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Women are often limited to stereotypes, roles, and expectations of others. They are often told, even from a very young age, that they need to look or behave a certain way. Time and again, however, women have proven that breaking the mold is more than possible.

At Leading Women to #PressforProgress, the first-ever women’s summit of CNN Philippines, we had the chance to hear insights from women representatives in different fields of media regarding female representation. Young adult fiction author Mina Esguerra, Filipino fashion designer Mich Dulce, freelance fashion and advertising photographer Shaira Luna, online strategist Coco Quizon, and filmmaker Sam Lee came together to discuss what it’s like working in their field of expertise as women.

Here’s how they rewrote or are currently rewriting the F-word — no, not the expletive — but Female stories in media:

Coco Quizon 

On being an online strategist for brands and influencers: “One way to really bridge the gap between the “Ilaw ng Tahanan” portrayal and today’s definition of woman and move towards progress and growth is we all have to be comfortable in having all those uncomfortable conversations – to plant the seed of changing perceptions about women and what it should mean to be a woman in modern times. For example, I have a lot of tattoos and it was really hard for my mom or for some members of my family to accept that because that’s not how women should be. It’s not how women with good jobs should present themselves so I was always told, “Paano ka magiging boss na gusto mong maging eh andami mong tattoo?” And I was like, “Kaya po ginawa ang long sleeve.” It’s really about being able to portray myself correctly to who I am and that’s why naka-long sleeve din ako today.”

Shaira Luna 

On being a fashion and advertising photographer: “I shoot a lot of fashion editorials and I shoot a lot of advertising so most of the time, someone else is in control of the image I have to produce. But when I shoot on my own and I actually do shoot a lot of girls, now that I think about it. If you scroll it through my Instagram, it’s mostly girls and there’s a good reason for that – mostly because they wear my clothes. I like to take away the glamour. I, sometimes, like to take away the makeup but sometimes it’s really just me and the girl. When I shot one of the girls, she told me this. She said that when I shoot, I like to tell a story. It doesn’t have to be anything specific but when I’m shooting, we like to imagine things together. It can be as simple as like waiting for the sun to set, or imagining what tomorrow would be like. So I like shooting them dreaming and wondering and being curious. That’s how I like to shoot when I shoot girls – and boys.”

Mich Dulce 

On being a fashion designer: “In fashion, obviously, to be female is great. So I guess I don’t want it to be just about us designers. Rather, I wanna see the woman that I dress to be more comfortable in their own skin and to find what suits them. We’re talking about how we work in what we do, right?. I make corsets and before, this is just something that used to be extremely liberating. But for me, it’s important because now this is a choice that I make. I find a way to dress for my body in the way that works for my body, that I feel comfortable in – not physically but comfortable to look at. I think it’s empowering people through fashion to discover themselves and be who they are without thinking that they have to fit a certain mold to be like this skinny or this white or whatever.”

On being a musician: “We often get asked, “Oh do you think there’s not a lot of female musicians?” Actually, there are tons of female musicians in the Philippines and they’re amazing. Talking about misogyny in the music scene, obviously, that exists and that’s why our band, the Male Gaze is here. We didn’t set out to preach or be like representatives or whatever for feminism but rather, to be creatively active. Walking in the streets and campaigning for equality by marching is an effective way but also within conversations in our own home and in our own circles, we can change that narrative of gender inequality. We do that through our music by sending messages.”

Mina Esguerra 

On being a young adult fiction author: “I write books. I write stories where I put women at the center every time. I also center a very different woman every time. When I write a new character, it comes with an entire group of friends and I’m able to tell so many stories in one book, in one story. Now, I tend to explore more stories that I haven’t seen yet and it’s easy to publish. I can get something done within a few months, publish it, and people around the world can read it. I mean, it’s one story but there’s so many that we have to tell. So it’s work. I publish my own work and while it has advantages and disadvantages, it’s also the reason why it gets out and gets to the readers as fast as it has been because it’s been really like a system of support. There are women around me who help me through the process and there are women reading it all over the world. It’s us working together to change “rooms” all over the world.”

Sam Lee

On being a queer filmmaker: “I think it’s also a challenge for you, the audience. People always ask me, “Why shouldn’t I pirate your film?” and I always say that when you buy a ticket, when you buy a magazine and an album, when you tune in to a TV show, you’re putting your vote for that kind of content to keep being made. So every time they ask, “Why should I buy a ticket to your film?” I always say that it’s because if you buy a ticket to my film and watch it legally, you’re giving future queer filmmakers a chance to tell more queer stories.”

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