By Elissa Ball
Seattle has an impressive history of strong womxn leaders charging to the highest levels of politics, industry, activism, and the arts. When Fran and Naomi founded TomboyX they were entering a robust sorority of strong female leaders in Seattle. The City Council is packed with a six-womxn majority. Pramila Jayapal (WA-07), our representative in the U.S. House, is the first Indian-American woman elected to congress—and an unwavering voice of reason on crucial issues. Local writers Lindy West, Ijeoma Uluo, and Dr. Robin J. DiAngelo discuss social justice topics with a sense of humor. Meanwhile beloved sci-fi visionaries Octavia E. Butler and Ursula K. Le Guin also called Seattle home. Even athletes Sue Bird and Megan Rapinoe live and play here. We’ve got womxn witches, filmmakers, and leaders galore.
Within the arts womxn are no less influential. Vivian Hua serves as the Executive Director of the annual Northwest Film Forum. Across town Tree Swenson is in charge at Hugo House, a non-profit community writing center. Of course, the arts scene in Seattle is best known for its music and bringing grunge to the ears of millions. Subpop Records, who gained international recognition in the 80’s for signing bands such as Nirvana and Soundgarden, is lead by CEO Megan Jasper.
Seattle’s grunge history shone a spotlight on bands like the Seven Year Bitch, The Gits (lead by Mia Zapata), and the female-fronted Fastbacks. Fast forward to current live music stages where gal-centered groups like Wimps, The Black Tones, and Chastity Belt headline. On local radio station KEXP, DJs Cheryl Waters and Stas THEE Boss control the airwaves (and for a decade Sharlese Metcalf ran Audioasis). Seattle’s TUF Collective supports female and non-binary electronic DJs.
For International Women's Day we at TomboyX are honoring nine Seattle womxn who are shaping culture and leading the way to a radder future for us all.
A poet, boxer, teacher, and attorney, Seattle activist Nikkita Oliver embraces the “also,” as she weaves across a spectrum of roles with ease. When Nikkita ran for mayor as the Seattle Peoples Party candidate in 2017, she received the third-most votes in a narrow primary race. Though Nikkita could have quietly faded into the background after her mayoral run, she instead stayed loud as a community activist by strongly opposing a newly proposed youth jail. Nikkita writes carefully researched pieces for Crosscut and Medium, and recently published a fresh book of poems titled pebbles in my shoes.
"Unapologetic" best describes Amelia Bonow, the fierce co-founder of #ShoutYourAbortion. One day in 2015 Amelia’s life trajectory—and the national conversation on abortion—changed forever when she wrote a frank post on social media recalling her own abortion with relief and gratitude (in response to congress’ vote to defund Planned Parenthood). Fellow Seattle feminist Lindy West shared Amelia’s words on Twitter; soon thousands of people used Amelia’s hashtag to “shout” their own abortion experiences without shame. Though Amelia received threats from anti-choicers, she never backed down. Since then, #SYA has leapt off the internet and evolved into a national organization that utilizes fashion, music, comedy, live shows, and street art to smash silence and demand reliable access to reproductive health care. #SYA deliberately incorporates trans-inclusive language like “people who have abortions” rather than the limiting term “women.” Last year #SYA released a Shout Your Abortion book (co-edited by Emily Nokes, singer from Tacocat) filled with personal stories and gorgeous, vibrant artwork.
In an age when journalists increasingly face job cuts, disrespect from politicians, and even violence, Sydney Brownstone’s reporting exemplifies why journalism remains vital and urgent. Her stories shine a beam of truth that directly improves Seattle communities. While writing for The Stranger, Sydney exposed the disturbing actions of serial sexual predator (and freelance writer) Matt Hickey. Her story—along with brave testimony from survivors—put Matt in jail. In her current job at public radio station KUOW Sydney reported on a staggering number of local womxn who said they’d been sexually harassed—some assaulted—by popular Seattle businessman Dave Meinert. By amplifying unheard voices, Sydney’s writing calls attention to the abuse of power and disrupts and a pervasive “business as usual” attitude to proclaim: Enough.
