In the tenth issue of She Shreds, Fabi Reyna, its founder and editor in chief, wrote about soldaderas, women who fought in the Mexican Revolution and often took on male identities to be treated equally on the battlefield. It was a revolution for not only Mexico, but for women's liberation as well. We still fight for equality on all sorts of battlefields, and to be seen as ourselves. The one Fabi is charging across is the guitar media industry. She Shreds is a magazine for guitarists and bassists, but you won't find Eric Clapton or Eddie Van Halen on the cover — it's wholly dedicated to women musicians.
She Shreds talks with musicians of all kinds, from rock to jazz, from punk to blues and country; it features luthiers (the people who design and build guitars), tutorials, and even a glossary of guitar terms to help readers feel more savvy with their equipment. It's a breath of fresh and healing air after growing up with the testosterone-laden guitar mags with scantily clad women on the cover that practically shout, "BOYS' CLUB! KEEP OUT!"
I've known Fabi for about six years, through the Portland music scene. She's played in several bands and used to organize festivals showcasing women and people of color. She rallies us to action. She encourages us to use our own voices and stories to create and demand change. She's young, warm, sweet, and laughs easily even as she's tearing the guitar media industry a new one. We recently got together to talk about She Shreds and how one recent photo has had a major impact on the magazine and given women more respect throughout the industry.
Kathy Foster: Last year, a reader posted a photo of the then-latest issue of She Shreds, which featured Satomi Matsuzaki from Deerhoof on the cover, shelved next to Guitar World's "Gear Guide" issue, which featured the standard bikini model holding a guitar on the cover. The photo went viral. How did it affect you?
Fabi Reyna: In January 2015, I went to the National Association of Music Merchants Show, or NAMM for short. It's where all of the music industry goes to sell their products, every company — drums, guitars, saxophones, recording equipment, and people come from all over the world. I went to get advertising for the magazine, but no one would talk to me. No one believed in what I was doing. They were like, "There are more men in the category, you have a really niche market, and we don't know if our investment is worth it." I was like, "OK, fine."
Then that photo came out in July 2015. It kept getting shared. It was like, "You don't know if the representation of women is sexist in the guitar industry? Here's this photo. What do you think now?" So many companies started contacting me, having been shocked by the dissonance in the image, just this very clear idea of old and new.
So when I went to NAMM in January 2016, every company that I went to, all the biggest companies like Fender and Ernie Ball, huge companies that have been around for over 40 years, mentioned that picture. They were like, "Just so you know, we're not going to advertise with this company anymore unless they change." This photo sparked legit conversation about the representation of women in the guitar industry. We had all these sponsors and advertisers telling us, "We're having conversations with Guitar World and with NAMM to make sure that women are represented equally." Which in the history of NAMM had never happened.
Then in April, Guitar World announced that they'd be dropping the bikini-girl angle from their "Gear Guide" issue. They said, "We want to reach female readers and cultivate them. And we can do a better job, as all guitar media can do. It's a bit of a boy's club, and we are taking steps this year to change that."
KF: And really, it's from this one photo!
FR: It affected Tom Tom [a magazine for women drummers] too! They go to NAMM. There's Tom Tom and She Shreds being like, "Hey, you guys need to pay attention to women. Here's all of the reasons why, all of the proof." I really think that if we hadn't been using that photo and the other information we have, poking at everyone and being like, "You need to pay attention," it would have taken another, like, five or ten years. Hopefully it would have still happened, but it would have taken a long time.
Ultimately I think that's the biggest thing that works. Voices. People being like, "Hey, we exist. This is not what we feel represents us." If it's just me, why would they believe me? I'm just one person. But if we have an army of people suggesting the same thing, then I think it's going to change.
That photo changed our whole trajectory. People realized that we were a legit news source, that we were something that really needed to exist. Advertisers started to see us as being the only magazine that could talk to this demographic, which is true. Also in turn, [they] realized that this demographic exists and that they're worth investing in and creating relationships with. It's probably going to be one of the biggest accomplishments of my whole life. It's really exciting.
This interview has been condensed and edited.