In the days leading up to Women's History Month, I noticed a particular rumbling on Twitter. Though there's normally some digital brouhaha surrounding everything from impending think pieces to glorious memes, this year, the tone felt slightly different. There were constant reminders, voices piping in one after another, saying, "please, include all women."
Each tweet I saw echoing the same sentiment burrowed into my core a little more, and I thought about this: the idea of the forgotten, and how many forms it can take. I wondered how much I was unaware of and decided to turn that questioning into a Twitter project that would help inform others, but also be a journey of self-education. Searching in every specialty creative and technical corner, from audio engineering to tattooing, I sought the stories of the lesser-known with the intent of providing a biography each day for a selected trailblazer. What I found was greater than I ever expected. From WondaGurl, the 20-year-old producer behind some of radio's biggest hits, to Sandra Fabara, the first lady of graffiti, these figures are astounding, inspirational, and powerful. Below, seven selected stories from the ongoing series—read on and follow the thread on Twitter.
Jordana LeSesne aka 1.8.7Originally from Pittsburgh, drum and bass producer Jordana LeSesne got her start playing in punk and metal bands in the ‘80s before discovering dance music. She adopted the name 1.8.7, and by 1995 was working with Jungle Sky Records, releasing acclaimed full-length debut When Worlds Collide in 1997. The next year, in 1998, Jordana underwent a much-publicized sex change, and despite increased media interest in her personal life, drove the focus back to her music, going on to release monumental record Quality Rolls, The Cities Collection, and many more, bringing her current catalog to more than 50 tracks. Her work has influenced other artists (names like Bassnectar and Celldweller have sampled her multiple times) and she’s been praised by outlets like Vibe, CMJ, and The Village Voice as being one of the country’s most prolific drum and bass producers, one who helped shape the scene, and brought drum and bass to new directions, incorporating her punk rock roots into productions. Simply put, it’s hard to overstate her impact writ large, especially in a historically hyper-masculine scene. In 2000, Jordana survived a transphobic hate crime, in which she was attacked and brutally beaten by a group of men who jumped her in the parking lot outside a club in Ohio where she had just performed. A man identified in the crime, while charged, was never arrested nor spent any time in court. Though she canceled the rest of that tour to recover, she then continued to flourish as a producer, DJ, and trans advocate. Jordana recently completed scoring documentary Free CeCe, which details the struggles of CeCe McDonald, an African-American transwoman wrongfully incarcerated for murder after defending herself against a hate-driven attack.
Ebony Naomi Oshunrinde aka WondaGurlWondaGurl is a Canadian record producer who, at only 20 years old, has already worked with names you might know, like Travis Scott, Jay Z, Drake, SZA, Young Thug, and Kanye West. She began her foray into music production at the age of just nine, inspired after watching a video of Jay Z and Timbaland in the studio together. "I wanted to do the exact same thing that he did," she says, and so began to experiment with a keyboard and drum pads, eventually graduating to self-education via YouTube tutorials to learn software and production techniques. "If you really want to learn, you will sit there and learn it," she asserts. "I was a bored kid. I had no friends, so I said, 'Okay I'm going to make bears.'" In 2001, she entered Toronto's Battle of the Beat Makers and caught the eye of prolific producer Boi-1Da, who then mentored her at the Remix Project Studio in Toronto. The next year, in 2012, she entered Battle of the Beat Makers again and won, at only 15 years old, earning a trophy and Roland GAIA synthesizer. WondaGurl became Boi-1Da's protégé, going on to land several high-stakes placements through traditional and... not so traditional methods. In one famous instance, she DMed Drake a demo through Instagram, asking, "Would you rap on this?" Drake asked her to send it along, she did, and it became "Used To" on If You're Reading This It's Too Late. She currently has writing and producing credits on Travis Scott's "Antidote," Jay Z's "Crown," Rihanna's "Bitch Better Have My Money," Big Sean and Eminem's "No Favors," and heaps more. Of her success, she says, "It's a really good feeling. I want to show young people that they can do it."
Mary HarronBorn in Ontario, Canada, in 1953, Harron grew up surrounded by the arts, with family members engaged in film, theater, and the written word. She moved to England at the age of 13, later attending Oxford University, and then relocated to New York in the '70s, becoming part of the burgeoning punk scene. She helped start Punk magazine and was the first reporter to interview the Sex Pistols for an American publication. Staying within the field of journalism until the '90s, Harron's foray into film came when she was hired as a producer for PBS' Edge, a program dedicated to pop culture. During this time, Harron took an interest in the life of Valerie Solanas, the woman who attempted to kill Andy Warhol, and at the behest of her coworkers developed the project into her first feature film: I Shot Andy Warhol. Harron would go on to direct feature films The Notorious Bettie Page, The Moth Diaries, and, perhaps most famously, American Psycho. At the time of American Psycho's production and release, it was mired in controversy, with campaigns accusing the film of promoting misogyny. In recent years it has achieved cult status, the embroilment giving way to discussion of Harron's use of the female gaze and the film's biting portrayal of toxic masculinity. Co-screenwriter Guinevere Turner told Dazed in 2015: "I very much think [American Psycho] is a feminist film. It's a satire about how men compete with each other. Though Harron would not categorize herself as a feminist filmmaker, her work has continually brought the female perspective in unexpected ways to the big screen. "I am a product of feminism," she told The Believer in 2014. "Without feminism I would not be making films."