To see Davora Lindner around town is to recognize the lady has style. Davora’s chic ensembles and natural poise seem effortless, while her background as an art curator and political activist prove her choices are always thoughtful and deliberate. As Creative Director and co-founder of local clothing brand Prairie Underground, Davora produces versatile-yet-elegant pieces. Prairie Underground clothing is built to last. Made in Washington with multiple body types and genders in mind, the company’s constant collaborations with Seattle artists make their product launches feel like community celebrations. For years, Davora has also served on the board of the non-profit contemporary performing arts organization On the Boards; soon she will step into her new role as Board President.
Back when literary non-profit Richard Hugo House was a haunted old building, it's musty basement housed the Zine Archive Publishing Project (ZAPP) and served as a work space and collection of thousands of zines (including rare riot grrrl manifestos and 70s sci-fi titles). When flood waters began to fill the basement, then-Library Manager Nora Mukaihata jumped to action and gathered volunteers to rescue the beloved zines. Afterward, the zine archive moved upstairs but needed major help. Nora secured grants and lead a team of library interns to reorganize and re-open ZAPP. Though the zines no longer live at Hugo, Nora was an integral force in preserving the collection. She also hosted a national zine “un-conference” and performed zine outreach across Seattle.
If you’ve ever strolled down Seattle streets and noticed the You Are On Indigenous Land poster series by Tracy Rector and Melissa Ponder, you’ve likely seen Storme Webber’s portrait. A self-described Two Spirit, Alutiiq/Black/Choctaw interdisciplinary artist, Storme does a lot. She’s a poet, playwright, velvety-voiced blues crooner, curator, educator, and the founder of Voices Rising: LGBTQ of Color Arts & Culture in Seattle. Her 2017 solo exhibition Casino: A Palimpsest received rave reviews and attracted over 20,000 visitors to the Frye Art Museum. Storme isn’t afraid to interrupt misogyny either. She displays integrity even when speaking up is unpopular.
As the head of Rain City Rock Camp for Girls, Natalie Walker has spent the last decade nurturing a non-profit whose mission is “empowering girls, women, and gender non-conforming individuals to engage their creative potential through music.” A musician herself, Natalie coordinates year-round volunteers, directs summer campers, and cheers on the young musicians as they take the stage at Neumos for their end-of-camp showcase. RCRC also organizes ladies rock labs (for gals 21+). Under Natalie’s direction, RCRC gives aspiring rockers the freedom to get loud by pairing them with musician mentors and also providing non-musical, confidence-building activities like self-defense workshops. (Check out TomboyX's feature on their camp for adults here).
Stephany Koch Hazelrigg
Stephany Koch Hazelrigg is a lifelong activist whose behind-the-scenes work as a teaching artist has had far-reaching positive influence on young people’s lives. As a Western Washington University undergrad in 2004, Stephany created a theater production called The Naked Truth on Stereotypes, an anti-oppression workshop that culminated in a radical fashion show performance. After graduating, she went on to teach the performance model with other groups. Through her leadership roles at Seattle non-profits like Powerful Voices, Reel Grrls, Arts Corps, and Power of Hope, Stephany empowered a wide web of young people to speak their truth. A proud Chicana artist and mother, Stephany is also passionate about food justice. If you’ve enjoyed fresh salsa or salad from Central Co-op lately, you’ve tasted the love Stephany puts into everything she creates.
Onstage, poet Tara Hardy is a powerhouse—a scintillating force of nature who sparkles like the golden earrings that bounce below her ear lobes. Tara’s words grab your attention and don’t let go until the final line. Her latest collection of poetry My, My, My, My, My won the 2017 Washington State Book Award. A jaw-dropping performer, Tara is an integral part of Seattle’s slam poetry history. Offstage, she’s an Arts Program Coordinator for Gay City and also a writing instructor (who founded Bent Institute for Queer Writing, out of her living room). As a survivor of chronic illness and childhood trauma, Tara consistently uplifts others and uses her public platform to raise awareness for overlooked causes.
Comment and share which everyday heroes inspire you this International Women's Day.