Three Young South Bay Artists Write Their Own Definition of Female Identity in 2019

The future is female.

  • Category
  • Written by
    Mary Grace Morrison
  • Photographed by
    Monica Orozco
  • Above
    Kiara Barrett

How do we define the modern woman? Looking back, a woman has been characterized by her career choices—or lack thereof: relationship status, capability in motherhood … the list goes on. Each of these factors also varies depending on country, culture and religion—creating hundreds of different ideals for women.

Though we have come far, many women still struggle to find their place in a modern society. Now that we have escaped many of the narrow expectations of the past, we face a boundless future, which for some can be daunting. So how can we move forward with our own definition?

The next generation is working to answer that. Three young women specifically—Sofia Beck, Jamisen Jarvis and Kiara Barrett, all artists from the South Bay—offer unique perspectives and experiences that influence how they define womanhood.

The realities of being a woman vary depending on the individual. Some grow up with families who are vocal about gender norms and expectations. For others, however, the knowledge of how their gender defines their life hits them much later.

Kiara was one of the latter. A UCLA fine arts graduate, she says, “I didn’t consider my gender at all in the first 15 years of making art. That was not a concern of mine. It wasn’t until college that I was realizing that I had no idea that art was so male-dominated.”

Kiara adds that she couldn’t deny the obvious disparity between the successes of men versus women that she discovered during her visual arts studies.

Sofia has come to appreciate the pros and cons of her gender. “The thing about being a woman is it’s a double-edged sword,” she explains. “There are so many amazing things—I love the experiences. But in a way there are so many things I struggle with because of my gender, like being able to stand up for myself in a corporate setting, or I can’t get my thoughts out as often as [a man] could because of their gender.”

Sofia plans to attend art school in the fall and is both excited and nervous about pursuing a career in visual arts. She understands what a privilege it is to be able to follow her dreams, and she references stories she’s heard from other people who did not have that luxury.

“I know a lot of people, especially parents, who were stay-at-home moms and always wished that they had gotten out there,” she says. “Even though that was 40 years ago and they grew up with empowered women, our idea of an empowered woman today is so different.”

Sofia Beck

Her mom always felt called to dance and dreamed of opening her own ballet studio—a dream that was quickly silenced as she searched for a more “stable” career. Yet Sofia says that her mom still wishes she had gone after her dream—even if it didn’t lead to financial success.

This is not an isolated story. Many women lived their youth during a time when the second wave of feminism was still young—giving them the confidence to pursue a career but limiting their choices because they lacked role models in many areas. This caused them to choose jobs they deemed more secure—foregoing the possibility of becoming trailblazers in exchange for ensuring financial gain and personal accomplishment.

This is not to say that their choices make these women any less brave or talented. However, women of the modern generation aim to take the struggles experienced by their mothers and work to change the societal structure … one woman at a time.

Jamisen believes that the modern woman is defined by confidence and that people get too caught up in the idea of loving themselves. A musician from Hermosa Beach, Jamisen has been writing her own songs since she was 13. Her sound mixes heartbreaking lyrics with upbeat music to create tunes that you can either cry to in a moment of sadness or dance to as you move on from the pain.

When asked to elaborate on her ideas, she referenced a pearl of wisdom that her father told her when she was young—the moral of which has stuck with her throughout her life.

“You don’t have to love yourself; you have to own yourself,” she shares. “You don’t have to be in love with the way you look or act or dress. Instead the modern woman should accept that this is who she is. She shouldn’t compare herself to others or believe that she must change in order to fit society’s ideas of who she should be.”

Kiara adds, “I think confidence for sure [defines the modern woman], and trying to improve on self-image and making sure you’re doing good with feeling good about yourself.”

Above  |  Jamisen Jarvis

But those aren’t the only characteristics she attributes to the modern woman. She also values open, authentic communication. She considers much of the turmoil seen in today’s world to be rooted in misunderstanding.

“So much of what’s going on is lack of dialogue,” she says. “Women should step up, tell their stories and speak their truth, because we’re half of the population. We should be just as vocal and just as involved [as men].”

“You don’t have to love yourself; you have to own yourself.”

In addition to being confident in her own abilities, a woman can also work to help others around the world be heard and understood. Kiara is working to model courageous communication, centering her art around stories she hasn’t seen represented enough.

One such piece was her 25-part series about bar culture and the expectations of a woman after someone buys her a drink. Through this art, Kiara hopes to foster discussion about societal norms of gender relations.

Sofia also features women in her artwork, mainly focusing on painting the female form. Her portfolio includes works that illustrate women in soft, saturated tones, accentuating the serenity of the scene. She uses these colors to explore the fragility and tenderness typically associated with women.

Sofia believes that the idea of the modern woman “is forever growing and expanding.” There is not one way to be a modern woman. Instead, every woman is a modern woman simply by trying to be the best version of herself.

“I think the modern woman is somebody who is able to overcome the discrimination and the hardships that they face because of their gender … somebody who’s able to juggle home life but not let that stop their career. I think the modern woman has become this superhero.”

There’s no one way to define a modern woman. And trying to do so may cause a repeat of the mistakes made by previous eras of our society and only further put women into a box defined by external ideals.

However, it is clear that the next generation is full of young women like Sofia Beck, Jamisen Jarvis and Kiara Barrett—determined to follow their dreams against all odds and use their experiences and passions to help   others and create a more inclusive future while learning from the past.

Mary Grace Morrison is a recent graduate of Vistamar School in El Segundo. This story was part of her final senior project earlier this year.

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