Becca McCharenOriginally from Lynchburg, Virginia, Becca McCharen now calls New York her home and runs future-forward bodywear brand Chromat. Her path to fashion was incredibly atypical—she studied architecture at the University of Virginia and after graduating, moved to Portland, Oregon, working for architects and also delving into construction. "I was always the only female on the crew," she says. "In that context, there were tons of men trying to tell me I couldn't do it. But when we were in the same room, I know it made them work harder." Through her years exploring architecture and construction, she dabbled in fashion as a fun side project, eventually deciding to move to New York to create Chromat. In the years since its inception, Chromat has cultivated a fanatical base, including celebrities like Beyoncé and FKA Twigs, who are drawn to the line's intersection of architecture, fashion, and technology, always within the purview of inclusivity for women of all shapes and sizes. Chromat collections have, in the past, used 3-D printing, body scanning for personalization, bionics, inflatables for jackets and skirts, and heat-regulating fabrics. Chromat's shows also challenge fashion norms, featuring non-straight-size and trans models. Last year, Lauren Wasser, a T.S.S. survivor, amputee, and activist, walked the Chromat runway. "I think it's so strange and a little disturbing that men dictate what women wear and how women feel about their bodies," says McCharen. "That's always been something that I've been vocal about: Who is making the decisions on beauty standards? And why is it that people that don't even share our bodies as women are deciding what's beautiful and what's high fashion?"
Sandra Fabara aka Lady PinkSandra Fabara (born 1964 in Ambato, Ecuador) currently resides in New York and is a street art pioneer known as the "first lady of graffiti." Raised in Queens, she began her graffiti career in 1979 following the loss of a boyfriend who had been sent to live in Puerto Rico after an arrest. She worked through her grief by tagging his name across New York City, eventually adopting the name Lady Pink, inspired by English romantic literature and aristocratic culture. At the time, women were scarce in the graffiti scene. "When I first started," she says, "women were still trying to prove themselves, through the '70s, that women could do everything guys could do. The feminist movement was growing very strong and, as a teenager, I think it affected me without me realizing that I was a young feminist... You [had] to fight tooth and nail, bitch and scream, be loud and be large to get respect." She eventually joined graffiti crews TC5 and TPA, painting subway cars from 1979 to 1985. In 1980, she was included in the landmark New York show "GAS: Graffiti Art Success" at Fashion Moda. In 1983, Lady Pink not only nabbed the lead role in the graffiti-centric film Wild Style but also collaborated with neo-conceptual artist Jenny Holzer on a canvas-based series (one, featuring acid-green figures in various states of decay, says "I am not free because I can be exploded anytime"). She still practices and her art is in the collections of the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Brooklyn Museum, and the Groningen Museum in the Netherlands. Though her pieces are empowering and informative, she does not label herself an activist, feeling the art is based in reality and open to the viewer's interpretation.
Jacci Gresham"Women who have been tattooing over 20 years, there ain't a hundred in this country. But they are tattooing now." When Jacci Gresham went into business in 1976, she was the first black female tattoo artist not just in New Orleans... but also in the entire U.S. Born in Flint, Michigan, she always had a penchant for drawing, studying architecture and engineering in college, then designing floor plans for General Motors' car dealerships after graduation. When she was around 25 years old, she met Ajit "Ali" Singh, the man who would become her boyfriend, and later, business partner. "He was drawing these eagles on the sidewalk, I remember. And I didn't know why. He was drawing them for kids," says Gresham. When she asked about the drawings, Singh, who had degrees in both engineering and commercial art, told Gresham he was an artist who had learned to tattoo while living in England a few years before. The two grew close, and both eventually lost their jobs in Michigan, heading out to New Orleans looking to start anew. There, they struck out, unable to find work. But they did notice one thing: There were only two tattoo shops in New Orleans. So, they opened the third: Aart Accent. Gresham quickly made her mark, learning under Singh. She moved beyond flash art (rare at the time) and abolished Singh's rule against tattooing women. Now, women account for 70 percent of Gresham's clientele. Aart Accent still stands in its original location. The other two shops? They've since closed, making Gresham's spot the oldest standing tattoo parlor in New Orleans. "I still enjoy it and I wonder if there's something wrong with me because everyone I know is burned out," she says. "If I'm putting a drawing on you, what could be more important than that?"
Annie NightingaleAnne Avril "Annie" Nightingale MBE (born April 1, 1940) is an English radio and television broadcaster. She was the first female presenter on BBC Radio 1, is currently its longest-serving presenter, and is also the only female DJ in the world ever honored as a Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth ||. She initially began her career as a journalist in Brighton, East Sussex, and in the 1960s and 1970s, she wrote columns for the Daily Express, the Daily Sketch, Petticoat, and Cosmopolitan. Her first broadcast on the BBC was on September 14, 1963, as a panelist on Juke Box Jury, and it wasn't long until she received her first regular show on Radio 1, helming Sunday evenings. "She was [initially] turned down because they didn't want any women on Radio 1," says David Morley, who produced On Air with Annie Nightingale. "They said the DJs were husband substitutes, and listeners wouldn't want to hear a woman, but she didn't take no for an answer." The audience loved her, quickly growing attached to her specialized style of championing the underground and being an early supporter for names like Basement Jaxx and Daft Punk She's now been in broadcasting for over 50 years, and has been nominated for the John Peel Award for Outstanding Contribution to Music Radio, won best Radio Award at the International Breakbeat Awards, and won the Pioneer in Media Award from Music Week magazine. Outside of all her radio work, she still maintains a steady DJ career and is a guest contributor for The Times and BBC 4 news programs. "There are as many women in the world as men," she says, "so we are not a minority and we celebrate that fact. I certainly am a feminist and proud of it."