a website that gears itself toward queer-identified women, feminists, and likeminded allies in and outside of the queer community, it’s what draws us close in with She Shreds—there will always be power retained and nurtured in a community that inclusively communicates its talents, dreams, needs, desires and passions. There is still power in our ability to take back broken-down, misused terms by introducing new approach and by communicating the bigger picture.

With so much motion surrounding She Shreds, I just had to ask about what musicians they’d love to have in any upcoming issues if they could choose to chat up anyone. Fabi mentions: Kim and Kelly Deal, St. Vincent, and the possibility of talking up more guitarists from different countries and cultures (“If you’re a woman who plays cumbia, holler!”) Lauren agrees that St. Vincent should probably hit them up, too—plus Soko, Sharon Van Etten, Laura Marling and Jenny Lewis. It’s a magazine that ties directly into your passions in life which is a major plus for Fabi and Lauren, especially because of the doing that goes into being a magazine. The doing means talking, and sometimes the talking opens amazing doors. Fabi says she met someone just last week in Akron, OH who had never met a feminist before. Add that to our point board!

As a final question, one that I love to ask just about everyone I meet, I ask Fabi and Lauren what concert in history they would have given anything to witness. Fabi goes first: “Chavela Vergas on top of a Maya pyramid with Frida Kahlo painting next to her. This show happens all the time in my fantasies and I always wish I was there.” Lauren says: “The Runaways in Japan in 1977.” Could there be a better way to end this? Some things make full circle, and some things continue to spin out on a trajectory we can’t quite pinpoint.

One thing is for sure though: She Shreds is a kick ass magazine about guitarists—some you perhaps would have never known about if you hadn’t picked up a copy of the smooth pages to explore.

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To buy the latest copy of She Shreds or subscribe, check out sheshreds.com as well as @sheshredsmag.

Follow Kim on Twitter @the_hoff.